Candidates Flock To MySpace, YouTube

GENERIC Internet politics voting web computer
Phil Angelides, California's Democratic candidate for governor, had nothing to do with creating a MySpace page under his name. His teenage daughter was the first to point out his presence on the popular online hangout.

But rather than kill a volunteer's unauthorized efforts, the campaign has embraced the youth-heavy site, using Angelides' personal profile page to post position papers and other announcements. It also scans the comments section to gauge what's on young people's minds, turning it into an informal focus group.

"We've come to embrace it as our own," campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw said. "It can help you reach an audience that otherwise might be more difficult to reach. Not as many young voters watch the evening news."

The campaign has also turned to video-sharing site to circulate campaign ads, speeches and other clips.

In many ways, these free, user-driven community sites are to this year's races what blogs were to campaigns two years ago. They are not replacements for traditional staples like TV ads and direct mailings, but they offer the latest venues for campaigns to reach younger voters and mobilize them to volunteer.

"If you're looking to find somebody who's going to spend 22 hours putting up signs for you, I'd go to MySpace," said Phil Noble, who runs the PoliticsOnline consulting firm.

Rod Shealy, a consultant for two Republican candidates in South Carolina, said several volunteers emerged after the campaigns blasted help requests to hundreds of MySpace supporters.

"It's (like) the soda fountains of the 50s," he said. "It's where young people hang out."

Supporters and opponents alike have even created profiles — unofficially — for the 2008 presidential race. One MySpace page for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for instance, declares her "The President of the United States of America."

Politicians join businesses, news organizations and others looking to exploit the growth in user-driven sites. Campaigns face greater headaches in controlling their message, but supporters say such sites offer more good than harm.

Driven largely by word of mouth, News Corp.'s MySpace has rapidly risen to become the second-busiest site in the United States, behind only Yahoo Inc., according to comScore Media Metrix.

Its more than 100 million registered users can share messages, songs, photos and video on profile pages. They can designate other MySpace users as "friends," building a network that grows as friends link to more friends, and so on.

Angelides, currently California's treasurer, has more than 5,000 friends — and counting.

"It's almost like an endorsement list," said Steven Clift, editor of the Web site Democracies Online. "Pictures show up, and it gave me the impression that these are real people who support these people."

Ned Lamont, who defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in last week's Connecticut primary, had more than 175 MySpace friends.

Although it's not possible to isolate MySpace's contribution to Lamont's victory, its ability to mobilize friends and those friends' friends created "waves of support that Lamont was able to catch," Steve Schneider, a political science professor at the State University of New York Institute of Technology.

Many candidates, however, are sitting on the sidelines for now.