Posted at 8:06 a.m. PST Thursday, January 15, 1998 Net sites may influence elections, cybergurus say Scripps Howard News Service WASHINGTON -- Growing use of the Internet for political campaigns is being touted by cyber specialists as the newest and most dynamic weapon since John F. Kennedy used televised debates to win the presidency almost 40 years ago. Although some members of Congress have had Web sites since 1994, the 1998 election year is expected to be the first where computer technology could be a deciding factor in some races. ``For the first time, all of the technological, demographic and political factors have converged to the point that elections, even if only a few, will be won or lost because what politicians do or don't do on the Internet,'' said Phil Noble of PoliticsOnline, which publishes a biweekly report on political Internet use. Three years ago, only half the members of the House could be reached by computer. Today, all but eight of the 535 members of the House and Senate have computer electronic mail boxes. Two years ago, 35 million people reported having access to the Internet, according to research by the University of California at Santa Barbara. Last year, that number jumped to 55 million. In 1996, for the first time, American consumers spent more on computers they did on televisions, according to the Electronics Industries Association. ``In 1960, television grew up when John F. Kennedy took advantage of the medium and, in turn, became president,'' Noble said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. ``Now in 1998, the Internet audience is maturing.'' Other political observers caution that computer owners shouldn't dream of casting their ballot with a click of the mouse just yet. Only one out of 10 American voters is connected to the Internet, according to research by non-partisan public affairs organizations, such as THOMAS with the Library of Congress and the U.S. League of Women Voters. And users tend to be upper middle-class males, the surveys show. But politicians with Internet sites are lured by another factor: one out of three Internet voters contributed money to political campaigns, according to the League survey. And computer savvy candidates who can quickly organize support and contact the media through the Internet will have an edge over those who can't. ``It creates an ability for us to get information directly into the hands of our constituents immediately,'' said Tony Rudy, an aide to House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, whose Internet site was voted ``Best in Congress'' by PoliticsOnline. Even if 1998 isn't the election year when computers replace television as a chief medium to grab voters, the concept is much closer to reality. ``Unlike 1994, virtually all politicians on Capitol Hill now have Web sites and most are integrating the Internet into their campaign,'' Noble said. ``For now, we're just waiting to see who will be the first John Kennedy of the Internet.'' )1997 - 1998 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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