For decades, campaign managers and spin masters have controlled the campaign messages blasting across the airwaves.
They used one focus group after another to determine which words to say and which images to use. Only then would a radio spot or television commercial make it off the drawing board and into the election campaign.
All that may be changing.
On March 5, an anonymous visitor to the popular video-sharing site YouTube uploaded a video attacking Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and promoting the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
It's a very well-made ad. A remake of the 1984 Apple commercial that aired during the Super Bowl that year, the ad replaces the Big Brother image on the large screen with Clinton and turns the hammer-throwing athlete into an Obama T-shirt-wearing revolutionary.
The ad ends with a rainbow-colored O with an apple stem popping out the top and the address of the official Barack Obama Web site.
After bouncing around the Internet for a couple of weeks, it caught steam this weekend and now is the talk of the town — maybe not on Main Street USA, but it sure has the political class buzzing.
It's a creative ad, and from all the talk on television and radio that has developed in the last few days, it has obviously been effective.
But is it changing the political world as we know it? If you listen to the media pundits and the professional campaign operatives, the answer is a resounding yes.
The very fact that a creative and enterprising individual can create a compelling message that draws such a picture of two candidates and their contrasting images is a sign of where political campaigning is heading.
Ads and campaign materials created and distributed by entities not affiliated with the actual campaigns is nothing new — it's been happening since the dawn of politics.
In past years, independent groups have distributed outrageous fliers with devastating half-truths; political advocacy groups have bought up air time to broadcast negative ads for decades.
Not much could be done about the anonymous fliers, but McCain/Feingold and its restrictions on free speech and issue advocacy groups, like the Christian Coalition and the Sierra Club, have tried to stop independent expenditures from having their desired effect too close to the election. Congress in essence tried to create an incumbency-protection law.