Debating the political potential of the Net

Blogs, email, podcasts all make a political campaign possible for far less than it used to cost - although being competitive is still another matter.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

2006 may mark the end of the Republican era in Congress but it may ultimately be more important for another change in politics - the Netification of politics. One old canard of the Internet is that is lowers barriers to entry, so that a guy in his PJs can become a publisher with an audience, or a couple guys in a garage can grow into a multi-billion company. In politics, the same is proving to hold true - the Internet is driving down the cost barriers to mount a credible campaign.

The Arkansas News Bureau spotlights independent gubernatorial candidate Rod Bryan, who credits the Net with getting his campaign off the ground.

Lacking the deep pockets of his major-party rivals, who can afford to blanket the airwaves with television and radio ads, Bryan has relied on non-traditional methods to get his message to voters. He sends e-mail newsletters to about 100 subscribers, posts comments on his blog and other political blogs, posts bulletins to the 1,039 friends on his MySpace page and occasionally posts video clips on peer-to-peer networks such as YouTube.

"If it wasn't for the Web site and the blogs and the peer-to-peer networks, our campaign would be non-existent," Bryan said.

But a Republican political consultant, Bill Vickery, says the Net impact is over-hyped. He says that young people just don't vote so it doesn't make sense to emphasize the Internet in a campaign - the voters still watch TV, not the Internet.

"Why don't we put political ads on Xbox and PlayStation? Because those kids don't go vote."

But that fundamentally misunderstands the power of the medium. It's not merely a place to reach some eyeballs that are no longer glued to the TV screen. It's a viral medium - with a memory.

"If you want to get a message out there quickly and have it spread from person to person or get your side of a story out to your people so that they know what your response is to an attack from your opponent or something like that, it is a very good tool," said Dustin McDaniel, Democratic candidate for Arkansas attorney general.
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