Not that long ago, the only way for a candidate to get his or her message out was to buy TV time. Indeed, TV is still where millions of campaign dollars are spent. But more effective - with an rapidly increasing percentage of the population, although perhaps not with the population that votes - may be posting handheld-shot videos on YouTube.
Some campaigners who don't quite get YouTube limit themselves to posting their TV spots. Those who do get it simply let their opponents speak for themselves. Young campaign workers follow opponents from appearance to appearance with a video camera, waiting for the gaffe they flog. With local media covering anything with a YouTube angle, the mere fact the video is posted on the Google owned site is guaranteed to get some ink.
The Miami Herald jumped into YouTube politics coverage by reporting that YouTube is thick with spoofs and embarrassing clips such as a Star Wars riff on Florida's gubernatorial race, dull footage of a Seminole County GOP meeting, and lots of spoofs of U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris.
Famously, Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia was caught calling an Indian-American worker for his opponent a "macaca," and Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana was taped dozing off during a farm bill hearing and referring to terrorists as "a taxicab driver in the daytime but a killer at night.''
''A candidate with a small budget and a decent hand-held camera can shoot a commercial, put it on YouTube and e-mail supporters to go look at it, '' said Republican strategist David Johnson. ``I don't even think YouTube has been used yet as much as it will be in the next election cycle.''
Candidates have to take advantage of every media opportunity.
''In a state as big and expensive as Florida, a campaign has to be innovative in putting its message before voters,'' said campaign manager, Chris Hand. "It was a no-brainer to take advantage of free Web outreach.''
YouTube also has choice clips from campaigns of yesteryear such as when George Wallace tried to exploit fears of crosstown busing and race riots in one spot from his 1968 presidential bid, and President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 ''daisy'' commercial against Barry Goldwater, in which a girl counts down from 10 while plucking flower petals, followed by a nuclear explosion.
''I almost hate to go on the site, because one thing always leads to another. I wonder about the hours of productivity lost to our gross national product,'' said Republican strategist David Johnson.