Sunday, December 25, 2005

Candidates, campaigns, and websites. Also, the ABH gives us some props.

Damn you Blake Aued, for making us work on Christmas Day!  

Well, we were working anyway, but still, it’s the principle of the matter.  We’ll get the self-congratulatory stuff out of the way first and note that the ABH has taken notice of us.  We’re big time now, so when you call us, if we take your call at all, we’ll only speak to you on speakerphone.

Kidding aside, we can sum up today’s story in one sentence: Candidates use websites.  

Blake also gives out some handy links to the websites of Andy Rusk, Charlie Maddox, and current Mayor Heidi Davison.  (Heidi’s hasn’t been updated in three years, as Blake points out, but she’ll update it if she decides to run.)  

With respect to Heidi’s website, we think it’s kind of a shame that she hasn’t kept it up while serving as Mayor.  One thing to remember for any candidates or elected officials who might be reading is this.  Having a campaign website is a great way to reach voters.  It’s also a great way to keep in touch with your constituents.  Everyday, more people are using the internets (as one politician terms it) to gather information.  

In fact, it’s not a stretch at all to say that having a campaign website is par for the course now.  If you really want to be cutting edge, and pull in those internet-savvy voters, then you’ve got to be blogging as well.  We’re willing to bet that we won’t see much in that vein from any of our local candidates (excepting Andy Rusk, of course).  It’s a shame, too.  Having a free and open exchange of ideas is the heart and soul of political discourse, and responsible candidates should always be looking for new lines of communication between themselves and the electorate.  

In any event, we’re biased, but we think that the internet is the greatest political tool since the town hall meeting, whether via a campaign blog, a vanilla campaign website, or through reaching out to your electorate on other blogs.  

Y’see, there’s a difference between talking to the voters and talking with the voters.  You can tell a lot about a candidate by the level of interactivity their website offers.  You can tell even more about a candidate by how regularly they interact with voters outside of their own comfort zone on the internet.  Case in point, there are four blogs in Athens alone that cover local politics pretty regularly: us, Hilary, JMac, and AthensWorld.  And yet, with the exception of Andy Rusk, none of our local candidates or elected officials have bothered to weigh in on any of the big issues.  It’s a mistake, in our opinion.  While the number of people who read and contribute to these blogs may be small, those folks who are reading about local politics 11 months before the election are a candidate’s prime targets for volunteer recruitment, not to mention fundraising.

So here’s a Christmas present to all of our candidates out there; it’s a little free advice on how to make the internets work for you.  
  • Got a website yet?  How frequently do you update it?  Does it have a blog, and can readers post comments and questions?

  • If they can, will you answer in a timely manner?  You’re running for local office, you’ve got the time.

  • How about those other blogs around Athens?  Go visiting, introduce yourself.  If they’re talking about something you’re involved in or an issue you feel strongly about, say something.  Mention politely that you’re running for office, but don’t post your stump speech.  Most of our readers have very finely-tuned bullshit detectors.

  • Stay in touch with the folks who run those local blogs.  We won’t speak for Adrian, Hilary, or JMac here, but we’re always looking for news to talk about.  If it’s stuff that we aren’t recycling from the ABH, so much the better.

  • Expect some disagreement, and learn to thrive on it.  Folks may or may not like the fact that Andy Rusk says “bullshit.”  Either way though, we’ll bet that the whole discussion drove more traffic to his website, where folks will read about his platform.  

  • Most importantly, keep it real.  

Happy Holidays.

12 comments:

Dawg Corleone said...

You might be--understandably, of course--overstating the case for campaign websites. As I recall, it was about this time 2 years ago that Howard Dean was going to blog his way to the White House. How'd that work out?

It's a tool, for sure, and those who use it will--all things being equal--fare better than those who don't. But in politics all things are seldom equal.

If I had the resources, I'd put some lackey/staffer on blog patrol, but I'd keep my important people focused on traditional media. In this town, that's basically newspaper and radio. And, of course, I'd stay on the streets and in the neighborhood association meetings as much as I could.

gap said...

I think utilizing blogs and campaing websites is a tool that works better for local campaigning instead of a Presidental run. Merry Christmas

Publius said...

"You might be--understandably, of course--overstating the case for campaign websites. As I recall, it was about this time 2 years ago that Howard Dean was going to blog his way to the White House. How'd that work out?"

Not too well, as I recall. But you actually hit on a point I was going to put in my original post, but cut for space reasons - namely, using the internet for fundraising. It's a rant I wanted to get into at some point, because I imagine it's going to come up even in our local races.

