Hillary weaves a political web


Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to apply her successful “listening tour” of New York voters to national politics via the Internet, a venture that could prove just how powerful the Web will be in the 2008 race for the White House.

Clinton, like Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Barack Obama, former Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, used the Web to announce her plans, saying: “I’m in. And I’m in to win.”

She’s banking that in an era of the popular video-viewing YouTube and the networking myspace.com, the Internet will be an influential and critical component of the modern race, experts say.

“These campaigns are not going to be about who has the best television commercials or who has the greatest direct mail or who can make the most phone calls,” said political strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“You’re going to see greater use of the Net than ever before,” he said. “You get your news out when you want to.”

Clinton said on Sunday that she planned to take full advantage of the newest in communication.

“Obviously we have all kinds of new media now, even more than when I first ran back in 2000 and certainly in my previous election, to reach millions of people throughout our country all at the same time in the same way,” she said.

The first of her live video chats was set for Monday evening, with a second on Tuesday, the night of President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address, and a third on Wednesday.

“It’s a conversation I’m looking forward to having with all of you as I travel across the country. But tonight, it begins live, online,” Clinton said in an e-mail to supporters on Monday.

Elsewhere on the Web, the Huffington Post, one of the most widely read U.S. political blogs, is inviting presidential hopefuls to hold the first online debate. A video of a blunder by Democratic Sen. John Kerry last fall spread like wildfire with YouTube viewers, showing the Web’s unprecedented reach.

Blazing an Internet trail was former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean four years ago, the first campaign to use the world wide web effectively to raise money, organize supporters and generate early momentum.

“You’ve got everybody imitating what happened four years ago, when Howard Dean led the way,” said Ira Teinowitz, who writes about political advertising for “Advertising Age.”

The Web is inexpensive, allows control of a political message and can target groups of voters, experts say.

For Clinton, it’s an up-to-date version of the enormously successful “listening tour” she waged ahead of her U.S. Senate race in 2000. While it spurred some criticism that Clinton was an interloper who needed a crash course about New York, it won her votes, even in upstate New York, where more conservatives turned out for her.

“It is without question this year’s model of the listening tour,” said Sheinkopf. “It’s a way to insure that she gets the broadest base of the population, and it’s a way to protect her from charges she’s not new enough or fresh enough, which is part of what’s moving Barack Obama along.”

And it helps Clinton with a peculiar issue she faces — the role of her husband former President Bill Clinton, added Teinowitz.

“If you have a press conference, what do you do with Bill?” he said. “You can avoid those issues on the Web. She’s sitting there talking, and no one is sitting there saying, ‘Where the hell is Bill?”‘

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited