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A few candidates embrace Internet in '08 campaign

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By Chris Sardelli

It used to be that the only way political candidates could reach a large audience was to spend their days walking door to door, meeting voters where they lived.

But in a world where social network Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have become the quickest ways to reach an audience, candidates in local elections have turned to emerging technology to reach even more potential voters.

In the race for the state Senate District 16 seat, both Republican candidate Mick Mulvaney, the incumbent state District 45 House representative, and Democratic candidate Mandy Powers Norrell have entered the online world hoping to connect with potential voters and volunteers.

Mulvaney said his Web site, www.mickmulvaney.com, has over 100 views a day, and that number spikes whenever his office sends out an informational mailer or he is mentioned in a newspaper article.

"The traffic on my Web site has pleasantly surprised me," Mulvaney said. "The Web site is a good place to post information for people to see the issues driving the campaign."

His Web site features many ways for readers to learn about important issues, from links to recent newsworthy headlines to a detailed description of Mulvaney's stand on issues, such as jobs and education. He also provides explanations about his voting record. The site includes his biography, resume and photos, as well as several political cartoons and a sign-up screen for campaign volunteers and another sign-up for his e-mail list.

Mulvaney said he sends a weekly message to the over 3,000 names on that e-mail list.

If elected, Mulvaney plans to convert his site into a blog, which is an online journal, where he will post regular updates on policies and important news of the week. He had originally planned on blogging about his current campaign, but decided to concentrate on the election instead.

Despite the advantages to having a Web presence, Mulvaney said the Internet hasn't drastically changed his campaign.

"It helps with communication, which is always a plus, but managing an e-mail list and a Web site is something you spend a lot of time on. It has its pluses and minuses." Mulvaney said. "It's not going to replace old-fashioned techniques, like going door to door and meeting people."

Looking into the future of political campaigns as technology becomes even more advanced, Mulvaney believes it will become easier to sling mud.

"It's going to make it much dirtier because of the anonymity," Mulvaney said. "If I mail something to you, I have to put my name on it. But those rules don't apply on the Internet."

Norrell said she learned a great deal about the Internet and emerging technology while building her own Web site, www.norrellsenate.com. Now she knows how to download information onto the Internet, link photos, create slide shows and send e-blasts, which are mass e-mails sent to members of her e-mail list. She sends, on average, one e-blast a week with news about the campaign. This helps her supporters stay current on the issues, she said.

"The Internet is such a great equalizer in campaigns because candidates that don't have a lot of money to spend can get their message in," Norrell said. "I've always said a lot of good people avoid politics because they're afraid it's too expensive, but with the Internet, now anyone can run for office."

Norrell's site includes an issues page where voters can learn about how she stands on taxes, education and school vouchers, as well as a volunteer sign-up page much like Mulvaney's. She also regularly updates a blog page with either her own postings, or articles from area newspapers regarding the election.

Norrell also makes use of a Web site called Flickr, which allows her to organize photos in online albums, which can be viewed individually or in slide-show form. The photos, which feature both her family and scenes from the campaign trail, can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/norrellsenate.

"I have worked on other people's campaigns and I know the Internet has changed everything," Norrell said. "My Web site has helped me make a lot of connections and lots of new friends."

So far, she's had a great reaction to the site, but said it's only one of many ways to reach people.

"Personal communication is still a big part of a campaign. I base my campaign on personal touches like sending birthday cards," Norrell said. "The Internet helps to magnify these efforts."

At least one other candidate is using the Internet to try to reach voters.

Deborah Long, the Republican running against Democrat Fred Thomas for the state House District 45 seat, has set up a Web site that features contact information, a volunteer sign-up page and her biography.

The site, http://longforhouse.com, features a link to the S.C. State Ethics Commission, where readers can research both her contribution and spending history.

Neither Long nor Thomas could be reached for comment.

What is this new technology?

What is an e-blast?

These are mass e-mails sent to members of an e-mail list. This allows one person to send updates to multiple e-mail addresses at one time.

What is a blog?

A blog is an online journal updated regularly by a single writer. Journal entries, often called posts, can be on any topic, with candidate blogs usually covering upcoming political events. The word blog is a shortening of the words Web log.

What is a social network site?

These Web sites are online communities of people who have similar interests and can communicate through e-mails, blogs or instant messages. The most famous are MySpace and Facebook, both of which allow users to create and interact with lists of friends. YouTube is a social site that lets users upload videos for anyone to view and comment on. Twitter is one of the newest social network sites. It lets users communicate through short messages that are only 140 characters or smaller.

Want to learn more about the candidates?

Mick Mulvaney: www.mickmulvaney.com

Mandy Powers Norrell: www.norrellsenate.com

Deborah Long: http://longforhouse.com

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or (803) 416-8416