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2008 hurdle: turning clicks to knocks

Presidential contenders are fast building online networks. But will the supporters actually hit the streets for them?

March 26, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

One tactic that earned endorsements from Web watchers: McCain's crew posted his picks for the NCAA men's basketball tournament and let supporters compete against him in an online pool. joined the fray itself this week, offering, which links all the major candidates' MySpace sites, echoing's You Choose '08 ( linking to posted videos of the candidates.

But the effect remains unclear. Obama leads the pack in MySpace "friends" -- people with their own pages who have linked to Obama's page -- with about 81,000 by Sunday evening, a minuscule presence compared with the 122 million votes cast in the last presidential election.

And Web observers say that though the campaigns have sought to build on the 2004 Dean and Bush campaigns' groundbreaking tactics in networking with supporters, raising cash and spawning local letters to the editor, none has exploited more than a small fraction of the Web's potential.

"There's not a doubt that they can use it smartly, but I don't think any of them are using it very well," said David L. Sifry, founder of Technorati, which monitors live Web traffic. "Some of them are trying to jump on top of the MySpace bandwagon or jump on the social networking phenomenon.... But I don't think any of them are coming up with that breakthrough idea that gets young people engaged."

The social networking sites could prove more successful in reaching older people, who are more likely to vote. Web monitor Media Metrix reported in the fall that two-thirds of MySpace users and about half of Facebook users were 25 or older.

Zephyr Teachout, a key member of Dean's 2004 Web campaign who recently advised the Obama campaign, said of social networking sites: "They can be extremely effective organizing tools, but candidates may foolishly choose to use them as measurements of celebrity ... and let a lot of organizing potential go down the drain."

All the candidates who flock to the social networking sites also have to be wary of who their online "friends" are. The higher the number, the bigger the risk that some are pushing porn, racist views or other material that an opposition researcher could pounce on.

"I think it's a landmine just sitting there," Turk said.

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