During the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama played the Internet as masterfully as Itzhak Perlman plays the violin.
Obama used the cyberworld to generate support across the country, to advance his public appearances and rallies and to get his message out. He used it to recruit and motivate younger voters who get the majority of their information online. Perhaps most significantly, he used it to raise money.
And that worked great in a national campaign. But what about in local elections?
How are candidates employing the Internet and to what benefit?
Kristin Olsen (District 5), Joe Muratore (District 4) and Jeff Perine (District 4) all have campaign Web sites and make use of the various social networks to promote their campaigns and give voters insights into their personal life.
"The average voter age in Modesto is over 60," Olsen said. "It's a way to reach the other segment of the voting population."
Perine has a clever video campaign ad on YouTube, sending police dogs to the polls to vote for a candidate who campaigns as a strong supporter of the Modesto police.
Muratore claims 400 Facebook friends and, if he wins, plans to use it to keep in touch with younger voters.
"I use it to connect with a certain generation at a time in their lives when they are ready to get involved and get things done," he said.
Same goes for District 4 candidate Robert Stanford, who also blogs regularly on modbee.com's The Hive.
District 2 candidate Dave Geer claims to be the least connected among the candidates. He has a Facebook page, but said he didn't create it himself.
"Maybe my nieces in Connecticut set it up," he said. He signed up for LinkedIn, another social network, "because I wanted to know more about (a particular) person," he said.
Otherwise, "I'm not a big Internet social networking person," Geer said. "I don't think it's all that important in my district. These people don't have the time to spend looking at my Facebook account."
Geer's opponent, Al Nava, however, uses Facebook and Twitter to get his message out and to tell people all they need to know about him. He might shun The Bee by refusing to return typical campaign questionnaires or phone calls, but when it comes to online, he's a classic case of TMI (too much information).
Some of his Twitter postings:
June 27 — "I'm making Politics sexy, cool, & exciting again!"
May 6 — "Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to legalize Marijuana! Let him know he has our support by emailing his office."
And a Facebook entry:
"Fox News should be renamed: 'Douche-bag News.' I already have."
This wasn't a case in which someone left a tape recording going and the candidate didn't know it. He generated these Web gems himself.
Stanford, who is a Web page programmer, said the Internet impact has been "pretty disappointing."
"We're an ag town," he said. "Behind the times. People don't look up the candidates on the Internet."
For the past few years, his blog entries on The Hive have at times been highly critical of public officials, including law enforcement, which is his right. But these blog threads — responses to and from other bloggers — often turn into personal attacks.
"The biggest struggle is not to get into the back and forth," he said. "I get baited on there."
If a candidate has Internet skeletons, rest assured someone will find them. Joe Cataline, who is challenging Olsen in District 5, is a 26-year-old photographer whose business, Destiny Productions, mostly involves wedding shoots. On occasion, he's taken other kinds of assignments, including some boudoir-type photography — photos of women in lingerie. He said the women wanted the photos for their husbands.
"I'm trying to grow my business," Cataline said. "From my standpoint, everything's been done on the up and up. In every case, they were married couples. They were done the right way, with the husbands right there."
A number of them ended up on a Web site called deviantart.com, along with several more of his photos.
Cataline confirmed he'd taken all of the photos on that gallery but said he didn't submit them. They were there under "ichabadkrane," a Web handle he said he hasn't used in at least two years.
Cataline said he plans to contact deviantart.com and demand his photos be removed from the gallery.
The "ichabadkrane" handle has appeared four times in the past month in the comments section below stories or opinion pieces on modbee.com. Each time, the comment supported Cataline.
The handle, according to our records, was created in September. Cataline said he knows no one by the name of the man who made the account.
On MySpace, you'll find photos of women pole dancing, and pictures of Cataline posing with them at the event. Hey, he's a single guy. There was nothing illegal about it. Many studios teach pole dancing as a form of exercise.
But if you want to hand your opponent some campaign fodder, posting a shot of a candidate next to some attractive and dressed-to-party young women (see Gary Hart) will do it.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the Internet comes down to whether a local candidate uses it as a tool or a toy.
A violin? Perlman's job is safe.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or email@example.com.
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