Campaigns use e-mail for quick jabs

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: October 2,2000

With both sides fully embracing the speed of the Internet, the Fourth Congressional District race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows of Bassfield, a

Democrat, and Republican candidate Dunn Lampton of McComb, has turned into the battle of the e-mails.

In one of the latest flurries of activity on the Web, Lampton, serving his fifth term as district attorney for Copiah, Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties, said he was

outraged to discover that Democrats had left more than $37 billion in Medicare funding on the table and that Shows was not aware of the situation.

“It appears to me that Shows is asleep at the wheel,” Lampton said, in a statement. “We`ve got nursing homes in bankruptcy and rural hospitals in danger of closing

everyday, Medicare patients who can`t get needed medical attention or home health care, and senior citizens whose health care is threatened because the money was

there and not used. Over the last two years, there was $37 billion dollars left on the table that could have been spent on providing healthcare for seniors. They have

known about this for more than a year and nobody has done anything about it. Somebody`s got a lot of answering to do here.”

Shows` campaign headquarters zipped off an e-mail response moments later, explaining that, at an AARP/Vote Candidate Forum in Laurel, Lampton was confused

when he said federal Medicare money had not been used over the past two years.

“The fact is that Medicare is an entitlement,” said Shows, in a statement. “Congress does not appropriate nor does the administration budget how much is spent. The

government does make projections on how much will be spent. Those projections change based on the changing economic forecast in relation to the Balanced Budget

Act of 1997. This is where the opposition gets confused. Medicare expenditures go out based on Medicare formulas.”

How effective is the Internet? Well, it`s free. With less money to spend, that`s good news for Lampton. In a report dated Sept. 8, the Center for Responsive Politics

reported that Shows had raised $658,615 as of June 30. By comparison, Lampton had only raised $330,929.

“We`re trying to tap into that resource, and I`m lucky that I have some very computer-savvy young people working with me who are at ease with e-mail,” Lampton

said. “We pull the trigger, as I like to call it, several times a day to keep people interested and our campaign up to speed. We`ve also got an interactive Web site that

many people have tapped into.”

It`s a freebie, said Dr. Chris Bratcher, a political science professor at Millsaps College in Jackson who specializes in political advertising.

“There`s no cheaper way to communicate to so many,” he said.

Marcus Ward, communications director for the Lampton campaign, said gathering e-mail addresses is as important as collecting other demographic data.

“We immediately add the e-mail addresses to our database,” Ward said. “The speed and reach of e-mail and the Internet in general has been incredible. Because our

race is one of the top contested races – Hotline National Journal picked ours as the No. 6 race to watch in the South and the No. 34 race to watch in the nation -

we`ve even been contacted by students who are working on political campaign projects to see what we`ve done.”

Matt Friedeman of Jackson, a political columnist and radio talk-show hose, said e-mail campaigning might be the wave of the future, but it`s not effective yet. “Nothing

works as much as those wedge issues and the personal touch,” he said.

Bratcher said electronic campaigning, for the most part, kicked off in the 1992 presidential campaign, when President Clinton set up a war room in Little Rock to use

as a rapid response to the opposing camp.

“Now it`s being done by several other candidates,” he said. “The campaign will have a group of people sitting in a room and, as an opposing candidate makes a speech

or is seen in an interview on television or in a debate, they will simply e-mail a quick response. The real value is to set up an e-mail list to reporters and then get the

campaign`s spin out on the event or statement. The whole goal of a campaign is to control the interpretation of events and debates.”

The mad dash of e-mailing is being used in the New York Senate race between Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and GOP U.S. Rep. Rick Lazio, Bratcher said.

“An article in the Sept. 15 issue of The New York Times tells about this exact tactic,” he said. “Getting the message out to the media is nothing new. It`s just a quicker

way to do it.”

E-mail is also used for anonymous attacks against the opponent, Bratcher said.

“In 1920, Warren Harding was accused of being part black,” he said. “Two-hundred thousand pieces of mail showed up in the San Francisco post office

anonymously. A few weeks ago, a spam was sent out that President Clinton was going to Vietnam for a visit and would pull into the harbor aboard a U.S. naval

vessel, but that he was going to order that the Communist flag be flown above Old Glory. This was sent out to tens of thousands of people and, of course, the

response was that another 5,000 messages in disgust were spread.”

E-mail campaigning is primarily for the media, Bratcher said.

“We live in an age where news happens so fast, there`s such a premium on speed,” he said. “Matt Drudge (www.drudgereport.com) has made a career of trying to be

the first on the Internet with a scoop. The danger comes when late in a campaign, the anonymous charges fly and can`t be exposed or refuted.”

There`s a sort of sub-culture on the Internet that has its own rules of etiquette, where `legal spamming` is allowed, Bratcher said.

“I`m not convinced that it`s an effective way to run a campaign,” he said. “I suspect that any hard-core user of the Internet probably doesn`t even read the messages

anyway.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.


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