Here in the battleground of all battleground states, the people in charge of this soon-to-end presidential campaign are Chris Myers and Katie Stoynoff.
But Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have never heard of them.
Myers, 33, is a lifelong Republican. Though he's always been wary of McCain's “Straight Talk Express,” he got aboard the moment it made room for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “McCain could not have made a better pick,” says Myers, who lives in Toledo. On his community blog, Swamp Bubbles, where Palin is often maligned, Myers is her biggest defender.
Stoynoff, 32, meanwhile, is a die-hard Democrat. “Must have been born that way,” she jokes. Raised in the small town of Green, just outside Akron, she signed up with Obama's campaign on Feb. 10, 2007, the day he announced his candidacy. That afternoon, Stoynoff logged on to Obama's social networking site and formed an online group, Akron for Obama.
Though they share almost nothing in common politically, Myers and Stoynoff are part of a growing set of Americans, “a participatory class,” as Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet & American Life Project calls it.
Online social networking sites – socnets, from community blogs to YouTube – are changing how the members of this class get their news, whom they trust to provide it and how they act on it. Whatever the source, they comfortably and routinely comment on the news, reproduce it, then forward it to relatives, friends, co-workers and, yes, strangers.
The relationship between candidates and their supporters has shifted, too. Supporters see themselves less as agents of campaigns, but as independent of them.
And with the Internet making it easier for voters to fund a candidate, act as their own publishers and seek information (and misinformation), the Washington political establishment – candidates, strategists and journalists – has had to loosen its grip on setting the narrative of the campaign.