Asleep at the Mouse

Tracking politics as it's practiced on the Web.
Nov. 18 2000 12:00 AM

Asleep at the Mouse

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

Visit the campaign Web site of Vice President Al Gore and you'll find little sign of the post-election maneuvering that has besieged Florida since Nov. 7. The site remains eerily frozen in time, featuring the same message from campaign chairman William Daley on the home page since Nov. 10.

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Texas Gov. George W. Bush's camp, meanwhile, has stepped up its online activities, with updates of the continuing legal battle in Florida on the candidate's site and an e-mail campaign seeking donations to support the Bush team's efforts to block recounts in the Sunshine State.

The difference in both style and strategy illustrates the Internet's still precarious role in the political process. On the one hand, Bush's burst of online activity could signal another step toward a new political era, in which campaigns live in perpetuity online beyond Election Day. On the other hand, the post-election abandonment of the Net by Gore and other congressional candidates is evidence of a stubborn resistance toward digital politics.

Steven Schneider, editor of NetElection.org, a joint project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the Center for Governmental Studies, and the Center for Public Integrity, thinks the former is the way of the future.

"I think the Web is clearly going to be on the front lines of the new permanent campaign," Schneider says. "This is sort of the natural evolution."

But, he acknowledges, candidates are "still fighting the Internet," adding that neither Gore nor Bush is really tapping the vast potential of the Internet to transform America's political system.

Sen. John McCain was the first major candidate to maintain a post-election Web presence. After losing the presidential primary, the Arizona Republican created his Straight Talk America Political Action Commission and its accompanying Web site, which can be accessed at both straighttalkamerica.com and McCain2000.com.

"There's no point in not keeping that Web traffic, especially if you are now soliciting for help to [another] cause," says Tom Yeatts, co-founder of online political consultancy Virtual Sprockets and an adviser to McCain's online campaign.

Granted, with or without the Internet, Bush and Gore are entering uncharted political territory in the fight for Florida's Electoral College votes. Gore has been fighting for a recount, and Thursday seemed to score a small victory when the Florida Supreme Court approved a plan by Palm Beach County to hand count ballots. But on Friday, Bush moved ahead in the litigation game, when a federal judge ruled that the state can reject any recounts.

Gore has created a recount committee to concentrate on the high-stakes Florida showdown. His campaign for the presidency is officially over, and its Internet strategy has closed down along with it, leaving visitors to the official Gore site to search for the latest information elsewhere. But Democrats looking for the party line on Florida's sudden-death match online also come up short at the sites of the Democratic National Committee and the Florida Democratic Party. Democrats.org offers only a statement from DNC national chair Joe Andrew thanking supporters and a plea for a fair and accurate ballot count.

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