In the race for the White House, candidates need to reach the voters -- the more directly, the better.
And YouTube is proving quite significant in that regard.
According to TechPresident.com, campaign videos have been viewed more than 22 million times on the highly popular Web site.
As The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith pointed out Thursday, "Tape your own thing, stick it on YouTube, stick it on the Internet, you bypass us, you bypass paid advertisers; (it's) a great way to get your message across."
"It's cheaper" and unfiltered, observed CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield, adding that the YouTube spots are showing "extraordinary reach."
To illustrate the point, Greenfield noted that some 16 million people voted in 2004 in the Democratic presidential primaries, and 8 million in Republican contests. So, "Twenty-two million (YouTube) hits ... is a pretty significant number."
No surprise then that, as Greenfield put it, "everybody" is going the YouTube route this campaign season.
"For instance," he said, "Dennis Kucinich: no money, no organization, so he goes to YouTube, puts on an ad. It's not particularly compelling. He's talking about a peace tower as a way of symbolizing peace. This has been seen about 6,600 times, which isn't much, but how many times does a candidate like Kucinich get to talk to 6,600 people at virtually no expense? So this is a good medium for an underfunded candidate."
The major players have taken note, too, including the Hillary Clinton campaign.
"If her image is a little too humorless, maybe, a little too sturdy," Greenfield commented, "(Hollywood) director Rob Reiner has a (humorous) video in which he's (supposedly) instructing Clinton campaigners on how to behave."
John Edwards has a video addressing all the heat he took for his $400 haircut. It says, "Let's get serious about what matters," using a very familiar song from the '60s, "Hair" in the background. It was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Still, while candidates can control their message with YouTube videos, they tread in potentially risky waters.
Said Greenfield, "It's a fascinating new medium. It can be a great asset. (But) it can be a very trick liability. ... Live by YouTube, die by YouTube.
"Rudy Giuliani was at the National Rifle Association, and he interrupted his speech to take a cell phone call from his wife. How endearing, the loving husband. Right? Within an hour or so, the Romney campaign put on YouTube a video that shows he did precisely the same thing almost three months earlier, very clearly suggesting -- a spontaneous, loving event? No. A calculated effort to prove that now, at last, he's found the right woman."
Also, Greenfield said, "On YouTube, a comment is forever. Romney is running as a social conservative. From the moment he joined the race, we don't know if it was another campaign or just old opponents, other people put on YouTube a clip from Romney when he ran (for governor) in Massachusetts in 1994, and again in 2002, showing a very different view about social issues such as abortion and gay rights."
The video shows Romney saying, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that, since Roe Vs. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it."
All in all, concluded Smith, "This is where the future of the campaign certainly is."
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.