Reaching the Cyber Voter

Will the Internet someday supplant television as the forum of choice for candidates?

The political "spot" on TV has become an industry, supporting legions of campaign consultants and generating huge money flows - to say nothing of huge scandals.

Now, consider the future: Americans by the millions, peering into their computer screens, getting voice and text messages from candidates who want their votes. Every aspirant for major office will have a Web site detailing positions, ideas, and attractive personal traits like love of family and community involvement.

By then, computers may be all-purpose communications centers offering both the specialized focus of today's Web home pages and something like TV's broadcasting. But, almost surely, politicians won't have the old assurance that if you saturate the airwaves with your message, you'll hit almost every living room. They'll have to work harder to reach the voter. Maybe the economics of campaigning will undergo a revolution along with the technology - toward less expensive access.

This future is edging our way already. Many members of Congress have Web sites. Some, like Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, have elaborate home pages. His contains briefings on policy initiatives like the Democrats' new "Families First Agenda" (which includes everything from teen pregnancy to the export of jobs overseas). Click on audio for a folksy senatorial greeting.

That may be today's cutting edge of political e-speech. But it probably barely hints at what's to come.

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