Candidates Net Higher Profile with Web Sites; More Georgia Contestants Are Using the Internet to Inform Voters and Get Contributions

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- On his own Web sites about local politics, Bob Griggs' point of view is anything but hidden. But it's different when it comes to business.

Griggs, owner of Shoestring Solutions, a Web design and consulting business, jumped into Internet politics through his own involvement in Gwinnett County issues. But despite his often-controversial personal Web sites, Griggs is non-partisan when candidates ask for his help in setting up and maintaining their own Internet domains.

"My motto is business is business and politics is politics," he said. "Candidates need Web sites, and I need to feed the family. . . . I've never had a Democratic client say, 'I can't hire you because you're a Republican.' "

Griggs' company, which caters to lower-budget candidates, is just one of several that have sprouted across the state in recent years, as even those running for legislative and local offices have turned to the Internet to help them promote their candidacies. Many of those companies have a partisan slant to them, dedicating their services either to Democrats or Republicans.

Meanwhile, fueled by the surprising online fund-raising numbers at the national level and the increasing numbers of Americans who use the Internet every day, interest in the Internet is growing among candidates at all levels. Matthew Kramer, president of GOP-leaning Politech Consulting Group Inc., said a Web presence is becoming as important to candidates for state offices as traditional campaign materials like push cards and campaign buttons.

"I think more people in the general public expect it now," Kramer said. "It's just becoming one of those things you do in a campaign."

'What you're all about'

The level and content of Web sites for General Assembly candidates vary. Many are simple online homes with just a few pages, usually listing a candidate's biography, positions on the issues and press releases. Forms that allow supporters to make credit card contributions from the comfort of their own homes are also popular.

At least one Web site, that of Sen. Joey Brush, serenades visitors with the candidate's rendition of Georgia, pulled from one of his musical CDs.

To be sure, only a small portion of the 236 races for the General Assembly are fully wired, with all the candidates plugged into the Internet. But a large majority of those races have at least one office-seeker with an online set-up.

According to Dan McLaughlin, co-founder and owner of Democratic design company electyou.com, the two most-visited types of pages on candidate Web sites are the biography and issues sections. "People want to know who you are and what you stand for."

Particularly important is the issues page, said Becky Vaughn, who's challenging Sen. Brian Kemp, R-Athens.

"That's where people have a tendency to zero in as quickly as possible," she said.

One of the few completely wired races is in Senate District 46, where Kemp is trying to stave off a challenge from Democrat Vaughn, though the incumbent is still working to update his domain.

The sites can help readers get information beyond the issue of the moment and can provide more background on the short answers candidates are forced to give at debates, Kemp said.

"I think Web sites are a good way for people to go and see really what you're all about, really across the board," he said.

Vaughn said the Internet allows more flexibility than old methods of campaigning, which involved printed materials that could quickly become dated. With a Web site, "you can keep it dynamic and up-to-date," she said.

And, compared to mass mailings that can cost thousands of dollars in even a local race, the medium is appealing to cash-strapped candidates. …