Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine Volume 1, Number 8 / December 1, 1994 / Page 3

Beyond the Press Release: the Web as a Campaign Tool

by Chris Lapham (

Wednesday, November 9, 1994 was a dark day in the history of the Democratic party. Republicans won a resounding national victory as the Democrats lost leadership of the House. But not all Democrats were busy packing up their offices this November: Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) "survived the death of liberalism" according to Newsweek and defeated his challenger, Mitt Romney, by a 58 to 41 percent margin.

Kennedy campaign volunteers attribute the Senator's success to his legislative record in the Senate. But in this election, the dissemination of that record took a decidedly high-tech twist. With technical assistance from Issue Dynamics (IDI), a Washington-area service provider, and financial support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Senator's office had its own campaign web page, Kennedy for Senate.

"We created the original hypertext mark-up language (HTML) and basic structure, while they (IDI) did a lot with the appearance and the mail form. Knowing it would be short-lived, the campaign web page was very fluid with new material and links added almost daily. The final addition was the "Get Out And Vote" link that was added to the top of the page the day before election day. It included contact information for every Democratic office in the state and instructions on how to request or offer rides to the polls," say Chris Casey, a Kennedy campaign volunteer.

Kennedy and Technology

According to his staff, the Office of Senator Edward Kennedy was the first Congressional office on the Web. This Senate Office Web site (a completely different project from the campaign web) has information on tracking legislation, the state of Massachusetts, and links to information servers in Congress, the White House, and national agencies. To comply with Senate rules that prevent a Senator from using the Senate FTP, Gopher, or other information servers prior to an election, the office web page was "frozen" from July 23 through election day. No new material was posted during this period.

In contrast to the office web site, Kennedy's campaign web page focused on the Senator's ideology and congressional record. Voters could easily find the Senator's legislative record, field reports, and most importantly, where Kennedy stood on issues ranging from elderly Americans and labor issues, to gay and lesbian rights and African-American concerns.

Going Beyond Press Releases

Political and commercial web sites can often fall into the trap of simply disseminating press releases electronically. Those that are successful--Kennedy for Senate had about ten visits per hour in the last days of the campaign--rise above this temptation, and provide useful, informative, and even entertaining links to web travelers. For example, the Kennedy for Senate page provided a direct link to the Senator, through Kennedy On-line, from which readers could access the graphically-pleasing Massachusetts Map of WWW Resources. The campaign page also included the Yahoo Guide to the WWW, where visitors could find such luscious tidbits as "Oliver North, transcending any election efforts or rise and fall in media attention, the Oliver North page coordinates resources and high hilarity about the Real American Hero." (sounds like a must-see for Dems and Republicans alike.) Kennedy's campaign page also linked to the DSCC, with its "Top Ten List," a good source of current political information and satire.

Doing It Right

"I think our effort set a strong standard for doing it well," says Campaign Volunteer Casey. "Political campaigns have an important future on the net, but just as there is a right way and a wrong way to go about advertising on-line, there is a right and a wrong way to campaign. The smart candidate will be careful to do it right, posting to appropriate newsgroups, providing useful information and links to related resources, and basically demonstrating an understanding of netiquette that will make them a welcome presence on the net rather than an unwanted intruder," he says. Campaigning on the nets is novel in '94 admits Casey, but he predicts that by '96 it will be routine. ¤

Chris Lapham, Chief Correspondent for CMC Magazine, is a freelance writer and reporter who lives in the Capital Region of New York. She is currently completing a Master's degree in Communication and Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Copyright © 1994 by Chris Lapham. All Rights Reserved.

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