Presidential candidates are reaching from the Web for your hand, campaign check and vote

May 10, 1999|By David Goldstein | David Goldstein,KNIGHT/RIDDER TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- In Campaign 2000, democracy is just a mouse click away. Presidential politics will never be the same.

Want to ask Vice President Al Gore about Kosovo? Volunteer for Elizabeth Hanford Dole? All without leaving your home or office? It's easy to do once you click onto their presidential campaign Web sites.

Everyone running for president next year, or thinking about running, has one. Along with dollars and donors, it's become a required part of their arsenals.

FOR THE RECORD - The address for Vice President Al Gore's Web page in last Monday's Plugged In section was incorrect. The Gore Web site is found at The Sun regrets the error. To find Web sites for third-party and independent candidates, point your browser to

You can learn that Republican Sen. Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire was raised by his grandparents, or that Texas Gov. George W. Bush's wife, Laura, was a teacher. If your hunger for details just won't be satisfied, how about the fact that Republican Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio feeds his English springer spaniel sausages and white wine. This from a candidate who rails against the elite.

Cyberspace has become such a user-friendly playing field for grass-roots politics that you can read Lamar Alexander's campaign journal and see and hear Steve Forbes announce his candidacy. Bill Bradley's Web site even helps you register to vote if you're unable -- or too lazy -- to walk to the courthouse.

"Web sites are now as much a part of the campaign as polls or focus groups or television spots," said Philip Noble, a political consultant who operates the nonpartisan PoliticsOnline Web site.

In 1996, the Internet was barely understood, much less used, by politicians. When Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole announced his Web site, he gave the wrong address. The Clinton-Gore campaign set up a site, but it was little more than a place to channel press releases.

Now every candidate is searching for cyber surfers. Their sites run the gamut, from high-tech to low rent, from frenetic jumbles of words and graphics to plain dullsville.

Most of them offer biographies, schedules, news stories, press releases, polls and speeches. Some are cutting edge, using audio and video links, some in real-time.

When Bradley recently gave a speech about race relations in New York, it appeared on the Web as he was speaking.

"The minute he hit the podium, his prepared text was available and highlighted on our front page," said Lynn Reed, Bradley's Internet consultant.

More importantly, campaigns use e-mail for political recruiting and organizing. It's like being handed a calculator when you've been using an abacus to solve a complex math problem.

"The ability to communicate with thousands of people from a keyboard, vs. going door-to-door in the middle of winter in snowmobile boots, was a wonderful find," said Phil Madsen, who directed the Internet strategy that helped wrestler Jesse Venture win the Minnesota governor's election last fall.

Ventura proved that the audience is there -- and it's growing. Forbes' polling in 1996 found that barely 3 percent of the registered Republican voters in key primary states used the Internet or e-mail. "Today, six or seven out of 10 are checking their e-mail at least once week," said Rick Segal, Forbes' chief Internet strategist.

With technology shifting so rapidly, candidates will be trying to move just as quickly to take advantage. Noble, who early on saw the link between the Internet and politics, predicted that if used properly, a candidate's Web site could make a difference of 2, 3 or 4 percentage points in a campaign -- enough to win in about 80 percent of all competitive elections.

"That," Noble said, "is an enormous leap in four years."

Here are thumbnails of what you'll find on the hopefuls' home pages:


Bill Bradley (

The eye catcher graphic is a "Bradley 2000" button with a picture of the former New Jersey senator resplendent in patriotic colors. You can study his financial reports, make contributions, register to vote. His brief biography echoes a familiar strain, recalling a lost America of small towns, Little Leagues and Saturday night dances.

Al Gore (

One of the most ambitious, but then, this is the vice president who said he helped "create the Internet." There's an interactive "Town Hall" where you can pose questions, with a section for children. You can rate issues, download electronic bumper stickers and check Gore's finances. With an eye toward one of the fasting-growing voting blocs, the site has a Spanish version.


Lamar Alexander (

Like the candidate, the site is low-key and basic, with the standard tools for recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations. With Iowa so important to his candidacy, he provides links to the state's Republican Web sites, among others. His views on issues are detailed, along with an extensive biography.

Gary Bauer (

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