Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Campaign Sites - Governor

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.

Governor 2006

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.

14 comments:

Becky - DeStefano for CT said...

Hey Gengis-
Thanks for this GREAT blog post! We appreciate the comments about our web site and blog - we try to keep it intersting and interactive. As to the spanish translation - expect to see it soon. We had never considered a search this page option - we'll kick it around and see how feasible it is - (I'm no programmer). And Gengis - thanks for commenting - its people like you who motivate us to keep the website fresh.

Genghis Conn said...

Check out what I'm using for my search function--Google. It's easy to tweak, it's a format people are used to, and (best of all) it's free.

Check the bottom of this page

MikeCT said...

You have to hand it to the DeStefano campaign - they have the only state candidate site this year and perhaps ever to generate a sense of community, excitement, and interactivity through the Web site. At its heart is the blog, coordinated by the tireless Aldon Hynes, but it simply looks better, has more features, and invites greater participation than any other state candidate site I've seen.

Disclaimer: I am in no way involved with the DeStefano campaign.

I am not surprised by the lack of substance on the Bysiewicz site - I have heard that she is not known for her substantive interest in policy. (To be fair, candidate brochures and Web sites typically offer little substance or even a sense of what differentiates them from candidates of the other party -- "quality schools" and "job growth" is the typical pablum. It is also early for all of these campaigns.) If I am correct in my impressions, she has also avoided all the candidate forums thus far.

Personally, I was highly amused by the stilted and staged photos in her gallery, with section titles such as "In tune with families" and "Susan reaches out to Seniors".

Aldon Hynes said...

Genghis, Thank you for the great blog post. I've put up a search box. We're working on the Spanish and on getting the Mayor to post more frequently.

I've written a longer reply on the DeStefano blog.

Also, thanks to Becky (who works for the DeStefano campaign) and Mike (who doesn't) for their comments. I will note that despite what Mike says, I am not tireless. This is hard, tiring work. It is also very fulfilling. Thanks to everyone. See you on the blogs.

Scott Caplan said...

Hi, I'm a DeStefano Blog reader who just came to the site. There seems to be something wron with your RSS feed. Do you have a URL I can subscribe to?

Thanks,
Scott

Genghis Conn said...

Hi Scott,

The site feed is at:

http://connecticutlocalpolitics.blogspot.com/atom.xml

Let me know if it doesn't work.

stomv said...

I hope web pages will have a strong impact on political races, but my gut tells me that they won't.

The reality is that the web is a pull environment. You've got to go get what you want. This contrasts sharply with television and newspapers, which push the content they choose onto the consumer.

How many voters care enough about local politics to not be satisfied by newspaper and television reporting/ads, but instead are going to make their choice based on details available on the web page? I suggest: not bloody many. Simply put, web pages won't generate votes for general elections.

However, I think they will play a huge role in primary elections. The primaries are where the political die-hards are a much greater percentage of the voters, and those are the ones likely to be far more nuanced in their selection process. A great web page for a candidate (a) allows voters to feel more comfortable about that candidate, since the voter knows more about positions, and (b) allows voters to feel more confident about that candidate going the distance if he wins the primary, since he's got a polished, well thought out visible campaign available on the Internet.

As for campaign blogs -- the future is in the DeStefano race. Candidates don't blog. They have neither the time nor interest, and furthermore, they can't afford to risk making a claim that is too bold, erroronous, etc -- and the turnaround time in the blogsphere is fast and furious. They simply have too much to lose. Staffers, on the other hand, live for this kind of thing. They too must exercise caution to represent their candidate (a) appropriately, (b) accururately, (c) timely, and (d) with class -- things that aren't easy to do when you're racing to respond to news as its happening.

Brian Durand said...

Ghengis- Thanks for the interesting post.

Just a quick update from inside the Malloy campaign: We're going to be launching our blog within 24 hours, something we're all very excited about. We urge all of you to stop by tomorrow afternoon and have a look.

www.danmalloy.com

Genghis Conn said...

Brian,

Thanks for the update! I'll certainly be checking it out.

Ebpie said...

I am surprised at the way Susan Bysewicz has gone about the campaign so far. Not only does she not have a very good website, but she doesn't seem to be attending any of the candidate forums either. According to the Destefano blog, she's agreed to appear with the Mayors on several occasions, but always backed out. The only time I heard of the Secretary actually campaigning was when she went to my sister's high school in New Haven. She's raised a fair amount of money and I assume she is going to DTC meetings, but at this stage in the game both Destefano and Malloy seem to be ahead of her in terms of getting public attention. Both Mayors have written extensive op-eds to local papers, appeared in forums, and, now, have blogs.

Genghis Conn said...

Ebpie,

It is a bit odd, but perhaps she doesn't feel she needs to get her name out there quite so much. She's a more recognizable figure statewide, and she's won two statewide elections for Secretary of the State.

Aldon Hynes said...

I would like to address a few of the things that stomv has said. He is right in noting that the web is a pull environment. However, campaigns internet strategies are more than just the web presence. We are busy building up our email list, just as I assume the Malloy and Bysiewicz campaigns are. Email is push. In addition, as we get people to read our blog it is our hope and goal that they will go out and talk to friends, family and neighbors as a push, but hopefully, not in a pushy way.

So, webpages alone won’t generate votes in the general election. However a well thought out and integrated web strategy will. As to candidates blogging, stomv is partly right. Mayor DeStefano’s time is very tight and I fight to put time in his schedule for blogging. However, Mayor DeStefano is very interested in blogging. He is paying attention. I just need to keep on him to get him to post.

MikeCT said...

Alsm reserved are rellwatch.cmm and rellwatch.mrg (nmt active).

MikeCT said...

Sorry - keyboard weirdness. That should have said: Also reserved are rellwatch.com and rellwatch.org.