How The Campaigns Are Working Online

(CBS) The presidential election has a lot of people excited, with supporters of both major campaigns eager to do all they can to help assure victory in November. Trouble is, if you live in California, Texas, New York or any other solid blue or red state, you're not likely to change the outcome by campaigning where you live.

As a result, many partisans who don't live in a battleground state are using the Internet to reach out to voters in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Missouri.

Both JohnMcCain.com and BarackObama.com provide lists of voters or volunteers whom supporters can call from the comfort of their home or cell phone. And because many people have unused cell phone minutes and free long distance, they can make an impact without straining their budget. They also can use Skype to call from their PC or Mac for about 2 cents a minute.

The easiest way to make calls is to sign up for an online account on either campaign Web site, pick the state you wish to call to and make the calls while sitting at your computer.

The McCain campaign makes it easy to sign up and start calling people in any state. To register, you need to provide your name, e-mail address and street address. You're taken to a page where you can select the state you wish to call. However, the page doesn't necessarily give you voters in that state.

I experimented by selecting Nevada and was immediately taken to a page with the name and phone number of someone to call in Iowa. The next person on that list was in Ohio. The campaign's desire to have you call someone in Iowa or Ohio is understandable given the tight races in those states, but I'm not sure why they bother letting you pick from all 50 states. The Web page gives you the name, phone number and city and state for each voter, along with a script you're asked to read aloud.

To its credit, the McCain site blocks you from calling late at night. When I visited McCain's "Voter2Voter" phone bank at 11 p.m. Pacific time, I was told to come back the next morning because it was "outside calling hours."

The assignment you get when you sign up for the Obama campaign's "neighbor to neighbor" outreach program seems to depend on where you live and when you first signed up for an account on the site.

When I logged in to experiment with the Obama site last week using an account with a California address that was established months ago, I was given a choice of calling voters in New Mexico, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, or Latino voters in Nevada or Obama supporters in California. But when I signed up as a new volunteer that day, I was given only the opportunity to call supporters in California to see if I could convince them to get more involved in the campaign.

I can only guess that this is to distinguish between more "trusted" volunteers and those who log on for the first time. But despite several conversations with campaign representatives, I was never able to reach a campaign worker who could explain it.

The Obama Web site gives you the name, phone number, age and gender of each person you're calling, along with a suggested opening line. But it leaves it up to the caller to "engage with potential supporter in a conversational manner."

During the call, you're asked to place a check mark in the appropriate box to indicate if the voter supports Obama, leans toward Obama, is undecided or leans toward or supports McCain. You're also asked to indicate if the person is willing to vote early (if possible in that state), and there is a place to type in additional notes. The Web page tells you the time zone of the state you're calling into and warns you not to make calls after 9 p.m. in that time zone.

McCain's site provides a script on how "John McCain and Sarah Palin will bring real change to Washington." You're also requested to ask each person if McCain can "count on your vote this November?" There's a drop-down box to indicate if the voter supports McCain and Palin, Obama and Joe Biden or is undecided.

You can also indicate whether the voter's support is strong, average or weak. The site asks you to collect e-mail addresses for everyone who is a McCain-Palin supporter. Data entered on these sites can provide valuable follow-up information during the last minute get-out-the-vote push.

Neither campaign lets you dial automatically through the computer. That would have been a nice touch, especially if they picked up the cost of the call, which they could do for a very low price by contracting with an Internet phone service.

Both Web sites have other resources for supporters, including plenty of ammunition as to why their candidates are better. There also are places where you can find local campaign events or post events that you want to host, as well as lists of local campaign offices where you can volunteer to help. And of course they're happy to accept online donations.

If you're an Obama supporter willing to travel on behalf of your candidate you can go to TravelForChange.org to request free frequent-flier miles or donate miles for others who wish to travel. The site also links you to field offices in those states. After a Web search and an interview with a McCain spokesman, I wasn't able to find an equivalent site for his supporters.

By Larry Magid
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