Candidates Stake Claims on Web 17 Months Before 2006 Election
In yet another sign of how American political campaigns are lengthening to the point of never really stopping, in many cases, most declared statewide candidates for the 2006 election have already invested considerable time, effort and money in their websites. Compare this to the 1996 election, the first in which campaign sites were really used, and Bob Dole's lonely web outpost (actually not too bad for the time), and you'll see just how far campaign sites have come.
Web presence is such an integral part of a campaign these days that it's difficult to see how a candidate beyond the strictly local level could be competitive without one. Your basic campaign site has information about the candidate, lots of pictures of the candidate, his/her family and happy waving supporters, some position statements and very prominent DONATE MONEY HERE section. A new feature of campaign sites is the campaign blog, which is evolving from a simple journal by the candidate or campaign staff into a much more interactive forum for (gasp) actual contact with the public. We should expect to see a lot of interesting things being done with campaign blogs next year, since the start of the current campaign cycle coincided with a sharp spike in blog influence and popularity.
So who's doing what on the web? Today we're going to look at the three declared candidates for governor. Other candidates will be examined as 2006 nears and more sites go live.
Susan Bysiewicz, John DeStefano and Dan Malloy each have active websites.
Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz's site is nicely designed, but has very little of substance. There are plenty of pictures of the candidate, including the rotating home page pic, which could be either Susan posing with an uncomfortable-looking UCONN player or campaigning for Joe Lieberman in 2004 (see the Joe Bus in the background?). There is a nice biography of Bysiewicz, and a lot of links to various forms (campaign information, donations, newsletter, donations, volunteer, donations...). But I can't find what Bysiewicz actually stands for, not counting a few generalities sprinkled here and there about restoring integrity to the governor's office, creating jobs and other campaign cliches. This may be on purpose--after all, saying nothing specific while speaking in comforting generalities has worked well for some candidates in the past.
This site has seemed pretty dormant lately. The press releases section was last updated over a month ago, and that's the latest update I can find. There's nary a whiff of bloggery about the site--indeed, there's nothing interactive at all.
The one thing that SusanForGovernor.com has that the other sites lack is a prominent link to the page in Spanish. Other than that... this site is disappointing.
John DeStefano has the most expansive web presence of any candidate so far. His site has detailed policy statements, an updates list of events, lots of New Haven boosterism and a very active blog run almost entirely by staffers.
The site is easy to navigate, for the most part, and manages to convey a lot of information without feeling too cramped. There is an intense quality to the site, accentuated by hard edges and primary colors. It isn't searchable, however, and it can be a bit hard on the eyes after a while.
There's a lot to do here, including participating in Blog for Connecticut, which is the campaign/issues blog run by the staff. So far the candidate himself has only posted once or twice, which is a shame, and hasn't responded to comments. But the blog itself, which is updated very regularly by several different staffers, is interesting and usually issue-oriented, although it has been criticized for appearing to digress from time to time. The most fascinating section of the blog is the comment area, of course, if only because it's entirely unpredictable. It's pretty bold of a candidate to include an open comment section--I don't know of many others that do. It's rather a nice change from the usual tightly-controlled on-message site.
This is a fun and informative site, and by far the best of the three at this time. Will it help DeStefano in the long run?
Dan Malloy's site was in limbo, as was the rest of his campaign, during an investigation for ethics violations. But he was cleared of any wrongdoing, and his site is back up and running. The long down time has left the site feeling half-finished.
The front page of the site is a form to sign up for email updates, which can be bypassed. It's a neat idea, but I found it kind of annoying after clicking through it a dozen times or so. Maybe as the campaign progresses, it will be integrated into the main site.
The main site, once reached, is dominated by a slideshow of candidate pictures with somewhat matching titles ("Values," "Experience," "Results," etc.). It looks like it should be clickable, but it isn't. A statement by the candidate is directly under the slides.
There are up-to-date news and events on the right sidebar (mostly Stamford boosterism for now), and a clickable map of the state to find regional events (mostly town committee meetings right now). However, the "In the News" section of the "Newsroom" has what look like links to stories, but apparently aren't.
Once again, it's not easy to find detailed positions. The link titled "The Issues" leads only to a statement about crime. There are hints of interactivity here, though. Unfortunately, the tantalizing "Dan's Blog" heading leads only to a "Coming Soon" message. I have yet to try "Ask Dan."
There's a lot of potential at this site, and I imagine that we'll see some of that fulfilled as soon as the campaign gets soldily back on its feet.
As for the incumbent, someone has registered www.jodirell.com. However, it's not active yet, and probably won't be until she announces her intentions. I have no idea what to expect from Jodi Rell when it comes to a campaign site.
These sites are going to grow and change as November 2006 approaches. We should expect Susan Bysiewicz's site to become more active, John DeStefano's site to evolve in interesting new ways, and Dan Malloy's site to fulfill that early potential.
Do campaign sites matter? Maybe. A strong web presence helped Howard Dean for a while in 2004. New, different and innovative sites may help candidates to interact with citizens and better express their messages. Of course, not even the nicest, slickest site in the world will matter if voters just don't like a candidate.
I'll continue this series later on this summer, probably with Secretary of the State candidates.