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Bush's site neck and neck with Kerry's in traffic race

President Bush may be feeling the heat in national polls, but in the race for Web site traffic, he's keeping up with his challenger.

President Bush may be feeling the heat in national polls, but in the race for Web site traffic, he's keeping up with his challenger.

The total number of Americans visiting the campaign sites for Bush and for Sen. John Kerry was virtually the same in April, according to numbers released by Nielsen/NetRatings.

U.S. visitors to the Kerry campaign Web site numbered 1.6 million last month, while the Bush site attracted 1.5 million, the measurement company said.

Although site traffic and online spending and fundraising have become increasingly important to the campaigns, the Net remains secondary to traditional media, especially television. But online advertising has provided the campaigns with looser campaign rules, a situation that's spawned harsher attacks than television, radio and print regulations generally permit.

"We hear again and again from the traditional-media folks that politics is all about TV advertising--that that's where you spend the money and get the results," Nielsen/NetRatings analyst Greg Bloom said. "So it's nice to see that there's a decent-size online footprint, though it's still only a fraction of their overall budget."

Over the last three months, Bush has gained on Kerry in the race for online visitors. In February, Bush attracted 0.9 million visitors, compared with Kerry's 1.1 million. In March, 1.9 million Americans visited the Bush site, and 2 million visited Kerry's.

Bush's gains online have come as his national approval numbers in several polls have slid below the critical 50 percent mark.

They also come as the two campaigns and the major political parties are adjusting their online advertising efforts.

Kerry, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, has a huge lead over Bush in online advertising impressions, or the number of times an online ad is viewed. In April, Kerry's online ads scored 52 million impressions to Bush's paltry 5,000.

But figures for online ads sponsored by candidates' parties show Republican efforts dwarfing those of Democrats, with 113 million impressions for Republican National Committee-sponsored ads and 63,000 for ads sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.

Ads by the committees focus on voter registration and criticizing each other rather than on explicitly plugging the candidates.