Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lehigh Valley Underdogs Fail to Use the Great Equalizer - the Internet

Is technology really changing politics? Not in the Lehigh Valley. Not yet.

Most challengers rely on press conferences or press releases to announce daily epiphanies or fill us in on their opponent's latest outrage. Those tactics rarely work against heavily financed incumbents. Ask Charles Dertinger. Ask Bonnie Dodge.

Morning Call columnist Bill White gives us the newspaper's perspective. Reporters and their editors just don't consider these press conferences newsworthy. Yet challengers often waste precious time and limited staff trying to engage mainstream media. Heavily financed incumbents don't need press conferences. They can simply buy their own newspaper and broadcast ads. They can afford mailers and are always good for a few of those giant cardboard checks come election time.

Most lesser known candidates could easily use the Internet to even the odds. But few Lehigh Valley politicians have done so. Instead of wasting time on poorly reported press conferences, a politician could leapfrog mainstream media and post his ideas on a blog. It serves as both "ultimate cyberspace soapbox" and gives politicians an unfiltered avenue to potential voters and constituents. A real blog, in which a candidate posts unvarnished views on a regular basis, would be certain to attract a large audience, including mainstream media. It's also a wonderfully organic way to relate with voters.

But blogs are just the beginning. Email chains and podcasts with candidate's messages are useful tools for spreading a message. Blogs and websites can also be anonymously used for those nasty little attacks, like the one nailing Senator Santorum for parking in handicapped spots.

Despite these obvious advantages, few Lehigh Valley candidates have yet to make full use of the Internet. Bonnie Dodge, who ran for the state senate for nearly a year, could easily have filled a blog with daily posts. Charles Dertinger, who did publish a blog, was far too cautious in his very infrequent posts. Get a load of this.

"I hope all of you reading made it through the flood safely. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who've been affected."

Seriously, what the hell is up with that? Instead of thirteen posts throughout an entire campaign, an insider could have flooded the blogosphere with posts pointing out the differences between Dertinger and Dent. Instead we got blessings from the Royal We.

Most politicians are justifiably concerned their words can come back to haunt them if they later change their views. So their blogs are blogs in name only. You won't catch them talking about setting their hair on fire. I'm no political consultant but I can't help feeling that Dertinger could have made far better use of his blog, if only to contrast himself with Dent. What the hell did he have to lose?

Chris "Blue Collar" Casey's introspective and heartfelt essays opened a window to his soul, something a prospective voter didn't see in a Reichley's numerous campaign fliers or TV ads. Despite his originality and eloquence, no one knew Casey's blog was out there. A blog must be combined with email campaigns so people know about it.

I receive several thousand emails daily telling me about Viagra (how the hell do they know?), penis enlargement (it's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog), and breast enlargement (my boobs are already 36DD). But I received no email promoting any of the local campaigns, excepting the occasional press release sent my way as a blogger.

The Internet had no impact this election cycle, but that's only because underfinanced underdogs failed to use it. If they do, they might find it is a great equalizer. There are some positive signs. Lehigh County's Democratic Party has just revamped its website, with links to candidates, events, and volunteer opportunities. That's grassroots democracy. And they did it without money from Blackwater USA, too!

The cost of a blog, candidate's website, and email? Nothing! But not a single candidate in the Lehigh Valley took advantage of this opportunity. This is not their fault. It's mine. I should have been spreading the word and offering my services.

Geez, I'm already one of the biggest spammers in the Lehigh Valley. Ask any news reporter. Ask any pol.

The only problem is that, every time I become actively involved in a campaign, it goes in the tank. I'm not particularly good going door to door, where some guy just handed me his wallet, and a woman once told me I was a little too old for trick or treat. And my bicycle campaign for Karl Longenbach probably backfired. People on their way to work just didn't appreciate a 4'x6' sign on the back of my bike, slowing them down. But this time I've got the solution. Yes, siree.

Hooray for our team!


Chris Casey said...

Okay Bernie, I agree with some of your assessment, but I jusy went and checked the logs on my website, and the blog I had attached to it. From Nov 1st to the 6th, 938 individual visits were made to my campaign website.
During the same time, there were 1453 visits to the linked blog, with 936 of them coming on November 5th and 6th. This tells me people were reading and coming back. Yes, many people didn't know it existed, but I did put the website on my campaign signs, so I can only guess people got it there or googled it. I won't even tale a stab at analyzing that data.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, You could easily have had much higher numbers, and over a longer period of time. But don't get me involved. It's the kiss of death.