Will online campaigns for local causes and candidates ever match the sophistication of those run nationwide? That’s a question discussed by panelists yesterday at the Politics Online Conference, held by George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet (IPDI) in Washington D.C.
“I think at the national level, word has gotten out about the influential nature of the Internet and of blogs, and that’s tending to trickle down to the local level,” suggested Carol Darr, IPDI director.
There’s still a long way to go before small-scale political campaigns and regional advocacy groups begin using more technically-advanced Web strategies. For example, associations and lobbying groups are generally most interested in buying ads on local newspaper Web sites, said Jeff Mascott, managing director at online political consulting firm Rightclick Strategies (RCS), even though they could run geographically-targeted ads on large sites like Yahoo or MSN.
“It’s tough for them to grasp doing geo-targeted ads with ISP networks or other kinds of geo-targeted advertising even though it would likely get the biggest bang for the buck,” Mascott told ClickZ News.
The “show me” factor also influences organizations and lobbyists. When they need to show a Congressperson the banner ad constituents back home are seeing, it’s a lot more illustrative to print out the homepage of a local news site than it is to explain a geo-targeted ad on a nationally-read portal.
Geo-targeting may not be catching on, but state-centric political blogs, Darr said, are becoming an increasingly popular form of online political discussion. They’re also becoming an important means of attracting interest and all-important donations through advertising. For example, Kentucky’s BluegrassReport.org blog currently features an ad for the Yarmuth for Congress Campaign.
Even local and state candidates’ usage of Web sites seems to be lagging behind that of national candidates. Darr points out that even the media savvy Democratic Senate candidate and U.S. Congressman, Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee, had the domain “FordforSenate.com” usurped by his opponent, former Congressman Ed Bryant. It redirects to EdBryantforSenate.com.
Mollee Westfall, candidate in yesterday’s Tarrant County, Texas Republican Judicial primary, reportedly had the foresight to purchase a Web domain referring to her opponent, Judge James Wilson last year. However, the JudgeJamesWilson.com domain is currently “under construction” and doesn’t redirect or provide further information.
The candidate didn’t completely neglect the Net’s ability to draw attention to her opponent’s shortfalls, though. RSC’s Mascott, who worked on Westfall’s campaign, said the firm sent emails to previous primary voters exposing potentially-damaging information about Westfall’s opponent, hoping they’d be passed along.
“We focused on suburban moms who would be furious if they read about what the current judge [Wilson] has done,” explained Mascott.
However sophisticated Mascott’s list rental techniques were, the campaign failed to meet the nationwide standard of robust email newsletters and email donation requests. There were no “forward-to-a-friend” links or in-message donation capabilities here.
“There was nothing that specialized,” said Mascott, noting that most small, local campaigns like Westfall’s have a very limited budget. The two-week email campaign for Westfall also included early voting instructions and complemented traditional door-to-door canvassing and radio advertising.
Although some local campaign monies are filtering online very gradually, most continue to go towards traditional media like TV. After all, comments Mascott, old habits die hard, and many campaign consultants remain entrenched in the old way of thinking.
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