Web Sites Getting Ready for Campaign Candidates
Michelle V. Rafter 1996, Reuters News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
In 1960, presidential debates broadcast on the new technology of the day - television - helped spur a telegenic John Kennedy's victory over the not-ready-for-prime-time Richard Nixon.
Will this be the year that another new technology, the Internet, puts President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign over the top, or helps a Republican topple him?
Cyberspace entrepreneurs and activists are betting that it will. Although the Internet played a small role in the 1992 and 1994 campaigns, in the past month or so has it emerged as a potentially powerful campaign tool.
World Wide Web sites devoted to the 1996 presidential campaign are as numerous politicians' campaign promises. Almost all the candidates, from the well-known to the obscure, have campaign headquarters on the Web.
Major news organizations, including Time Magazine and CNN, are constructing campaign Web sites of their own, as are such voters' rights organizations as Project Vote Smart and Rock the Vote.
On-line debates and Web sites serve a dual purpose, allowing candidates to detail their philosophies in a way that would be impossible on TV, and at a fraction of the cost.
"It will help (them) become that much more aware of the potential of the Net for supporting political activism and citizen participation in decisions about our governance," Warren wrote in a recent issue of GovAccess, his electronic newsletter. "This will be even more true if the campaigns see significant public response to the debates, favorable or unfavorable."
Analysts and on-line executives say it was only a matter of time before campaign fever and Net fever collided.
"It's a big deal," said Gary Arlen, with Arlen Communications in Bethesda, Md. "But is it a version of electronic democracy, or more of the madness?"
The on-line services have jumped onto the campaign bandwagon, too, with Prodigy, America Online and others erecting campaign bureaus with news, photos, chat rooms, message boards and links to Web sites. Such services are a hit with subscribers, said Prodigy President Ed Bennett.
"We know on-line subscribers tend to be very involved," Bennett said. "We know they're upscale, and have a higher propensity to vote. They're very involved and smart, and seem to care about these things. In the past when Prodigy's done anything about elections, we've had tremendous traffic and volume. …