Running for Office Via the Web

Sen. Hillary Clinton appears on the first of a planned series of Web chats, Jan. 22, 2007. Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee hide caption

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itoggle caption Hillary Clinton for President Exploratory Committee

Web sites are becoming an essential part of the process of running for office. Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York held the first of several "Web chats" with supporters of her presidential ambitions. What's next on the Web for White House hopefuls?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Presidential contenders have made two kinds of news in recent days. The first was what they said. They took steps toward starting campaigns. The second is how some of them said it. Three Democrats made their announcements on the Internet. And last night, one of them held her first Web chat with supporters.

NPR's Robert Smith wanted to know what this means for campaigning, so he listened to the Web chat of Hillary Clinton - or tried to.

ROBERT SMITH: You know something is a blockbuster on the Net when it starts to crash. Senator Clinton was on her live campaign Web chat for barely a minute last night when the feed started to break up.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I want to thank you for the great response (unintelligible).

SMITH: It picked back up a few seconds later in mid-sentence.

Sen. CLINTON: …technology can bring so many of us together.

SMITH: Just soon enough to hear the senator answer Web-posted questions about Iraq, health insurance, and lighter topics.

Unidentified Woman: What's your favorite movie?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. CLINTON: When I was very much younger, "The Wizard of Oz" was my favorite movie. I just, you know, loved imagining myself being there with Dorothy, and, you know, being part of that great adventure that she had.

SMITH: For a politician, it was a dream of a press conference. First of all, there was no press. Plus, no hard questions, lots of soft lighting and a comfy couch. That's why Internet video is the new baby kissing, a cheap and easy formula for connecting with voters. It allowed Senator Barack Obama to go without a tie for his big announcement.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I have great faith and hope about the future because I believe in you.

SMITH: And New Mexico governor Bill Richardson could talk about his presidential ambitions next to a fireplace and a large floral arrangement.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): I know I'm not the favorite in this race. As an underdog and governor of a small Western state…

SMITH: If 2000 was the year of Internet fund-raising and 2004 was the year of the blogs, then this year is all about video streaming. Michael Cornfield is a professor at George Washington University and works at a political technology firm, ElectionMall. He says Internet technology is progressing faster than politicians could take advantage of it.

Professor MICHAEL CORNFIELD (Political Management, George Washington University): So that guarantees that every time we have a new election cycle -and this one is beginning awfully early - we have a motherboard of new campaign applications to try.

SMITH: And an audience willing to participate. Cornfield says in the 2006 midterm elections, 14 million people either created Internet political content - like blogs or videos - or passed them along to friends. Already this year, videos are shaping candidate's reputations. A montage of old statements from Republican Mitt Romney supporting abortion and gay rights got posted on YouTube. The candidate responded with a video of his own.

Governor MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): Of course, I was wrong on some issues back then. I'm not that embarrassed to admit that. I think most of us learn with experience. I know I certainly have.

SMITH: It showed that Internet video could be a quick and painless way to respond to attacks without having to answer questions at a press conference.

Mr. MATTHEW GROSS (Chief Internet Strategist for John Edwards): The Holy Grail of all politics is the ability to communicate directly to a voter and to not have it be filtered by somebody else.

SMITH: Matthew Gross is the Chief Internet Strategist for Democrat John Edwards. Four years ago, he ran Howard Dean's blog, where he learned a simple principle about involving voters in a campaign.

Mr. GROSS: When you open up the doors, you end up with a far more dynamic process and a process that is far more interesting to most people.

SMITH: So, the Edwards team has included every kind of Internet communication channel you can imagine - multiple blogs, podcasts and diaries. Links to social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, a chat room, and even a place for supporters and citizen journalists to post their own videos. But with more than 21 months until the presidential election - an Internet eternity - Gross says that the winning political technology could be something else entirely.

Mr. GROSS: Cell phone videos and videos that are delivered through digital video recorders. And you're going to see that proliferation as the Internet Protocol Television comes online.

SMITH: So, by the time we get to the election, Web videos may seem old-fashioned.

Mr. GROSS: Yes. We maybe tinting them in sepia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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