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|#1 Posted on 12.9.03 0454.36 |
Reposted on: 12.9.10 0454.37
| http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/11/technology/circuits/11cali.html? ex=1063857600&en=d9b6ef70ed452ffb& ei=5062& partner=GOOGLE for pictures|
Dear Campaign Diary: Seizing the Day, Online
By MICHAEL FALCONE
SIX years ago, when Reva Renee Renz was waiting on tables at a bar in Southern California, she knew little about politics. But a few times a week on a blackboard next to the daily drink specials, she recalls, she wrote short rants about whatever was on her mind: a problem in the city, or a new ordinance that she thought unfair. Her messages won her a steady following.
Ms. Renz is still serving up opinions, but now she is reaching a wider audience. She has begun an online chronicle of her thoughts and activities in a Web log, or blog. And lately she has found an endless source of material: her campaign for governor.
Ms. Renz, who describes herself has "a former party girl turned Republican," owns Deva's Bar in Tustin, Calif. And the bar's Web site, with its suggestive image of a bikini-clad woman reclining in a martini glass, is the portal for her political blog. On it she chronicles campaign events, from a formal luncheon with the Orange County Federation of Republican Women to an appearance at a decidedly dressed-down lingerie and toga party.
"I might not be very politically versed," Ms. Renz said. "But I know how I feel, and I can communicate that in a way regular people can understand."
Of the 135 candidates on the ballot running to replace Gov. Gray Davis, scores have Web sites, and at least 14 have started blogs. Most of the bloggers are among the group of lesser-known candidates, although Arianna Huffington has adopted the form, as has the governor's wife, Sharon.
Since Howard Dean's Democratic presidential effort created one in March, the blog, with its spontaneous feel and wide reach, has quickly gained acceptance as a tool of technology-savvy political campaigns, along with online fund-raising and grass-roots organizing sites like MeetUp.com and MoveOn.org. But unlike many of the 2004 presidential candidates, who have teams of online writers churning out material, the bloggers in the recall race, including Ms. Huffington and Mrs. Davis, say they are writing their own entries.
With such a large field of candidates, it is for many the best shot at being noticed.
Georgy Russell, a 26-year-old software engineer from Mountain View, in Silicon Valley, gained notoriety early in the campaign for hawking thong underwear stamped with the "Georgy for Governor" logo at her Web site. Now Ms. Russell's online efforts are focused on her campaign blog, which shows a progression from lighthearted banter ("To many of you who have asked, I am a Raider fan, not a 49er fan, sorry!") to diatribes on the state budget and the recall race itself ("Is the Democratic Party working the Cruz angle more so than we thought?").
Her blog is proof that if you build it, they will come - from elsewhere on the Internet. The day Slashdot .org, an interactive technology news site, invited its members to post questions for Ms. Russell for an online interview, she reported on her blog, her Web site received 52,000 unique visits. Popdex.com, which ranks blogs by the number of links from other sites, has also been a source of traffic. And traffic can mean funds: she has received contributions from more than 200 donors, whose names she posts online under the heading "Georgy's Army." So far, she has raised about $8,000 from individuals and online sales of "Georgy" bumper stickers, mugs, sweatshirts, and of course, thong underwear.
Others are running - and blogging - more to make a point than to win votes. Diana Foss, a San Jose Democrat and at-home mother, calls her campaign Web site "Pig-Biting Mad About the Recall," and describes it as a chronicle of the absurdity of the campaign and the recall itself, which she opposes.
"Boy, it's difficult to convey how surreal the recall is," Ms. Foss wrote last month. "I'm getting gubernatorial-candidate spam. I'm getting phone solicitations by providers of campaign consulting services. And just now I got a wrong number phone call from someone who was trying to reach a different candidate for governor."
After a "straight and respectable" interview with a local weekly, she wrote: "I'm not sure how long the interest in all of us hoi polloi candidates is going to last, so better strike while the iron is hot."
The Web has not been her only outlet; she has also received coverage in print, on radio and on television. And like some of the others running, she has turned the tables by using her blog to cover the press coverage of her, including this reporter's queries. But despite the attention, she has tried to keep her family out of the limelight - and the blog.
