CES - Blogs, new media reshape politics

Online campaigning reshaping candidates reach to the public

Blogs and other new media technologies are having a profound impact on this year's US presidential campaign.

But even Democrat Barack Obama can't credit his success in the Iowa caucuses last week and his strong showing in polls for Tuesday's New Hampshire primary entirely to Web 2.0 technologies, a panel of political insiders said at the CES trade show Monday.

The panel members, representing both Democrat and Republican views, said the ability to manage online campaigning has helped the candidates in various ways. However, they also said other factors, especially the war in Iraq, are involved in generating strong interest online in the elections.

Several panelists noted that Democrats in the presidential race seem to have attracted more young, savvy supporters in this year's race, than the Republicans. But Republican Grover Norquist, president for Americans for Tax Reform, reminded the group that Republicans were seen as more technology savvy eight years ago when George W. Bush first ran for president. "Remember the Drudge Report [back then]? People were saying that the Republicans have a hold on us," he said.

Norquist and others said that political parties out of power tend to get more astute about effective means of persuasion, which in the past decade or so has included using the Internet.

The panel also included former US Rep. Dan Glickman, a Democrat and chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America; former US Rep. Charles Bass, a New Hampshire Republican and CEO of the Republic Main Street Partnership; Peter Leyden, director of the New Politics Institute in San Francisco, and Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman from YouTube. CNBC reporter Maria Bartiromo moderated the session.

Glickman said he has long studied what interests people under the age of 40 in politics and government and found that "clearly, new media has captured their attention." The enormous turnout of young voters, especially Democrats, at the Iowa caucuses bolsters that point, he said. "We have basically opened the door for a whole new generation ... People are able to yell fire in a crowded theater, but are using modern technology."

Reyes said major television networks were able to take YouTube videos recorded at Iowa caucus meetings, adding a new element to their coverage. Reyes said he could not declare a clear winner in the use of new media.

"I think the candidates are all using it differently," he said, noting that Democrat Hillary Clinton has used the online medium to "show her lighter side," while Republican Mitt Romney's organization is a "machine at downloading and uploading videos" with 600 videos uploaded on YouTube so far.

Republican Ron Paul has had "runaway hits" while Republican Mike Huckabee has developed features that have been "great for our audience," Reyes said.

"We'd love to take credit and say the online world [is a major factor in politics this year], but also the issues are close to people's hearts, and it's a unique time with a two-term president, and a war going on. People now have a whole new way to engage," Reyes said.