Local Candidates Offer Internet Sites |
By Michael D. Shear
For $75, plus "a couple of hundred" in setup fees, Thoburn, an independent third-party candidate, has launched a digital attack on incumbent Robert B. Dix Jr. (R-Hunter Mill), using the World Wide Web as his vehicle.
From Thoburn's site – www.thoburn.com – visitors can click on "The Di(X) Files," a Web page designed to look like the TV show "The X-Files" but loaded with assaults on Dix's record. Or they can peruse the "Dix-tionary: Online Guide to Dix-Speak," which claims to list phrases used by Dix, and follows them with unflattering definitions.
Dix has his own Web site – www.dix99.com – that offers a much less accusatory tone and links such as "Record," "Issues," and "Vision." He blasted Thoburn's Web site as full of "lies and misrepresentations."
Thoburn and Dix are among dozens of Northern Virginia candidates relying on Web sites as they campaign toward Nov. 2, part of local politicians' push to make use of the Internet more than ever before.
Observers of the political scene in Northern Virginia say Campaign '99 marks the first time that virtually all candidates for local office have Web pages – a natural development for a place where Internet companies are everywhere you look and more adults are online than anywhere else in the nation.
Thoburn makes no apologies for his site, which he proudly promotes on the handful of yard signs he has been able to afford.
"If there was anywhere in the country to use the information superhighway to get the message out without spending a lot of money, here in the Dulles corridor ought to be it," Thoburn said. The Hunter Mill District includes Reston and Vienna and runs along the high-tech Dulles corridor.
"I decided I could put a lot more information on my Web site than I could ever get out with direct mail," he added.
Counters Dix: "I think what the Thoburn Web page proves is that this is simply a vindictive revenge-based assault on me as opposed to a serious effort to be a legitimate candidate. I find it regrettable that any candidate resorts to gutter tactics."
The Democratic challenger in the race, Catherine M. Hudgins, also has a site, one that never mentions her opponents: www.hudgins99.com.
Pam Fielding, co-author of the book "The Net Effect: How Cyber-Advocacy is Changing the Political Landscape," said that until recently, the Internet has been used mainly by candidates for national and statewide offices. Fairfax County, she said, with far more adults online than just about anywhere in the nation, is the perfect place to expand the strategy to the local level.
The trick with a political Web site, Fielding said, is "figuring out how to really tap the medium. I wouldn't go campaigning without a Web site. But I wouldn't depend on a Web site, either."
Most people who come to a candidate's Web site are likely to be supporters, she said. The challenge is to use the site to turn Web surfers into a volunteer army by getting them involved in the campaign before they click away.
Some candidates are trying to do just that:
"It's very helpful if you are talking to a voter outside a grocery store or outside their door when they are getting dinner ready," Phillips said. "They say, 'I'm in a hurry.' and I say, 'I have a Web site.'‚"
© 1999 The Washington Post Company