What Home Pages Tell (And Don't Tell) About A Candidate
We visited each of the candidates' sites Aug. 8 to see how they are addressing the Internet electorate and found many surprises.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean may have brought serious media attention to Internet election campaigning with his fund-raising success, but he's hardly the only candidate innovating online. In fact, online might be the only place to discern a difference between these candidates (the democratic ones, at least).
I visited each of the candidates' sites Aug. 8 to see how they address the Internet electorate and found many surprises. For instance, I went to the Rev. Al Sharpton's site expecting to see a damn-the-conventions page reflecting the revival atmosphere of his in-person events. Wrong. What I found was a stately layout, format, and message that might have been chosen by FDR were he stumping today.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, on the other hand, can carry himself with great gravity, but his site has the feel of a small county's fair. Not one but two goofball contests appear on the home page. One is a tote-board count of people who've registered on the site as a supporter. During the afternoon, the campaign was close to 200,000, a figure I'd assumed would be updated the next day, but when I went back to double-check something a couple hours later, the top of the page was dominated by news that "Shanna W. of Chicago" was No. 200,000.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham's page has a similar feel. Considering that Graham is privy to what undoubtedly must be insomnia-inducing intelligence briefings (he's a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), his site has all the heaviness of a company picnic. His contest would have people suggest a job for him to do for one day.
U.S. Sen. John Edwards was a surprise for how standard his site felt. The buzz about him has always been that of charisma and creativity, but the site is a clutter punctuated by photographs of people whose heads are the size of corn kernels.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman's site wows you first with a huge graphic: "Joe Lieberman" with a star in the "o." Here's a site for man who wants to be of the people. The big focus of his page, besides the signature graphic, is a piece about a new page called JoesJobsTour.com, which actually is a recounting of Lieberman's campaign tour so far, highlighting the number of jobs lost since Bush took office.
Notable on U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's site are the photos of celebrities who've apparently endorsed him: two of a ropy-looking Willie Nelson and one of indie alt-folk musician Ani DiFranco. If that's not culturally relevant enough for you, there's an attempt to draw parallels between Kucinich and the racehorse Seabiscuit, the subject of a new movie.
Dean himself has a site that isn't as innovative as his fund-raising record would indicate. By looking at this page, one might guess the man was shy. There are several campaign videos to download (an innovation not enough of the candidates have embraced), but here's a man who has won the trifecta of political news coverage; he was on the cover of Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News And World Report during the same week, and I had to scroll all the way to the bottom to find that out.
U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt's site is fun in a time-warp kind of way. It feels like a state-run newspaper because it spends most of its real estate telling readers how important and popular Gephardt is in officials' circles. And where it's not implicitly telling visitors to join the party, it's showing links titled "Economic fairness," "Fighting for America's working families," "Working with the African American Community." Give me a link titled "Let's put George in a headlock." One weird note: The page designers have grafted Gephardt to the top of the navigation bar on the left. Makes him look like the tip of an old Hawaiian longboard.
Speaking of wooden, former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun's team is doing her no favors online. They've created the essence of brochureware. It's all well-produced and very static, except for a center window with bulleted links to articles that presumably are updated occasionally. One of the items is "New Poll! Democrat defeats Bush; Carol in the middle of the pack."
The most surprising online effort is at the same time the least surprising from a certain perspective. President Bush's home page welcomes all "to the temporary georgewbush.com." It's not brochureware so much as a monitor-sized billboard with a large color photo looking up at Bush in a pose that in some nations would be captured in bronze and put in a park. But then how much effort does a sitting president in the post-Clinton era need to put into name recognition and fund raising via the Internet?
Follow the links below to view each candidate's home page. I've noted more high and low points of each page. As far as I could tell, each site is designed to take your contribution in three to four clicks. Designs can be like campaign promises, however.
After perusing the critiques, join me in the Listening Post to discuss how presidential politics is changing the Internet and vice versa.
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