Politics & Government

GOP opens another front in the campaign to win the Web

WASHINGTON — National Republican leaders will unveil a Web site Friday that they hope will encourage grassroots participation in the shaping of the party's 2008 platform.

Republican leaders say they believe the site, www.gopplatform2008.com, will create an online community allowing anyone with access to a computer to offer ideas, to comment on others' ideas, and even to submit videos explaining their views.

"I feel certain we'll get some great ideas," said U.S. Sen Richard Burr, R-N.C., co-chairman of the Republican platform committee. "Will that be the majority? I have no way of gauging."

What the site certainly will generate for the Republican National Committee is a ready-to-go database of contact names for future fund-raising. Users will be required to register in order to comment.

The Internet has become one of the primary battlegrounds for the presidential campaigns as they seek ways to galvanize their followers. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has used the Internet to raise tens of millions of dollars from donors who've never given to a campaign before and has staffed his campaign with Web-savvy entrepreneurs, including one of the founders of the Facebook Web site.

A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project released last month found that Obama started the campaign with some unquestionable technological edges over Republican rival John McCain.

"Wired Democrats are outpacing online Republicans in their usage of the Internet for political reasons," the Pew study said, "from social networking to watching online video to contributing money online or signing up for campaign-related e-mail." The project interviewed 2,251 adults between April 8 and May 11, and found that Obama backers are more likely than McCain backers to sign an online petition, seek e-mails from campaigns, give money online and volunteer for the campaign.

Techpresident.com, which tracks political Internet trends, had similar findings. Its data show that Obama has about seven times as many Facebook supporters as McCain and about 10 times as many YouTube hits.

But Republicans hope the Web effort will heighten interest in the drafting of the platform, generally something done largely unnoticed, and keep the party's most conservative and religious members engaged even as voter surveys show they're less enthusiastic about McCain than they were about Geroge Bush in 2000 and 2004.

"Platforms are difficult when you do them in the dark," Burr said. "We’ve brought a tremendous amount of sunshine."

Republican leaders also touted their idea as more "grassroots" than the Democrats' approach. Democrats announced this week they'll hold town hall meetings in all 50 states to take ideas for the platform.

The parties platforms outline the parties' positions on key issues and are generally approved at the national conventions, though they don't necessarily reflect the views of the presidential candidates.

The GOP Web site opens with video remarks from RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, Burr and Burr's co-chair, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California in which the Republicans try to establish a message of inclusivity.

"This Web site is really about you, your ideas, your issues and most of all your aspirations," Duncan says.

Still, Burr in his video offers a warning to users to keep discussions respectful.

And in an interview, he added: "We realize there will need to be a screening process for things that aren't appropriate to be on there. We're going to have to be very vigilant on that."

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