Kucinich said later that his staff directed him to Kotecki's critiques. The close-ups are more effective, Kucinich agreed, so he has continued to use them, although the pencil puppet was a one-time thing.
"James Kotecki should be given a lot of credit for opening a new pathway to discussion," Kucinich said.
GOP candidates were also paying attention. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney provided a video response to one of Kotecki's policy questions, as did Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.).
Then in April, Paul, the Texas congressman, helped Kotecki become a legend among YouTube's amateur pundits.
When Kotecki invited Paul to his dorm for an interview, Jesse Benton, the Paul campaign's communication director, thought it would be a good platform for the 71-year-old candidate to reach young voters.
He was nervous, however, about what his boss would think of an idea that may have seemed more like "Animal House" than "Meet the Press."
But Paul went for it. On April 26, Benton drove him to Georgetown's LXR Hall, a short trip from Capitol Hill.
"It was exactly what you would have expected: a little desk and two chairs, a bunk," Paul said later. "It wasn't quite the production as when I went on the Bill Maher show."
Kotecki was serious and respectful. They talked on camera about Paul's background, his foreign policy positions, the Constitution and the role of the Internet in politics. Paul plugged his website, and Kotecki gave him the Ron Paul pencil puppet he had used in earlier videos.
"I asked him if he was looking for work," Paul said. "But he said he was busy and had plans."
By most accounts, it was the first presidential campaign sit-down ever conducted in a college dorm room. The edited version has been watched more than 44,000 times.
Shortly afterward, Gravel also made the trek to Kotecki's dormitory for a similarly serious sit-down -- and to collect his complimentary pencil puppet.
In only a few months, Kotecki has managed to transform himself into a respected campaign commentator using only a 3-year-old Dell laptop and $60 Logitech Web camera. CNN, National Public Radio and the Washington Post, among others, have sought his views on presidential campaign videos.
"He's not only using the medium effectively, he's showing the political establishment how to be better at understanding the dynamics of online communications," said Andrew Rasiej, founder of TechPresident.com, a site that tracks how candidates are using the Web. "They are responding to him because they feel like if they don't, they'll be viewed as having missed the boat."
The real world intruded on Kotecki's YouTube ambitions when he graduated from Georgetown. His videos were taking off, with nearly 1,000 subscribers to the channel he set up on YouTube, and he didn't want to quit.
So Kotecki changed his mind about a job at a New York financial services consulting firm, figuring that the anticipated 80-hour workweeks would leave him little time for YouTube.
He decided to stay in Washington and do research and analysis about how political risks affect hedge funds for consulting firm Cypress Group, where he had interned. The main selling points: a more manageable workweek and a promise by his boss to be YouTube-friendly. The firm allows Kotecki to make videos from the office and work part-time as he tries to launch his own consulting practice to show corporations and organizations how to communicate effectively through online video.
YouTube has gone from an unofficial college minor to a potential career.
"I found out as I kept doing it and people gave me a good response, this is what I loved to do," Kotecki said.
But he had another concern that wasn't so easily resolved. Was being a college kid the key to his success?
"The first thing I thought was, 'When I leave my dorm room, is that it?' " Kotecki said.
He prepared his audience for his graduation. And to show that his new set wouldn't constrain him, one of his first videos ended with Kotecki spinning around in his chair to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This." He recently celebrated cracking the 1,000-subscriber barrier by doing a video entirely in rap, grooving with his pencil puppets in the empty office late one night.
With the candidates still experimenting with online video, Kotecki figures his advice will continue to be valuable in the first presidential election of the YouTube era.
"Everyone's still trying to figure it out," he said, "and there's no one that can say they know more about it than me."