Repub­li­cans’ tech gap

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are wise to re­con­sider their re­jec­tion of YouTube as a de­bat­ing for­mat. Their de­ci­sion to em­brace the de­bate medium — ex­cept­ing Mitt Rom­ney, who has yet to come on board — is a savvy step to­ward clos­ing the tech­nol­ogy gap with their ri­val Democrats, a gap that could be piv­otal for vic­tory in 2008.

Now that the YouTube de­bate, co-spon­sored with CNN, is set for Nov. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla., Repub­li­cans should con­tinue rec­og­niz­ing the in­te­gral role YouTube and other so­cial-net­work­ing sites play in the lives of vot­ers, par­tic­u­larly among younger de­mo­graphic groups, who fa­vor Democrats over Repub­li­cans by large mar­gins. Repub­li­cans must con­tinue vy­ing for this cru­cial group if they hope to re­tain long-term rel­e­vance.

While there is truth in the crit­i­cism that the CNN/YouTube Demo­cratic de­bate on July 23 con­tained friv­o­lous fare — ev­ery­thing from a melt­ing snow­man to a wo­man in her bath­room — the for­mat of­fers a na­tional town-hall dis­cus­sion, where can­di­dates show­case their abil­ity to re­spond to creative, prob­ing ques­tions with frank, un­scripted an­swers. To en­sure elec­toral suc­cess, Repub­li­cans must un­der­stand that in this dig­i­tal YouTube age, an­swer­ing bizarre video in­quiries from men dressed like Vik­ings and chick­ens will soon join the ranks of baby-kiss­ing and corn­field-stump­ing as typ­i­cal cam­paign dues.

The first YouTube de­bate proved CNN must be more ju­di­cious in its ques­tion se­lec­tions and avoid sub­sti­tut­ing hu­mor for sub­stance. CNN aired 39 video ques­tions out of some 3,000 sub­mis­sions. Thus far, YouTube, which merely fun­nels the videos to CNN for their edi­to­rial se­lec­tion, has re­ceived 1,250 video ques­tions. David Bohrman, CNN’s Wash­ing­ton Bureau chief, told The Wash­ing­ton Times he and his team of re­view­ers ex­pect to re­ceive as many as 5,000 videos this time around. He and his team are laud­ably reach­ing out to the on­line grass-roots con­ser­va­tive move­ment, the movers and shakers of the Repub­li­can Party who will ul­ti­mately se­lect a Repub­li­can nom­i­nee. We hope the Bohrman team will se­lect ques­tions that are both pen­e­trat­ing and ap­pro­pri­ate for the dis- tin­guished venue of a pres­i­den­tial de­bate.

Repub­li­cans, for the most part, are flail­ing be­hind Democrats in the tech­nol­ogy arena. Press re­ports in­di­cate that dur­ing the first six months of 2007, the three lead­ing con­tenders for the 2008 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion raised more than $28 mil­lion on­line, a fig­ure dou­ble that of the $14 mil­lion in Web do­na­tions col­lected by the top three Repub­li­can can­di­dates. Sen. Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s Web site traf­fic far sur­passes their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts. In­ter­net users on sites like Face­book and MyS­pace over­whelm­ingly fa­vor Democrats. Repub­li­cans must ex­pand their ef­forts if they hope to stay afloat in cy­berspace. YouTube de­bates are a log­i­cal step.

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