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8/22/2003
05:30 PM
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Business Technology: Instant Campaign (Just Add Internet)

Seven weeks. What if that was all the time you had to sell a new product online? And you had to have the site up today. And there were already competing sites. Potential buyers would make immediate and perhaps lasting decisions about your product based on what you launched.

That's the challenge faced by, for lack of a better term, campaign CIOs working for candidates running for governor in California, the world's fifth-biggest economy. Most of the 130-odd gubernatorial hopefuls in the unprecedented recall campaign won't make this demand of anyone. They're kooks. A few non-kooks have launched campaign sites, and it's interesting to see how each is making use of the Internet.

The best is Peter Ueberroth's (www.peterforgovernor.com). He's the man credited with turning a profit on the 1984 U.S. Olympic Games. His site is smooth as silk and as easy to navigate as a bathtub. A banner containing photos of Republican Ueberroth and a coastline are underscored by three imperatives: "Spread the Word," "Get Involved!" and "Contribute." If only most E-commerce sites were so direct.

It visually plays up his role as president of the Games as much as copyright laws permit--torches everywhere. The message is clear: He cleaned up the Olympics mess and he'll clean up the state's. Where the site shines, though, is in its use of Meetup.com, a free service that helps people organize gatherings. That might sound innocuous, but imagine giving your firm's customers a way to meet about your product, to plan their own ways of marketing your product. As best as I can Google, his is the only official candidate site using the service and in so doing, he's handing back the reins of campaigning to ordinary people.

The site for embattled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis is so ineffective that he should just ditch it. I mean it. He's the governor of California, and the site (www.gray-davis.com) doesn't accept financial contributions. It has a gloss of sophistication. Every time you refresh the home page, you see another picture of Davis, the best of which shows him walking with Bill Clinton and actor Martin Sheen (which I think is aimed at the progressive vote), and the worst of which makes him look like a blurry Mr. Rogers in a crowd of people, most of whom are paying no attention to him.

Meetup? Davis' site can't even keep up. Its volunteer page is one big, white expanse dominated by a caricature of him riding a swayback bear. There's a lonely link to a sign-up form, something I had wanted to see when I clicked off the home page. There's not even another entertaining caricature.

On the plus side, there's a long list of audio clips and some video downloads.

Then there's the candidate who needs no last name. Arnold. At his temporary site (www.joinarnold.com), you can contribute to his campaign, volunteer, or link to "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Entertainment Web Site." You can go. I was a little afraid.

The home page is dominated by a photo of Schwarzenegger and his lovely wife and Kennedy kin Maria Shriver, something that no doubt many a conservative Republican could do without. But I'll say this for whoever's running this billboard of a site: They were lightning quick to add a link to Schwarzenegger's defense of California's historic Prop. 13, which caps property-tax increases. You may remember that his economic adviser Warren Buffett recently said Prop. 13 was outdated.

It's easy, even inviting, to scoff at these efforts. Even Ueberroth's site isn't doing half of what it can to use the Web as a real campaign nexus. But there's still a month and a half to go. Think what you could do in that time.

Jim Nash
Managing editor, news and interactive products
[email protected]

Bob Evans is on vacation and will return in two weeks.


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