Reach Out and Lobby Someone

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
May 23 2000 3:00 AM

Reach Out and Lobby Someone

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Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.  

One of the more clever political messages on the Web doesn't sound much like a political message at first. It comes from callyourgrandma.com, a friendly new site offering a free 10-minute calling card to do exactly what its URL suggests. Why? "Prescription drugs and Medicare reform are hot topics in Congress," the site says, "and your grandma needs to know what's at stake!"

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The site is sponsored by Third Millennium, a nonprofit group that focuses on Social Security and Medicare reform, and  Citizens for Better Medicare, the same organization that was responsible for a national series of TV ads featuring "Flo," the bowling senior who cares about the cost of federal health benefits.

Both sponsors oppose plans in Congress and in President Clinton's budget that would provide subsidized prescription drug coverage for the Medicare program's 39 million recipients. callyourgrandma.com has its own prescription: "Seniors need the peace of mind that comes from good private prescription drug coverage—not a wildly expensive one-size-fits-all government program that puts bureaucrats in charge of their medicines."

Third Millennium and Citizens for Better Medicare are counting on young Web users to help spread the word for them. Anyone who registers his or her name, street address, and e-mail address with the site gets a free long-distance phone card.

Third Millennium's Richard Thau said callyourgrandma.com will try to connect young people with seniors by finding "gentle, fun ways of bringing them into the discussion." The site is also a tool for building politically valuable lists of concerned clickers. Its privacy policy says the sponsors will not share, sell, or lease contact information with other organizations, but the names and e-mail addresses will come in handy when it comes time to "contact you about future issues."

Thau said the sponsors have bought "several thousand" phone cards and are ready to buy more if the campaign is successful—although they'll also keep an eye out for repeat visitors scamming for multiple phone cards. "We'll be monitoring the database," Thau said.

On Campaign Sites, It's English First

Hispanic Americans have the potential to be an important block of swing voters in the 2000 elections. Both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush have aired Spanish-language TV ads and have Spanish-language portions of their Web sites. Bush's site even includes a page dedicated to his favorite Spanish sayings, such as, "I do not drink (alcohol), I only take advice, especially from my mom." (Yo no tomo alcohol … solo tomo consejos, y en especial de mi Mamá.)

But the Web does not appear to be a major outreach tool for Latino voters in this year's House, Senate, and gubernatorial races, even in communities where their votes count most.

None of the candidates in the 10 congressional districts with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents has Spanish sections on his or her campaign site. One possible reason: None of those contests are even close to being competitive, according to Congressional Quarterly's running district-by-district analysis of the campaign.

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