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Blog ad for Obama campaign

There has been a delicate dance between political operatives and the Internet. While activists have been using blogs and new media to spread the word about politics or specific candidates for years, the politicians and their consultants have been wary of spending too much of their campaign chest on online marketing. They have largely stuck to the tried and true: TV ads.

While that might well continue through the coming 2008 presidential election, there are finally some signs of change. John Edwards posted his intention to run in the election on YouTube, and asked viewers to text message him to join his OneCorps organization. Barack Obama announced that he was starting an exploratory committee in a video distributed through Brightcove, an online video startup.

And the online marketing push is not limited to potential Democratic candidates. Republicans Rudy Guiliani and Mitt Romney, as well as Obama and Edwards, have already run advertisements on weblogs to start signing up supporters on their own websites and start raising money. Those ads are running nearly two years before the election, easily trumping the 11 months before the ’04 election when blog ads starting appearing for the last presidential race.

“The effort is driven by our recognition of a very unique and motivated audience among new media devotees,” Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told MediaPost. “Our blog ads help reach this audience and drive traffic to our mittromney.com website and provide more information about Mitt Romney, his campaign, his ideas and how they can then in turn join our effort.”

So why jump on the Net this early in the campaign? Political consultants and advisors are beginning to see the importance of the Internet in shaping voter opinions. As BlogAds chief Henry Copeland points out on his blog, a recent poll of Congressional offices found that 9 out of 10 folks in those offices were reading blogs, and 64% believe that “blogs are more useful than mainstream media for identifying future national political problems and debates.” (You can read the entire survey results here in a Acrobat PDF file.)

And voters are showing a definite inclination to get political information online. A recent Pew Internet survey found that 31% of all Americans — or nearly half of all Internet users — were online during the 2006 election season getting political news and exchanging views via email. Plus, 15% of Americans said the Internet was one of their two primary sources for political information for the ’06 election, up from 7% who said the same thing in the last mid-term election in 2002. And these are very active voters online, with 23% of folks who use the Net for political reasons creating or forwarding original political commentary or videos.

The logic is simple to follow. More people are going online for political news, especially political junkies and activists who can follow every minute detail of presidential campaigns on blogs. The people close to the politicians — advisors, staffers and consultants — have to pay attention to online chatter and video taken on the campaign trail. (It’s hard to forget the macaca video that helped sink Sen. George Allen’s campaign in Virginia in ’06.) So political blogs and online news sites are the perfect place for candidates to reach those important, influential activists.

Political TV ads are not going to go away by any stretch, and are just too entrenched in the mindset of consultants. But these early efforts show that both Democratic and Republican candidates will be courting bloggers and their audiences for help with their campaigns — and eventually, their votes.

What do you think? Are candidates benefitting by using new media? How? Do blog advertisements help get their message out? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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