There's no denying that internet fundraising was a success for Dean, and given the vociferousness of his internet base, I doubt have any doubt that if he were the nominee, that he would have probably raised a ton of small dollar money in the general as well. (Dean's strengths and weaknesses as a candidate aren't really relevant here. Say what you will about him, and heaven knows I was no Dean fan in 2004, the guy revolutionized the use of the internet in campaigning.)

The result of Dean's online fundraising prowess was pretty apparent within the first few months of 2004. Suddenly every political candidate began to look at the blogosphere (God, I hate that word!) as a big teeming ATM machine, so they started ramping up their websites and kissing the asses of folks like Kos (www.dailykos.com) and the other high-profile bloggers, all in hopes of getting a mention that would spark the kind of fundraising blitz Dean had.

Guess what folks? It hasn't happened since, and it won't happen again. Any candidate who thinks that they can raise the majority of their money from the internet is living a pipe dream. See, Dean had a nationwide electorate and thus, a nationwide donor base. Very few people in California care about winning a state legislature seat in Tennessee. Obviously, the bigger the race, the wider the base; for instance, whoever the nominee against Rick Santorum (presumably Casey) is, they could reasonably expect to see a decent number of nationwide contributions. But again, special circumstances.

Was I overstating the importance of having a website? I don't think so. If anything, the point I was making is that, in my opinion, Blake was overstating the novelty of campaign websites. I know it's a slow news day, but to me, a story about candidates using the internet is about as earth-shattering as a story headlined: "Candidates use Radio Ads to Woo Voters." (We appreciate the shout-out though.)

I do think that the internet presents smart candidates with a lot of new opportunities to interact with voters. It's a method of communication, same as tv ads, or direct mail. The difference is, if the internet is used correctly, the voters can talk back.

The other big difference between the internet and more traditional ways of reaching out to voters (meaning direct mail, radio, tv, etc) is that the folks who come to your website are more predisposed to want to hear what you're saying. We tune out radio and tv ads, we skim over newspaper ads, and unless you're a hardcore political junkie, chances are that most of the direct mail you receive hits the circular file unread. (I won't even go into the single most evil development in political campaigning - the robodial.) By contrast, the people who go to a candidate's website are there to actively listen and actively learn. They deserve the best "package" a candidate can give, and that's why I believe that any campaign that doesn't have an internet-savvy staffer or volunteer and a candidate that recognizes the importance of this medium, is missing out on a valuable opportunity.

Will a good campaign website ever replace tv ads? Probably not in the foreseeable future. But as more and more people start getting their news online (I haven't touched a piece of newsprint in weeks, for instance.), the internet presence a campaign offers is going to be more and more of a factor in their overall communications package.

One other factor to consider as well is the demographics of the average internet user. Although these demos are changing as more and more people go online, it's safe to say that your average person who is browsing through candidate websites are going to be well-educated and middle class or better. That translates to a little extra cash and a little extra time on their hands, which means that the folks visiting campaign websites are primo fodder for a volunteer pitch. (Much more effective than a fundraising pitch, by the way. Good volunteers usually end up being good small donors too.)

And, as GAP just mentioned, smaller campaigns tend to do better with netroots activities, just as smaller campaigns tend to be better at traditional grassroots activities.

Jmac said...

Just to point out ... figures the story is drawn to the debate of the 'barnyard epithet' aspect, and not the actual encouragement of Andy to expand on his platform (which he did). And a dozen comments? Try more than 30. Of course, knowing ABH screwy deadlines, that story was put to bed probably on Tuesday 2 p.m. or something.

Much love to Hillary for getting the shout-out, but no plug for her site.

Anonymous said...

Campaign websites are important for reaching that segment of voters who use the internet as one of their main outlets for information. While that segment grows larger all the time, it still does not represent a majority or even a substantial minority. Web presence belongs in the mix - no doubt about it! It's too cost-effective to ignore.

I have a different take on the use of blogs, though. Blogs that are "moderated" (some would say "censored") are very easy for an opponent to use for sabotage. I know - I've done it myself. It's not a very noble or admirable thing to do and I'm not bragging about it because it's actually rather slimey. However, politics is slimey to begin with so, it is a very foolish campaign that fails to be aware and vigilant. I highly recommend that serious campaigns avoid blogs altogether. If you sanitize them, you get accused of censorship; if you fail to sanitize them, you get whacked. In this area (and probably lots of others) you get lazy reporting that will repeat, in print, what folks post on blogs. You'll spend all your time on damage control so, why would you play a game that cannot be won?

Anonymous said...

OOPS!

That sentence should have read as:
Blogs that are NOT "moderated" (some would say "censored") are very easy for an opponent to use for sabotage.

Publius said...

Good point, however, here's the other side of that, which I'll put in the same terms as your argument.

