Campaigns discover YouTube

The site offers the power of video at extremely low cost, no FEC oversight, and a new aesthetic in connecting to voters.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
With Google's acquisition of YouTube in the news, Stateline.org takes a look at the video site's popularity in election politics.

YouTube gives candidates a fun new way to humiliate their opponents. In Illinois, Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka caught on tape Gov. Rod Blagojevich cornered by reporters asking about a fund-raising scandal.

And most famously, video of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) dissing an opponent's campaign worker as "macaca" landed on YouTube almost instantly.

“If there’s ever a gaffe that’s caught in video, it’s going to end up on YouTube,” said Steven Clift, chairman of Minneapolis-based e-democracy.org, a Web site devoted to the interactions between the Internet and democracy.

Amazingly, YouTube has even launched some digital creativity among the debating classes.

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson, an independent, used his YouTube page to criticize major-party opponents when they refused to debate him. In the video, Hutchinson gives a speech standing between two people in giant duck suits and denounces the other politicians for “ducking” the debate.

YouTube also enables political amateurs – opinionated enthusiasts unaffiliated with parties or candidates – to share homemade videos that comment on issues or races. In one such clip, a beanpole-thin caricature of Idaho Interim Gov. Jim Risch (R) disco-dances with cartoon "fat cats" as a stream of pennies flies into their pockets – a protest of the state’s recent 1-cent sales tax hike. Another lambastes Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, up for re-election in November, for neglecting Atlanta’s mass transportation system.

But YouTube's stock in trade is use-created video - shot on a cellphone or a handheld camera, roughly edited in iMovie and given a soundtrack from any handy CD. Arizona state Sen. Ed Ableser went for that amateur feel when he produced a day-in-the-life video and uploaded it to YouTube.

In his video, Ableser plays foosball with young boys and girls, meets with constituents, and generally represents himself as a forthright man of affairs. But it also shows him jogging, playing with his dog, and out on a date with his girlfriend, Erin. (“He even has time for romance,” reads the caption, displayed with video of them smooching in a restaurant.)

The video is shaky and at a low resolution, shot by a campaign volunteer and edited by Ableser on his computer. Still, he said he was satisfied with it. “Everyone loved it, even though they said, sure, it was cheesy at times,” Ableser said. “But it was raw, natural. It showed me being myself, rather than something contrived.”

Ableser’ campaign accepts public financing, so saving money was another factor in deciding to make the YouTube movie.

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