Democrats claim Web advantage

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New forms of the Internet are playing a larger role in politics, and Democrats see both the medium and the culture associated with it as giving them a leg up in the perpetual fights of two-party politics.

Joe Trippi, an adviser to the presidential campaign of former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, predicted in a forum last week at George Washington University that sites where users provide the content, such as YouTube, will become more important for political campaigns. He partly attributed this trend to the lack of trust young people have for institutions, as compared to their trust for their peers. Advantage: Democrats, he said.

“It’s a medium that abhors command and control,” he told an audience at the forum, titled “The Future of Political Communications.” “Two guesses: Which party is really good and command and control? The Republican Party. Which isn’t? The Democratic Party.”

He said that “credibility is moving downwards, away from the top,” comparing the situation to that of a young person who hears from five of his best friends that a particular film is not good. No matter what the production company says, that person is unlikely to see the film.

But Republicans are skeptical of the thesis.

Bryan Preston, executive producer of Michelle Malkin’s conservative Internet broadcast network, dismissed Mr. Trippi’s words about “control” as “projecting what he thinks of the right, not what’s actually going on.”

“We know that there is significant command and control on the left side of the blogosphere that does not exist on the right. There is no analog to the Townhouse list on the right,” said Mr. Preston, alluding to the e-mail list that connects some members of the liberal blogosphere.

“By controlling links and access to advertising groups on Blogads, the bloggers who run Daily Kos, MyDD, Firedoglake and one or two other major left-wing blogs can and do dictate a party line approach to blogging. This gives the Democrats an innate advantage over Republicans among the blogs — if the Dems successfully co-opt a handful of major left-wing blogs, they can dominate and shape the message that those blogs transmit.”

Mark SooHoo, an adviser to the presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, told The Times at the GWU forum: “I don’t think the gap [between Republican and Democratic success on the Internet] is as large as a lot of people make it out to be. I think we’re slowly getting closer.”

As a result of the increased importance of Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, Mr. Trippi anticipated that authenticity will be key in attracting voters.

“The only thing that matters is how authentic you are,” he said. “If you get caught in an authentic moment that says to everyone you may be a racist … pretty bad.”

Because candidates will appear more often in unscripted situations, Mr. Trippi predicted that “someone’s probably going to have a ‘macaca’ moment,” referring to the furor surrounding Republican Sen. George Allen’s use of the word to refer to an Indian-American volunteer who worked for his opponent in the 2006 Virginia Senate race, which Mr. Allen lost.

Eighteen-year-old David D. Burstein wants to increase the young-adult vote in 2008. The forum concluded with the premiere screening of “I’m 18 in 08,” Mr. Burstein’s short documentary that promotes the participation of young adults in elections.

“I’m 18 in 08” features elected officials from both parties encouraging young people to vote.

Heather Smith, executive director of Young Voter Strategies, spoke to the forum about the opportunity that political parties have with young people. She said partisan preferences are usually solidified by 30, and most voters continue to vote for the same party after they have voted in three elections.

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