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Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008

Think You Know John McCain?

Young, tech-savvy voters aren’t welcome

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Take one look at Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s Web site and you’ll see that he isn’t fighting for the youth vote—young voters who rely on the Internet for a good chunk of their political information.

Instead of reaching out to younger voters with an interesting mix of social networking, online campaign fundraising or, at the very least, a dynamic site that draws visitors more than once, the McCain campaign has opted for a clunky, incomplete, decidedly 20th-century online presence that does nothing to draw in new or undecided voters.

And that’s a strange strategy for a candidate who has two Silicon Valley veterans as advisors—eBay’s Meg Whitman is a national co-chair, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is a high-profile surrogate for the candidate. These two women could provide McCain with some insights about the way new media works, even if he did just learn how to do “a Google.”

The official campaign site— www.johnmccain.com—is woefully static. The campaign calendar is awfully empty, the “action” tabs for volunteers lead to error pages, and special interest sections don’t include key voting blocs (African Americans, Latinos, young people, students) that could prove to be crucial in a tight election. Instead, McCain reaches out to veterans, sportsmen, lawyers and small business leaders—the safe Republican base. His single page devoted to women voters merely mentions that he’s “surrounded by strong women in his life”—his mother, wife and three daughters—and asks visitors to check back soon for more information. The video on that page isn’t even about women’s concerns. It’s a campaign commercial on climate change. McCain’s pages en espaol are primarily in English—fitting for a Republican who is trying to shore up a rabidly anti-immigration base while attempting to seem credible with another key group of voters, Latinos.

The rest of the site is devoted to Barack Obama bashing, repetitive messages about McCain’s support for the surge in Iraq, the candidate’s biography and some videos that are way too long to hold much appeal for a casual site visitor. McCain’s official bloggers are attempting to provide something for visitors to rally around, even if it is just a few sentences about McCain’s latest anti-Obama ad.

McCain is attempting to do a little outreach with his about-to-launch “First National Event Day” on Aug. 14. But a search on Monday showed that that there was only one event scheduled within 100 miles of Milwaukee, in Cook County, Ill., on Sept. 27.Likewise, McCain isn’t getting much traction on popular social net working sites. While Obama has more than 427,000 MySpace friends, McCain has yet to top 60,000.

McCain’s lack of Web savvy may hurt him with young voters who want to be energized and engaged, even if his Democratic challenger seems to be inspiring most of them with his “Generation Obama” theme. According to the Pew Research Center, 58% of under-30 voters identify as Democrats, while only 33% of them identify themselves as Republicans.

But McCain hasn’t done well with those young Republicans. McCain earned 34% of the youth vote in the Republican primaries, but Mike Huckabee won 31% and Mitt Romney won 25% of the youth vote nationally. However, those two candidates dropped out of the running long before the voting stopped.

McCain’s failure to inspire younger voters may not damage only his campaign: It may put a dent in the Republican Party for a generation to come.

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.