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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 26, 2010

Office seekers get busy, online

By David Shapiro

There's a spirited 2010 election campaign going on in my e-mail inbox.

In the special election in the 1st Congressional District, I get campaign missives almost daily from the leading candidates Ed Case, Colleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou.

Also active online are the local political parties, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Republican National Campaign Committee and various other interest groups.

I hear regularly from the two announced candidates for governor, Neil Abercrombie and James "Duke" Aiona, and at least a couple of times a week from several of the candidates for lieutenant governor and mayoral candidates Donovan Dela Cruz and Panos Prevedouros.

Many of the candidates are also busy on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

It's an inexpensive way of campaigning, certainly more informative than sign-waving, and the Obama presidential campaign rode it a long way.

But at the lower level of sophistication where it is practiced locally, it's unclear how much impact the online politicking is really having on the campaign.

I threw a question about online campaigning to the politically akamai folks who comment on my blog and got a mixed response.

Some described it as "junk mail" and "sign-waving for the 21st century," while others saw it as an opportunity for candidates to cut out the news media as middlemen and communicate directly with voters at a relatively low cost.

The key seems to be that candidates' online communications be genuinely personal and offer substance beyond what they can provide in 30-second TV spots and postal mailers.

Those whose e-mails do little beyond scrounging for money and whose Facebook and Twitter posts are obviously done by aides are probably doing themselves more harm than good.

Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Gary Hooser is credited with some of the most effective online campaigning.

He's active on Facebook with frequent posts that are personal as well as political, blogs regularly on issues and uses his website to stream video of campaign events and circulate a documentary about his life.

Peter Kay, who has helped several campaigns build online presence, says it has become "an important component of an overall campaign," but "not the most important one yet."

"Large amounts of money come in online," he said. "Still, individual big donors make up the bulk of most campaigns.

"Today's conditions will change over time to further favor online strategies. No question, however, traditional media still play an incredibly important role in shaping public opinion. I would say that plus strong grassroots efforts are still what wins/loses elections."