Thursday, October 26, 2006

For better or for worse

Technology has changed elections. Anyone with a high-speed Internet connection has access to a lot of information about political candidates. While broadband hasn’t been equally available in rural and urban areas, campaign organizers realize they can reach a new and younger crowd by using Web sites viewed by the Internet savvy.

For instance, Congressman John Shimkus posted his profile on Facebook, a “social directory” where friends share information with each other. But you would have to create a Facebook account to view his full profile that includes his contact information, educational and work information, interests and favorite music, upcoming events and a list of other people he accepts as “friends” in his network.

Barack Obama has a blog that links to his Facebook profile and to his video appearances, such as his CNN interview on “The Situation Room” posted on YouTube, another Web site that enables people to post and watch their own videos.

And there are many more political ads on YouTube, whether they were posted by the official campaign or by someone else. A search for Judy Baar Topinka or Rod Blagojevich each produce about three dozen links to TV ads and other related videos, some of which could be Joe Schmo’s personal commentary. And, like any Internet search, you may also get some other stuff not directly related to your inquiry and not exactly in good taste.

And buyer beware, politicians’ ads tend to spin the facts in their favor. Case in point, Blagojevich’s recent ad accuses Topinka, three-term state treasurer, of being connected to the last administration’s corruption because she was “George Ryan’s treasurer.” As recently said by Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, the treasurer has no more to do with the legislative process than a Statehouse janitor does. And isn’t Topinka also Blagojevich’s treasurer?

But if a voter still wants to see what is being produced across the state, a person in northern Illinois can look up political ads being aired in the relatively hot state senate race in east central Illinois to replace Republican Sen. Rick Winkle. A commercial for Republican Judy Myers is posted targeting Democrat Michael Frerichs. He also posted his own TV ad on his Web site.

For those who are interested in how Illinois races compare to races in other states, there’s a new national resource online in the form of a daily blog. Most of Illinois’ political insiders know of Rich Miller’s Capitol Fax Blog, but it now has been added to The Hotline Political Network. While the site has room to grow, it’s designed to feature bloggers who are the unofficial sources for insider news and analysis from their respective states.

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