- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Democrats continue to be masters of the Internet for fundraising, voter outreach and buzz in the White House race.

Between the two official campaign Web sites, Sen. Barack Obama’s site consistently has attracted three-fourths of the total traffic, compared with 28 percent drawn to Sen. John McCain, according to research released Monday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ). Mr Obama also has five times more registered users than Mr. McCain.

The Democrat from Illinois simply is more effective online; his site strategically showcases clever links to mainstream news, a bank of speeches and talking points, downloadable campaign posters and other user-friendly devices and spiffy tools, the study found.

Mr. Obama is the darling of social networking as well. He has six times as many MySpace “friends” as Mr. McCain, five times as many Facebook friends, twice as many videos posted to YouTube and 11 times as many YouTube channel subscribers.

Some small irony is at work. Though Democrats typically have dominated the Internet since Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign proved the value of Internet fundraising and grass-roots outreach, it was Mr. McCain who staged some real pioneering online when he ran for the White House in 2000.

Billed as the “insurgent” candidate eight years ago, Mr. McCain staged the first “cyber-fundraiser” and a primitive Web chat at a campaign stop in South Carolina with a laptop using a 56K modem. He declared at the time that the Internet would “revolutionize” politics.

Some of the old insurgent mentality is still at work, the PEJ analysis suggests. The McCain Web site has “substantially improved its customization and socialization tools” to become more competitive with Mr. Obama’s.

“In the last few weeks, much as presidential preference polls have tightened, the McCain campaign has narrowed the gap online, substantially adding features and content since his nomination at the Republican convention,” the study says.

Mr. McCain has co-opted a popular Obama theme.

“The word ‘change’ - the motto of the Obama campaign - is now less prominent on the information pages of the Obama site than on McCain’s. On the Republican’s site, ‘change’ is among the top 20 most frequently used words,” the study says.

The Republican hopeful is not overlooking the draw of his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Online donations quadrupled in the 24 hours after Mrs. Palin’s national convention acceptance speech, according to the Republican National Committee.

“The McCain campaign has fully integrated his vice presidential pick, Sarah Palin - both textually and visually - into the Web site’s home page, while the Obama home page denotes his vice presidential pick, Joe Biden, much less prominently,” the study says.

The PEJ has been monitoring both Web sites for more than a year, and this analysis was based on Internet usage statistics from several sources in September.