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Rudy Who? Hillary’s Site Sticks to the Issues

Hillary Clinton’s campaign claims to be taking a kinder, gentler approach to marketing the Senatorial candidate on the Web.

Instead of engaging in the mudslinging that opponent New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani started on his site Hillaryno.com, the campaign wants to provide information about the first lady’s campaign speeches, biography and stands on the issues.

This move is one that analysts say is essential to the success of a candidate looking for support from Netizens.

“Smith for Senate works on a button or bumper sticker or TV commercial. That doesn’t work on the Internet. People say, ‘Give me information.’ They think they’re hiding something by not articulating their views on education or other issues,” said W. Russell Neuman, professor of communications at the Annenberg School for Communications in Philadelphia. Its Annenberg Public Policy Center conducts political public opinion surveys and content analysis.

Hillary2000.org features an “in-her-own-words” section that allows voters to select Clinton’s views on everything from gun control to hate crimes using a drop-down menu. A similar feature is available for her policy proposals.

“A very important element on a successful political site is a search engine or high-quality navigation tool so the voters can find what they want,” said Neuman. “The last thing you want to do is annoy a voter who can’t find what they want. Our focus groups have said, ‘If a candidate can’t manage a Web site, how can they manage in the Senate or the presidency?'”

Making information readily available is becoming more important, as almost one-quarter of Americans now get some election information online, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Washington.

“Clearly, as the number of Americans going online and doing a number of things has increased, so has their research on politically oriented sites,” said Greg Flemming, survey director at the Pew Research Center. “So it’s not surprising that the candidates are spending a lot more of their resources on the Internet.”

To market the site, the campaign has sent out a number of direct mail pieces with the Web address featured on the stationary. The URL is listed on all signs and posters. The candidate is also encouraged to promote the site at all of her speaking engagements.

Opponent Mayor Rudy Giuliani has battled Clinton using an informational site called Rudyyes.com as well as an attack site called Hillaryno.com.

The Clinton site won’t likely counterattack, said Karen Finney, press secretary for Hillary2000, New York.

Launching negative campaigns on the Web is relatively new, said Neuman. “It will be interesting if people hold candidates responsible for negative statements on candidates' Web sites.”

Hillary2000.org also is using the site to recognize its campaign volunteers as well as sign on new ones. The campaign has relaunched the volunteer area of the site with a “volunteer spotlight.” The goal is to get volunteers to highlight one another’s efforts.

At press time, the site has registered more than 7,000 volunteers. “It’s a great grassroots organization tool. We’re thrilled with the response we’ve had,” said Finney.

The site had pulled in less than $100,000 in donations, but every little bit counts, according to Finney. “One of the things that’s important, in terms of online donating,” she said, “is that it's a way for people who want to make smaller contributions to donate.”

While the Web has seen an increased role in the 2000 elections, it has yet to surface as a crucial part of the political machine, said Neuman.

“The Web may become a powerful force, but it’s not yet there. We say that because in New Hampshire, a state where there’s intense political attention, only 8 percent of the active online community interviewed knew about the presidential candidates Web sites before we told them about it. It’s a little puzzling.”

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