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2007-11-14 / News

The campaign trail wanders through cyberspace

By Donna C. Gregory NEWS EDITOR

Midlothian school board candidate Patty Carpenter says using the Internet was an effective way to help reach potential voters. Midlothian school board candidate Patty Carpenter says using the Internet was an effective way to help reach potential voters. While nothing will ever replace face-toface handshakes and campaign signage, local candidates did utilize the Internet during this political cycle as yet another tool to reach voters.

Nearly every candidate for board of supervisors and school board had a Web site where voters could read up on their credentials and positions on key issues. But other candidates went further, utilizing video technology on YouTube, using e-mail to disseminate their agenda, and even taking in campaign donations.

Matoaca District supervisor candidate Marleen Durfee broke new ground in the county this year when she released a commercial on YouTube.com. Almost 600 people tuned in to watch Durfee's three-minute commercial, featuring supporters who wrote their own scripts.

"A YouTube commercial has never been produced in a Chesterfield election. It is the first of its kind," said Cathy Kirk, Durfee's campaign manager.

Midlothian District school board candidate Patty Carpenter found that using her Web site and e-mail was an effective way to help reach potential voters. "It is far-reaching to many, as people can be passionate and will forward information as they get it, depending on the message or data they are trying to share," explained Carpenter.

"The Internet has changed communication in all realms of business, as well as political campaigns," continued Carpenter. "A simple sound bite or message can make or break a campaign simply by being transmitted through the Internet. A perfect example of this is what we saw with blogs several years ago [referencing John Kerry's campaign for president]."

Matoaca District supervisor candidate Bill Hastings used his Web site as a fundraising tool. Supporters could make a donation using their credit card.

"It is hard to tell how well it reached voters," he said, adding, "The Internet is less significant in local campaigns as compared with statewide or national campaigns."

While Dale District supervisor candidate Jim Holland put up a Web site, he relied mostly on old-fashioned campaigning to reach voters.

"Although a lot of information is available on the Web site, people still prefer seeing and personally talking to a candidate," said Holland. "I went from door-to-door, visited churches and any location where voters were."

His strategy evidently paid off. Holland was successful in unseating the incumbent. "The difference was people talking to people," Holland said.

Candidates with limited budgets, like Clover Hill District school board candidate Joel Bradner, relied heavily on their Web site presence to win over support. Bradner's Web site address appeared on all of his campaign literature.

Unfortunately, when voters wanted to learn more about Bradner in the days leading up to the election, his Web site was missing-in-action.

"I ran a fairly low budget campaign because I was an Independent candidate, and everything came out of my own pocket. As a result, I used my existing Comcast service to host the Web site for the campaign. Several weeks before the election, Comcast did an upgrade of their services, and they crashed my Web site. It disabled about three-quarters of the links on there. It was completely down for almost the entire week leading up to the election. The Web site is still broken," said Bradner.

Ironically, the only thing that appeared to still work on Bradner's Web site was his visitor counter. While putting in numerous calls to customer service, Bradner watched helplessly as the visits continued to add up, realizing every visitor was potentially a lost vote.

"It wouldn't have affected the outcome of the election at all," admits Bradner, who ran a distant third in the race, "but I know that I had hundreds of visits to the Web site in the days leading up to the election, and every one of those visits was making me look like an idiot.

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