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Race for the Mansion goes online

The View from Here

About a month or so ago, the race for the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion went online. And while only one candidate has posted a site on the World Wide Web, it is a glimpse into the future of campaign politics as the number of Mississippians joining the information revolution grows.

Donna Simmons, director of Ronnie Musgrove’s campaign for governor, is pleased with the early success of ronniemusgrove.com.

“Even though we are still some time out from the primary and general election, we are getting a substantial amount of response to the Web site. Most folks have heard about it from someone they know or through the media,” Simmons said last week. “Some let us know what they like about the site, others request information, and we’ve been contacted by several new volunteers and potential contributors through the Web site. We’ve even heard from a second grade class in north Mississippi!”

Simmons was quick to point out that the candidate and the Web site fit — practically and philosophically.

“People from every corner of the state can learn more about Ronnie Musgrove, his family, his record and his campaign at their convenience and any time of day,” she said. “And the Lieutenant Governor has long been a proponent of using technology as a learning tool in Mississippi’s schools. He has been and remains interested in finding ways to use technology to teach, train and produce in our schools and businesses.”

In 1994 when Musgrove was a state senator, he crafted Senate Bill 3350, the legislation that created One-Stop Career Centers at the state’s community colleges, set up Tech Prep programs to connect academics with hands-on, practical experience in Mississippi high schools and established a framework to adequately fund public schools.

Reaching people

A key benefit in going online is the accessibility it offers. Interacting with a well-designed Web site allows a user to gain a level of connectivity with a product, person or idea that is impossible with other media.

In designing the Musgrove for Governor site, campaign staffers worked hard to capitalize on the accessibility to their candidate the site could allow.

“The Lieutenant Governor works very hard to be accessible, and we intend to make the campaign accessible to the people of this state as well,” Simmons said. “We will be exploring ways to expand our site for that purpose.”

Currently, information and photographs at ronniemusgrove.com are updated every few days. The site also contains a public appearance calendar and Musgrove’s weekly column.

Leading the way

A quick rundown from a number of popular Internet search engines yielded no results for Web sites that other gubernatorial candidates may have launched. And while candidates like retired Congressman Mike Parker, former Lt. Gov. Eddie Briggs or state Senator Charlie Williams may be up and running online, if they don’t turn up on the Web’s search engines, they may as well not exist.

That’s not to say that those campaigns don’t have plans for going online, but Musgrove is the first.

“We felt like it was important to go ahead and establish an online presence to allow for increased input from supporters early on and to allow for growing room as we expand the site and explore all the possibilities of this new campaign medium,” Simmons said.

Brave new world

A recent report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates that the Internet is going mainstream and going there fast; the percentage of online users in the U.S. has tripled from 1995 to 1998.

The study also found that Web users are diversifying. An online community that is becoming more egalitarian is rendering differences in education, income and geography unimportant.

This community — and the technology — will play a critical role in the future of campaign politics. Donna Simmons thinks it could play a role in the 1999 governor’s race.

“We believe the Internet will continue to grow in importance as one of the major tools of communicating a message during campaigns and for staying in touch with supporters. Web sites allow for instant communication and virtually immediate response. They provide an efficient, relatively inexpensive means of contacting supporters, potential supporters and the media,” she said. “As we learn more about our capabilities, we may find additional uses that will translate into reduced voter apathy by increasing grassroots participation in modern-day campaigns. That’s certainly one of our objectives.”

All things considered

Politicians like to talk about the future. The future is trendy. The future plays well. The future makes for good sound bites. And in most instances, most voters don’t take talking about the future too seriously.

However, with his embrace of new technology — like the World Wide Web or computers in our classrooms — Ronnie Musgrove has shown a commitment to reaching out to every Mississippian — even those of us in cyberspace.

Jim Laird is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is jlaird@msbusiness.com.


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