Online Politics' Name Game

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, September 1, 2005; 10:27 AM

Thinking of running for office sometime in the next decade? In the next two decades? Register your Web addresses now.

That's the lesson that Virginia's lieutenant governor learned.

Timothy M. Kaine, who wants to succeed fellow Democrat Mark R. Warner as the Old Dominion's next governor, runs his campaign Web site at http://www.kaine2005.org/home.php. It's a self-explanatory title, but doesn't hold quite the simplicity of www.timkaine.com.

That address, unfortunately, is taken. It was registered by Matt Chancey, a self-described conservative Christian activist (he works for the Persecution Project Foundation ) and resident of Harrisonburg, Va. At the moment, entering "www.timkaine.com" redirects your browser to Kaine's lieutenant governor page , but Chancey could do with it whatever his heart desires.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. There are numerous examples during the past decade of Internet address speculators registering addresses of celebrities such as Madonna and Bruce Springsteen . The aim was to sell the addresses for a profit. Registration gets cheaper all the time, so getting the right address often meant the possibility of a big payoff.

Money isn't the name of the game here, however. Instead, political spinmeisters have discovered that owning the Web space of the people they think will be tomorrow's political elite can score points on the ideological chessboard.

"It's a no-brainer," said Jonah Seiger, a campaign consultant who specializes in online strategies. "As soon as a decision is made to consider seriously a run, and before you begin to talk to anybody outside of your immediate circle and family about doing it, you should go and register your names."

Seiger is one of my immediate go-to sources on the Internet and politics, and in this case he knows more than most.

"By not capturing obvious variations of a candidate's name, you leave the campaign and the candidate vulnerable to spoof sites, parodies and out-and-out attack sites," he said. "I've certainly bought all the variations of [a candidate's] name and also bought other people's names."

He declined to give examples, but said that even if you don't employ an opponent's name for an online attack, you can still make that address unavailable to the candidate, "mostly as an offensive holding-the-turf kind of play." One of the best examples of someone's name being used against them was the site www.gwbush.com/ , which last year ran a parody of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign Web site that was nearly a perfect, if corrosive, facsimile. (GWbush.com -- founded by Zach Exley , a MoveOn.org co-founder and former staffer for John F. Kerry and Howard Dean -- is gone, though I can show you a White House parody that ought to keep you busy for a while.)

Nowadays, if you peruse the Whois service on the Network Solutions site, as well as those of other Internet address registrars, you can see many different Web addresses reflecting the names of various political figures who the experts think could be tomorrow's governors, senators, representatives and presidential candidates. So where were Kaine's people on the address question when they were mapping his political future?

Campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said it was because many politicians and campaign professionals were still getting their feet wet online when the site was first registered.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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