MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
There has been no shortage of opportunities lately to see the 2008 presidential hopefuls. They're already holding campaign rallies that are featured on television and in Web videos and networking sites like MySpace. And now, campaigns are looking for ways to sneak candidates into places they've never been before: video games, your cell phone.
NPR's Robert Smith reports.
ROBERT SMITH: It's 20 months until Election Day 2008, a lifetime in the technology world. Think of it this way: 20 months ago almost nobody knew the name YouTube.
Ms. JULIE BARKO GERMANY (Deputy Director, Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet): The next big thing is waiting to be developed. We just don't know.
SMITH: Julie Barko Germany is with the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet.
Ms. GERMANY: It will probably involve video. It will probably involve social networking or Web 2.0, and also mobile technology.
SMITH: But it's still up for grabs, that's why campaign workers descended upon the Politics Online Conference in Washington, D.C. today to sniff out the new electioneering trends. One thing they're salivating over is the opportunity to put a candidate into your pocket, via your cell phone, of course.
Mr. JUSTIN OBERMAN (Rave Wireless): It's a very, very, very personal device.
SMITH: And Justin Oberman with Rave Wireless says that's what makes it so powerful. Oberman is attending the conference talking about how candidates can use text messages to raise money or organize volunteers. It's tricky though. There are no cell phone lists you can just buy, and unwanted messages maybe tolerable on the Web, but not on the phone.
Mr. OBERMAN: Believe me. If my phone turned into a spam machine constantly buzzing at road away, I'll never use it again.
SMITH: The key is you have to ask people for their permission. Already in his announcement that he was running for president, John Edwards slipped in a cell phone plug to get people to text him and, of course, get the number to text them back. But encouraging voters to give you information is tough; you have to offer something in return. That's where video games come in. For the price of producing a national TV ad, Gerard Lafond says he can make your favorite political issue into an online game.
And yes, reach actual adults.
Mr. GERARD LAFOND (Video Game Programmer): The average gamer is 33 years old. He's a male. He's the only a guy who can afford to buy a game.
SMITH: For instance, LaFond created a video game for the Republican Party in Illinois that allowed you to try your hand at balancing education budgets and reforming malpractice insurance. For 2008, he says, some campaigns may want to show off their candidates' foreign policy chops.
Mr. LAFOND: The Iraq war is very divisive. You know, what happens if we pull out? We could demonstrate that in a simulated game to show people what would happen. What happens if we stay there? We can create a game environment to do that.
SMITH: Another video guru, Scott Randall, says forget issues. His company, Brand Game, has designed advertising games for Pepsi, Sony and Chef Boyardee. He says get the candidate into the video game.
Mr. SCOTT RANDALL (President, Brand Game, New York): I would make the politician the hero of a virtual brand world for that personality that lets people get to know the character traits of that politician intimately. What are you talking about like going on a mission to Iraq with Senator John McCain, like riding along with him? And yes, let him be approached by the Sunni and the Shiite chieftains - the tribal chieftains - and mediated dispute, you know.
And how he would go about doing that? What would be the issues? How would he - how would he manage that situation? I don't want to see the gun, but I do want to see it. How did he respond in a tense situation? What are my options? What works?
SMITH: It's sounds crazy, but then again so did candidate blogs or launching your campaign on the Internet. Jeff Jarvis, who's tracking the online presidential race at PresBid.com, says the campaigns have to look at this new technology and asked:
Mr. JEFF JARVIS (Buzzmachine.com): Is it going to pay off? I think campaigns are definitely about return on investment. Does it make a voter get to the polling booth? And I think we have a risk in media covering almost all technology is that we're going to act as if any candidates who doesn't do all this stuff isn't cool. And sometimes they've got to decide whether it's worth the effort to do this or that.
SMITH: Just don't expect too much innovation from the frontrunners. The cutting edge technologies are often adopted first by candidates with small budgets or nothing to lose. Joe Trippi, the campaign manager for Howard Dean in 2004, told the conference that most of their Internet savvy, the blogs, the online fundraising, the meet ups, came from the fact that they didn't have enough money at first to do much else.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Washington.
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