DES MOINES — Iowa is in the middle of a raging storm this winter.
There's been plenty of snow, but this storm is electronic: a blizzard of e-mails, text messages, instant messages, videos, talking heads, audio clips, social networks and urgent demands for your money, your help, your attendance and support, all on your phone, in your computer, on your TV screen.
Presidential candidates are generating this binary whiteout, determined to use 21st-century technology to gain an edge, particularly with young voters, in the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Is it working?
Irl, idk. :/ Sry.
(Translation for those over 30: In real life, I don't know. Uneasy face. Sorry.)
"I think it'll have some effect," said Democratic candidate Sen. Joseph Biden, who's listed on his MySpace page as "Male. 65 years old. Wilmington, Delaware."
"But," Biden adds, "the answer is, I don't know."
"We're in uncharted territory," said Jen Psaki, who helps coordinate alternative media for the Barack Obama campaign. "We won't probably know until this is all said and done."
That uncertainty hasn't stopped the Obama campaign, or all the others, from at least trying every new technology available. Web sites, with video, are a given. In addition, campaigns have pages on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook; they send blast e-mails directly to cell phones and other devices; and they use various Web addresses to set up house parties, meet-ups and mash-ups, and most of all, to raise money.
The young voters who are the target of all this say thx, but plz, ur working 2 hard.
"I talk about the campaign with my friends, but it's mostly just when we get together, talking face-to-face," said John Yost, a 21-year old student at Iowa State University who likes Republican candidate Mike Huckabee. "It's not so much texting or things like that."
"I don't get any of that (text messages), other than random e-mails from all these candidates," said ISU student Chris Dencklau, a Biden man.
Younger voters emphasize that phenomena such as text and instant messaging are peer-to-peer experiences. They may chat with friends about a candidate or campaign, they say, but they ignore "top down" directives or appeals from candidates.
"I would say I probably have never received a text message about politics," said 24-year-old John Day of Fort Dodge. "Unless I was at an event, and someone else was at that event and texting me."
But campaigns say that getting like-minded students together, through texting or instant messaging, is worth the effort.
"It has been a way for people to connect, at colleges and universities, by saying, 'I like Barack Obama, you like Barack Obama — when's your next meeting?' " Psaki said.
And, campaigns point out, Web sites and text-messaging programs are much cheaper than TV ads, which still dominate local television.
Young voters in Iowa see those commercials, but they say — almost to a person — that they no longer rely on traditional media such as local television or newspapers as their sole source of political news.
Instead, they watch political videos on the Web. They try to catch an occasional cable news show or debate. And all lament the disappearance of new episodes of topical, late-night satire shows.
"Up until the writers' strike, 'The Daily Show' and Stephen Colbert were doing a pretty good job keeping us informed," Day said.
"I think a lot of them are looking at YouTube," said 18-year old Carrie Dencklau.
"They (students) get their information from TV, but not from the networks," said Tim McDaniel, a professor at Buena Vista University near Storm Lake, Iowa.
But the networks and other so-called mainstream media haven't gone away. Like campaigns, they're using electronics to communicate: The Des Moines Register's Web site, for example, includes videos, campaign schedules, candidate profiles, breaking news updates and other caucus information.
The electronic revolution sweeping campaigns has swept the media, too. Twenty years ago, cell phones were unheard of, and the Iowa caucuses operated on a news cycle of statement and response that played out over a day.
Now, producers, writers and reporters trailing candidates are armed with video cameras, BlackBerrys, and wireless laptops to distribute quotes almost as soon as a candidate utters one, leading to a sometimes-bizarre hourly running dialogue between candidates who're separated by hundreds of miles.
But much of the information generated by mainstream reporters still ends up in mainstream publications, which are still read by many Iowans — particularly those most likely to caucus.
That means people older than 30, haha, lol (laugh out loud).
"It's always hard, in a general election, let alone a caucus, to get younger people engaged," Biden said. "Up to now, the average age of the caucus-goer, I'm told, is something like 60, 61. . . . We'll see."
Ttyl. (Talk to you later.)
(Helling reports for The Kansas City Star.)