Gubernatorial candidates in both political parties are using new Internet technologies to reach young voters.
One of the most popular new campaign tools is Facebook.com a social-networking Web site. College students and young adults use the site to chat, share pictures and plan parties. Almost every candidate there are 10 except one has an official or unofficial Facebook site.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher is, by far, the most prominent candidate on Facebook. He has the most sites or as they are called in Facebook language groups. The largest has almost 1,000 members and according to campaign manager Marty Ryall, a staff member updates the Web site regularly.
"The internet has certainly opened up a lot of new avenues for campaigns," Ryall said. "I think we will continue to see candidates try new things to reach out to as many voters as they can."
Fletcher and his running mate, former Secretary of Finance and Administration Robbie Rudolph, also have their own private Facebook profiles. And they can access the campaign Web site and get personally involved if there are specific questions about policies or issues, Ryall said.
"Its a great way to reach out to younger voters," Ryall said. "The 18 to 24 year old demographic is the least likely to vote."
Democratic candidate Jonathan Miller also has a strong Facebook presence, and more than 900 people have signed up to support his campaign. Miller has a personal profile on the Web site, with 1,500 "friends" and links to a family photo album and his book, "The Compassionate Community."
"Jonathan understands that to communicate with every slice of the electorate, you must use every media vehicle to reach out," said Carol Andrews, the campaigns communications director.
On his Facebook site, supporters read news stories, share photos and discuss politics. The site is regularly updated with news and video links. Andrews said the campaign is eager to adopt new technologies that will allow candidates to share pod-casts. Other Web sites like Youtube.com allow users to share movies and create video journals, known as web-logs.
"Youtube and Facebook emerged as the hottest new media tools last year," Andrews said. "Youtube probably had as much impact on the political world as any other single thing."
Sites like Facebook are also excellent tools for recruiting volunteers and organizing rallies, Andrews said.
Another Democratic contender, Lexington lawyer Gatewood Galbraith, is drawing a Facebook following and said it has definitely had an impact on his campaign. Two weeks ago, Galbraith organized an event at a Lexington restaurant, and more than 90 volunteers attended. He attributed 40 percent of the turnout to Facebook.
"It was by far and away the biggest volunteer event of the campaign so far," Galbraith said.
There are several groups supporting the Galbraith campaign, and the largest has more than 550 members. His daughter is involved and helps manage the Facebook site.
"Our presence on the Internet is crucial to our victory here in May," Galbraith said.
Republican challenger and Paducah businessman Billy Harper has an official support group on Facebook with 80 members. His press secretary Sam Edelen says the Web site will grow and will be used to communicate and recruit volunteers.
"We made a decision to do whatever is necessary to get the message out to the people, nothing is too small," Edelen said.
There are several Facebook groups supporting former Congresswoman Anne Northup, another Republican challenger to Fletcher. The largest has approximately 300 members.
"This campaign will use Facebook to connect to our supporters and recruit volunteers," said Barry Peel, spokesman for the Northup campaign.
A student at Eastern Kentucky University also created a Facebook site to support Louisville businessman and Democrat Bruce Lunsford and has attracted 50 members. Acting press secretary Tait Sye said it will be updated with pictures and movies from Youtube.
"Well be very aggressive in using new Internet technologies to get our message out," Sye said.
Robert Kellar, spokesman for the Democratic campaign for former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear, said the Internet is becoming a mainstream method for broadcasting news. There are several Facebook groups supporting his campaign, and the largest has 175 members. Kellar said its an interactive way of communicating with volunteers and supporters.
"To be effective in the online world, you cant be on a one-way street," he said.
Shawn Reilly, a senior at the University of Louisville, created a group for former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a Democrat, when he volunteered for the campaign several weeks ago. Reilly said it will be an effective tool because Facebook is a standard means of communicating with other students on campus.
"Facebook is the number one way for student groups and organizations to communicate," Reilly said.
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, has a campaign profile with 90 supporters. However, a campaign spokesperson was unavailable for comment.
Democratic hopeful Otis Hensley, a contractor from Harlan County, is the only candidate without a Facebook group. His webmaster, Brandon Goins, said he was unaware that it was being used as a campaign tool. However, he said Hensley would definitely be excited about expanding his presence on the Internet.
"Its an interesting avenue," Goins said.
Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, said the Internet has become a mainstream campaign tool. Several presidential candidates, including Democrat Sen. Hilary Clinton, declared their candidacy by posting videos online.
"It has been ramping up for sometime and I think well see it in full flower this campaign season," Cross said. "We will see the full range of Internet and digital capabilities brought to bear."
But, he said it hasnt been proven yet that online support at Web sites like Facebook will translate into votes. However, Web sites and online communications can prove to be powerful fundraising and organizing tools, Cross said.
"Howard Dean showed that in 2004," he said.