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Campaign sites miss Web boat

Most candidates still aren't taking full advantage of the Internet, but election experts say politicians are slowly catching on to the Web's power as a get-out-the-vote medium.

Online fund raising, e-mail alerts and other Web-based efforts became standard tools during the 2002 election, but most candidates still aren't taking full advantage of the Internet as a campaign medium.

Campaign 2002 didn't usher in any new breakthroughs, but political experts said the slow but steady adoption of the Internet as a get-out-the-vote medium could set the stage for an interesting e-lection in 2004.

Election experts, a notoriously tech-averse group, have been slow to embrace technology, often adopting tech tools years after they've been standard practices in the private sector. For example, many political candidates used e-mail marketing and search features for the first time this year.

Political consultants RightClick Strategies blasted 2002 candidates for failing to do something as rudimentary as regularly update their Web sites. Just 24 percent of the 168 sites visited by RightClick Tuesday morning noted that it was Election Day.

"It seems simple enough; if a campaign Web site is to be used as a communications tool, it must be updated on a daily basis," RightClick researchers wrote in a report that looked at the Election Day habits of campaign sites. "Most campaigns have failed in this effort."

RightClick also criticized campaign sites for not providing poll information so people could easily learn where to vote and for failing to send get-out-the-vote e-mails 24 hours before the campaign. Just 8 percent of sites sent e-mails reminding people to vote.

"If we had to issue a Web report card, unfortunately too many campaigns would get a failing grade," Larry Purpuro, RightClick's managing director, said in a statement.

Still, some consultants said election 2002 showed evidence that politicians are slowly catching on to the Web's power as a get-out-the-vote medium. And they're optimistic about what the next presidential race will bring. Traditionally, presidential election cycles have inspired innovative tech advances, in part because more voters pay attention to those races.

According to consulting group PoliticsOnline, 70 percent of candidates in major races had Web sites in 2002, up from just 60 percent two years ago. More candidates also embraced the Web as a fund-raising tool during this election season. More than 55 percent of campaign sites had some fund-raising component in 2002, compared with just 25 percent in 2000. PoliticsOnline also estimated that candidates collected twice as much money as they did during the last campaign.

Campaign consultants said preliminary experiments by some candidates offered a glimpse of what people can expect tech-wise in the 2004 election--from grassroots fund-raising efforts to the incorporation of wireless technology.

Phil Noble, founder of PoliticsOnline, cited as an example of what's to come. The site, which was founded during the Clinton impeachment hearings, raised $4.1 million for 22 candidates this season and quietly garnered $1 million in just 48 hours for congressmen who opposed the Iraq war resolution.

In contrast, 2000 candidate Bill Bradley made major headlines when he raised $1 million online during the last campaign cycle.

"Skeptics say that the Internet is not really having a major impact in politics," Noble said in a statement. "I say it's a revolution. And you ain't seen nothing yet."