Town hall meetings and really any event where the candidate gets up and speaks to a large number (hopefully) of folks are great for the voters who take the time to go to see a candidate speak. But as we all know, the numbers of voters who do that are not a majority, or even a respectable minority. (I would imagine that the number of people who go to campaign events for most campaigns, barring the very largest, is smaller than the number of people who visit campaign websites for information.)

And, every time a candidate speaks in public he or she is vulnerable to being "tracked," a process wherein a staffer from a rival campaign records (sometimes audio, preferably video) the candidate's remarks for potential use against him or her later.

So what's the diff? Is it because speaking in public is something a candidate traditionally "has" to do? Probably. So eventually blogging will catch up in terms of "must-dos" for a campaign.

The folks who work long hours for very little money on political campaigns are, for the most part, professionals. I should know. If you don't have a campaign blog/website, 90% of the voters won't care, and 5% - 10% of them will register some degree of pissed-offedness. But either way, those smart young hired guns are still going to find a way to take the other guys out.

Finally, if you're so worried about pissing people off that you eliminate a viable means for getting your message out, should you even be running for office in the first place?

Anonymous said...

what Publius said is not wrong but the point being made was the danger of putting up a blog that allows other people, those outside your campaign, to post stuff (like "bovine excrement") onto the candidate's own web site.

Obviously no candidate should be in a race unless they have a message and the candidate (and ONLY the candidate) should be forced to answer and explain that message. Candidates, even local school board candidates, had better have more important things to do that blog during the campaign. If they write something they want put into public space, then it should go into a well-organized website - their own!

A whole 'nother subject that you should touch on as to why it's important for each campaign to have their own website is so that they can put their own statements and surveys and press releases out there the way they were originally written - that keeps the "press" from being able to edit and butcher them all to hell and helps with the damage control when you get misquoted. It's a CYA thing.

Dawg Corleone said...

I kinda wonder if a good website--as opposed to a blog, which from a candidates' standpoint is surely a waste of time--might be more important at the local level than at the national level.

I cannot imagine anyone competent enough to log onto a website being so addled as to need one to help decide between, say, Bush and Kerry. Then again, I can't imagine anyone being that addled to begin with.

But I can certainly see how someone might grapple with the choice between, say, Heidi Davison and Tom Chasteen. In that instance, a visit to a campaign website might certainly be helpful, provided the candidates have used their respective sites to do a good job of spelling out their respective ideas.

Fishplate said...

Sadly, I ~can~ imagine someone so addled that they think that Bush or Kerry is the only choice. A well-designed, informative web site might allow a voter to discover that the choice is not between Bush or Kerry, but among several candidates who may be viable but not "permitted" by the League Of Women Voters to participate in national debates.

This would, of course, be much more important in local elections. At least the Flagpole, notwithstanding their editorial position, allows every candidate to be heard, no matter what their electabilty quotient may be.

Nothing beats shaking hands and kissing babies, though. I'll almost always vote for the candidate who makes an effort to come and meet me.

Dawg Corleone said...

Well, there were all sorts of fringe candidates, as there are in every presidential election, but as is the case in every election, only two stand a chance of winning. You can blame the League of Women Voters or the Freemasons or whomever, but that's the way it is. And those candidates are typically so ideologically juxtaposed that anyone who doesn't know how he or she is going to vote is probably one of those so-called swing voters they put on all the morning news shows who always manage to look like they strain themselves deciding on eggs or waffles for breakfast.

But that's for a national eleciton, with a world's worth of media watching. Here, you have one understaffed daily newspaper, a 3-bong hit free weekly, and one radio station that even makes an effort. So, it seems to me a candidate's website can be a good place to learn about positions and qualifications. Agree, though, it should hardly be the only place.

Anonymous said...

Cough, cough, what do ya mean, just the three bong hits?

Look I have a big list, and I have twice as many snail mail contacts as I do email. Most of the base I want to work with is not on line at all. Not even at work.

But I can tell you that online volunteer organizing does work. I have used it for campaigns of all sizes, and people really do show up! And do the work! It is absolutely amazing. The secret is of course, to put them to work when they get there. Never bore a volunteer, you'll never see them again.

But I digress, cough cough...

The bottom line is a balanced use of the tools we've got. If you have a canvass team dying to get out and lit drop three days a week, use em! If you have like 100 retirees ready to hop on the phone, use them to look up numbers and then to call them too! Over and over and over again! They'll make new friends. The same theory, really goes for printed materials, that you only pay for what you know you can completely distribute.

These are basic campaign craft, the very kind of stuff young Andy Rusk is hopefully going to learn as he develops a campaign. Go Andy, by the way!

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