The online arms race in the Madison mayoral election is accelerating with less than two weeks remaining until the Feb. 20 primary.
On Jan. 31, Peter MuÃoz launched his campaign website and corresponding MySpace page. On the same day, incumbent Dave Cieslewicz released the first of two web-only campaign spots promoting his personal history and political outlook.
Less than a week later, looking to grab some more of that online video mojo, the Cieslewicz reelection team released the second half of the mayor's three-minute video bio and revealed that hizzoner had started publishing a campaign blog at daveformadison.wordpress.com.
"Blogs are a way to have an informal conversation with voters about the issues that are important to them," intoned Mayor Dave in a formal campaign press release. "Four years ago, I didn't even know what a blog was. Today, they are a necessity for any serious campaign."
Mayor Dave didn't know what a blog was in early 2003? Back during the heyday of drum-beating warbloggers, right after liberal bloggers claimed their first trophy with the (temporary) resignation of Trent Lott from his leadership position in the U.S. Senate? Well, Cieslewicz was running for mayor at the time, and his campaign was spending a lot of time working the phones.
"When we go through our lists from 2003," says his campaign manager Megan McGrorty, "many people don't have landlines anymore." Hence one reason for the "Mayor Dave for Mayor Blog."
"We're trying to reach out to people who are not traditional voters or wouldn't respond to traditional voter contact," explains McGrorty. "We have a mobile society now, where people don't have their landlines and spend more time online."
And so now will Mayor Dave, or at least his campaign team, that is. Cieslewicz isn't simply sitting down at a computer before breakfast or after dinner to type out his latest thoughts on Allied Drive. Nope, like everything else in a citywide campaign, there is a process to his postings.
Cieslewicz is only writing some of the items on the blog, the rest being posted by "Team Cieslewicz." He is writing those bearing his byline, explains McGrorty, who reviews everything Mayor Dave writes before it's published online. "I think it's a little different from a press release," she says, "in that it's less formal. It's less of a forum for him to talk about his policies and more for people to ask him questions so he can directly respond to them."
Some of this conversation will occur in the blog's comments, which are subjected to an approval process before publishing. "I have a blog intern who will go through and look at the comments," McGrorty says, "and anything that's ridiculous we wouldn't accept."
What's considered ridiculous?
"That doesn't mean we wouldn't accept comments that are critical of the mayor," McGrorty says, "but if someone put up something like 'Mayor Dave sucks' without any reason, we probably wouldn't post that." The campaign is looking for an "honest conversation, so anything that isn't rude is what we're looking for."
Neither Cieslewicz nor his campaign responded to two other questions already getting raised by interested observers. One, why didn't he start something like this before the campaign to communicate with his constituents? Two, will the mayor continue publishing should he be reelected?
Though the mayor is keeping mum on these issues, he might consider addressing them on his new blog.
Meanwhile, the MuÃoz campaign is pushing the pedal on MySpace.
"One of the things we're doing is trying to engage a younger demographic," says online coordinator Dan Guerra. "If you look at the previous national elections, you saw a lot of politicians do it. Whether it was on MySpace or Facebook, it's really a comprehensive package for people to read what Peter is saying."
Guerra is working with campaign volunteers to publish Munoz's communications on the MySpace blog. "We're also putting up all of the answers to different questionnaires that the campaign is receiving," Guerra says. "With all of the special interest groups asking questions about the mayor's race, we thought that everybody should be able to see his answers to them."
That's not all, though. Guerra explains that MuÃoz will be blogging himself on MySpace. "We're slowly getting thing into gear," he says.
What about criticisms that the cookie-cutter layout, blocky look, and juvenile reputation of MySpace is beneath a serious candidate? "I think there are a lot of criticisms no matter what you do," responds Guerra. "It was a matter of making sure Peter had an opportunity to listen to younger people. I think we've seen how much influence they can have. It's really having the desired impact that we're wanting with it, to get closer to that demographic."
Mayoral challenger Ray Allen is trailing Cieslewicz and Munoz in the online contest. Allen's campaign is looking to revamp its website in coming days, but has yet to launch any interactive campaign components. His advisers are thinking about it, though.
"We've tossed around the idea, but have yet to decide definitively one way or another," says campaign manager Semmi Pasha. "We're open to all methods and avenues to share Ray's vision of the city."
Whether or not the Allen campaign starts blogging or networking, though, the other two campaigns are already making their plans.
Already having started a Facebook group, the Cieslewicz campaign is considering a MySpace page. "Yeah, we should work on one," says McGrorty when asked if they would be joining MuÃoz in that social networking sea. "I'll put it on the to do list for the blog intern."
The MuÃoz campaign, meanwhile, just made a decision to conduct a live online chat, though they have no plans for anything else yet. "It's important to get our message out," Guerra says, "but we want to prioritize our resources."
Then there's Will Sandstrom, the repeat candidate from 2003 who consistently succeeds in making a spectacle at campaign forums. He too, has a (long-neglected and willfully bigoted) blog, along with a joke Facebook group that was started "just for fun."