Candidates Find New Podium '96 Campaigns Target Voters on Internet, Web Sites

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Byline: Amy Carr Daily Herald Staff Writer

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole offers video clips on faith and values, computer screen savers, trivia questions and a "personal message" for constituents.

One of his opponents, Steve Forbes, gives an inside peek into his family album, provides copies of his speeches and talks at length about his proposed flat tax.

And closer to home U.S. Senate candidates Bob Kustra and Al Salvi are taking high-tech jabs at one another through the on-line publication of derogatory political cartoons.

Welcome to Campaign '96 - a political season that is changing campaigning as we know it and turning it into a cyberspace free-for-all, courtesy of the Internet and World Wide Web.

More so than any other political campaign in history, 1996's version is coming at constituents via their home computers. Oh, sure, there still will be plenty of politicking on the airwaves, in the newspaper and in your mailbox, but for the real political junkies the action this year is happening on line.

From the race for the presidency to congressional battles, candidates are creating homepages on the World Wide Web to get their messages across to voters. If the candidates' pages don't grab you, there are dozens of other political sites to choose from ranging from Time magazine and CNN's joint offering "AllPolitics" to a more whimsical view of politics via the "Doonesbury Town Hall."

"It (the Internet) is an oddity. It's new," said Mike Riley, executive producer of AllPolitics. "We know it's powerful, but we don't know where it's going to go. I would not be surprised if 50 years from now the Internet is as important a medium in our society as television."

In its current form, most agree the Internet likely won't make or break any political candidate. But with an estimated 35 million people now using the information superhighway, candidates say they can't afford to sit this one out.

"I think a presence on the World Wide Web is almost becoming a prerequisite of modern campaigning," said Dave Kohn, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. John Porter, a Wilmette Republican seeking re-election this year. He faces Richard Rinaolo of Lake Forest in the GOP primary. "People don't have to stand for sound bytes anymore. If you want to know where John Porter stands on every aspect of the Contract with America, you can log onto the homepage and you can get that."

For the most part, the homepages candidates are using today are relatively simple. They contain photos of the candidates, biographies, copies of press releases and speeches and a schedule of upcoming appearances and events. In some cases, candidates include their voting records on past issues, provide updated position statements on hot issues and include a signup area for new volunteers.

The flashier pages can be found in the presidential campaign, where constituents can download video and audio clips of their candidate, design a campaign poster of Bob Dole or vote in a "virtual primary."

Although nearly all pages offer an electronic mail address, Riley believes the key to campaigning on the Internet lies in interaction between candidates and voters - an area he says few candidates are taking advantage of today. …