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Questions About McCain's Tech Savvy Worry Bloggers on the Right

By Jose Antonio Vargas
AUSTIN -- It's blog central here this weekend. In the Texas hill country, at the Renaissance hotel, is the first of two days of the inaugural RightOnline, the conservative answer to Netroots Nation, being held less than 12 miles away in downtown Austin.

And outside the rightroots v. Netroots match-up -- which, as Erik Telford of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity pointed out, is "like comparing apples to oranges" -- online GOPers worry that Sen. John McCain has continually fallen behind Sen. Barack Obama in utilizing the Web. Just as important, they say, is a growing perception that McCain, who turns 72 next month, doesn't "get" the Web at a time when more voters are going online to engage in the campaign.

Asked earlier this year if he uses a Mac or PC, McCain replied: "Neither. I'm an illiterate who has to rely on my wife for all the assistance I can get." The running McCain-doesn't-get-the-Web meme climbed a steeper hill nearly a month ago when a McCain aide -- his deputy eCampaign director, no less -- told a bipartisan gathering of online political activists: "John McCain is aware of the Internet." And last Sunday, in an interview with the New York Times, McCain said he doesn't e-mail.

Said Michael Turk, who ran President Bush's eCampaign team in 2004 before joining the Republican National Committee as its eCampaign director: "While I don't believe they disqualify him from being president, these comments do play into the hands of those who say McCain is too old to be president. He has essentially said he's too old a dog to learn new tricks -- to understand and adapt to the way the world now communicates."

Matt Lewis of Townhall.com, the popular conservative site, said that while "we're not hiring a blogger in chief, but the leader of the free world ... the real danger for McCain is that this narrative isn't really about technology -- it's an excuse to talk about his age."

The perception wouldn't matter as much, conservatives say, if McCain's site matched Obama's in mobilizing and organizing his supporters. The primary goals of a candidate's site, after all, are raising money and getting voters engaged. On both counts, McCain lags behind Obama, they add. Said a GOP online strategist who asked not to named: "There were tools and strategies tested in 2004 and 2006" -- such as house party organizing, virtual phone bank and door-to-door tools -- "and they have not been realized at the campaign."

"Barack Obama had 4,000 house parties going on nationwide for his first national house party effort a few weeks ago," the strategist added. "What is McCain doing?"

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 18, 2008; 4:24 PM ET
Categories:  The Clickocracy  
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