Tuesday, October 26, 2004

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (AP) — Battery-powered Segway scooters, first showcased three years ago, are being used by some politicians this election year as an easy ride to door-to-door campaigning.

The high-tech transporters allow candidates to reach more homes in less time, allowing them to zip through streets and sidewalks at up to 12 mph with almost no effort.

State Rep. John Heard, a Republican, has put the electric scooters to the test in suburban Atlanta’s Gwinnett County — sporting a red campaign sign taped on the Segway’s handle bars.

In the sprawling subdivisions of his district, Mr. Heard once brought his campaign message to potential voters by trudging through the streets, occasionally hopping in a car to take a break.

Tired of the long walks but still looking for ways to reach more people, Mr. Heard learned about Segways from campaign consultant Bill McKinney, who got the idea after watching police officers and meter readers use them in downtown Atlanta.

“It’s hard to sell yourself when you’re out of breath when you get there,” Mr. Heard said. “By being on a Segway, you’re not hot and sweaty, you’re not exhausted from walking, so you’re focused on the conversation.”

Mireille Tanner, a mother of two, said that until Mr. Heard came by, she had never seen the scooters, which are controlled by the slightest body movements with the help of tiny computers and balance-controlling gyroscopes.

“It’s great,” Mrs. Tanner said, adding that it was the first time she has had a politician come knocking on her door since she moved into her home seven years ago.

“There are so many names, and you don’t know who to vote for, so this definitely made an impact,” she said. “It’s personal, and I appreciate it.”

On a Segway, a candidate can reach three times more homes than on foot, said Mr. McKinney, who has consulted at least three other candidates in Georgia who used Segways earlier this year while campaigning in the state’s primaries.

Mr. McKinney, an advocate of door-to-door canvassing, cites a Yale University study that indicated knocking on voters’ doors can account for a 7 percent to 12 percent increase in overall voter turnout.

“When you think of the demonstrably effective things a candidate can do with their time, I think meeting voters face to face is probably at top of the list,” said Donald P. Green, the study’s author and director of Yale’s Institute on Social and Policy Studies.

When Craig Jones made his first run for public office, he put his Segway to work navigating through the rolling neighborhoods of Los Altos Hills, Calif., which often poses a challenge for politicians wanting to go door to door.

Mr. Jones recalled visiting one resident who seemed shocked that a politician was at his door. “He said, ‘In 50 years, you’re only the second candidate that’s come to the door. And the other one came in on a moped,’” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Heard’s Segway has become a mobile billboard of sorts for him.

For a candidate whose campaign focuses on improving air quality and relieving traffic congestion in booming metropolitan Atlanta, using the Segway “gives a vivid understanding that I’m a person concerned about the environment,” Mr. Heard said. “I don’t go up and down the roads in a car. I use something environmentally neutral to do my campaigning.”

Despite the advantages, cost remains a concern for budget-strapped candidates. The Segway’s $5,000 price tag — or rentals of $1,000 per month — keep away many people.

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