Another candidate, Marc Valdez, 46, a pro-recall Democrat from Sacramento ("Helping Californians Choose the Lesser of 135 Evils," his blog proclaims), does not have those misgivings about privacy. In fact, he often links postings on his political blog to his personal blog because, he says, it is the personal connection that defines the medium.
"People feel estranged from political candidates, and they hunger after knowledge about them," he said. "I thought this way they get to know me warts and all."
When Mr. Valdez, an atmospheric scientist, is not analyzing data on pollution particulates ("Tell me how tall your smokestack is, and I'll tell you how much of an impact you'll have on air quality," he writes) you might find him anteing up at the blackjack table of a local casino. Mr. Valdez even divulges to his blog readers that he likes to "prance about in tights" at rehearsals of his musical theater troupe.
Even minutiae of daily life, if recounted personally by a candidate for political office, may prove an effective way of connecting with voters, he says.
It is a strategy that two of the more prominent campaign bloggers have adopted. Ms. Huffington, for example, unabashedly reveals a penchant for cafe latte and discloses the secret weapon for keeping her "Greek olive oily skin" free of shiny patches under hot television lights: a clutch of blotting tissues, always kept handy.
Mrs. Davis, meanwhile, uses her blog to dispel what she calls the "misinformation floating around about my husband."
"When we have a moment off, we enjoy the same things others do: seeing friends, dinner and a movie, or just taking the time to read a good book," she wrote in an Aug. 18 entry titled "A Wife's Observations," adding, "Since our schedules are so hectic, our favorite evening is when we rent a movie, pick up some takeout and spend a quiet evening at home."
Armed with a BlackBerry, Mrs. Davis has blogged on airplanes, on an exercise bicycle and even in cars (But on the rare occasions she gets behind the wheel, she insists, she never blogs and drives). If her husband manages to keep his job in the Oct. 7 vote, she said, she is considering making her blog permanent to maintain her connection with voters.
"One of the great lessons of this recall is that you think people actually know what you're doing in Sacramento, that schools are getting better, that we're working on highway projects and enacting important laws, and yet people don't know," Mrs. Davis said in a telephone interview.
For political devotees hungry for new information, candidates' blogs are an alternative to the standard campaign Web site, with its often-stagnant content. Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at California State University at Sacramento, said the blog had become akin to a virtual handshake.
"From a communications standpoint, anything that enables people to read and talk about something rather than get a 30-second blast is a good thing," Dr. O'Connor said. "At its best, you build a legitimate relationship to the people that are engaged in a way that TV has never done."
Attracting readers is crucial. Garrett Gruener, the multimillionaire co-founder of the information Web site Ask Jeeves, is not shy about saying that he wants to have the best Internet site of any candidate. He says he plans to use nearly all of the $750,000 he has donated to his campaign to enhance his Web presence, an effort that includes buying ad space on Internet search engines.
"No one knows what happens when you do this because no one's ever really done it before," said Mr. Gruener, whose campaign Web site already includes a blog and a forum and will soon have videos. But with most of the electorate now online, he said, "We're way past the threshold in which this is a reasonable medium in which to talk to voters."
Dan Feinstein of San Francisco, a Democrat running an iconoclastic campaign, also observed that the Internet had created a way for candidates to be heard. "Say this whole thing had happened in 1971; how would a regular person have gotten his message out?" he said. "There would have been no way."
Mr. Feinstein is a part of a group of 40 to 60 candidates who have banded together by e-mail to organize events including gatherings in Beverly Hills and in the San Francisco area. This electronic community has allowed the candidates to exchange ideas and develop parallel strategies for attracting news media attention.
Ms. Renz was among those wooed by e-mail to attend a recent meeting of lower-profile candidates in Beverly Hills. A former stockbroker, real estate agent, clothing designer and swimsuit model who says that most of the things she has done in life came about because people told her she could not do them, Ms. Renz is getting a crash course in something entirely new.
"I don't want to go too long without writing in this blog," she said in her Aug. 27 entry. "So much has happened I couldn't begin to describe what's going on! It's so exciting, yet draining." Ms. Renz went on to detail a dizzying day of media appearances, photo opportunities and lessons learned about the political process. But keeping it all in perspective, she concluded: "Well, time for a glass of Cabernet and a soak in the Jacuzzi!"
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