George W. Hits the Cyber-Campaign Trail

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Despite a mammoth war chest and an (albeit fading) air of invincibility, George W. Bush still understands the famous Tip O'Neill edict: "All politics is local." In Dubya's case, as local as your PC. On Monday, the Bush camp announced that it will be targeting web sites likely to be used by GOP primary voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and in the coming weeks will festoon them with banner ads. GOP rival John McCain previously experimented with banners, but not at the same level of marketing sophistication — Bush's people cross-referenced lists of registered Republican and Independent voters with lists of users of various web sites. A web surfer who, for example, clicks on the Nashua NRA chapter page in the coming weeks could be met by a blinking banner asking "How much will the BUSH TAX CUT save YOU?" If he clicks on the ad, a pop-up calculator will quickly compute his family's savings under Bush's plan.

But will the ads be effective? "The buzz on banner ads is really bad; they just don't generate numbers," says TIME Digital reporter Lev Grossman, noting, however, that interactive banners, similar to those Bush is using, have enjoyed the best responses and "hover times" (the amount of time a user spends on the ad before back-clicking to the original page). "It'll be interesting," Grossman adds, "to see if they're more interested when the message is from a politician, not some get-rich-quick scheme." One potential problem: While there's no way for the Bush campaign to record the income data on his tax calculator, surfers may be leery of a candidate's asking about their salary in a medium still smarting from a reputation for lack of privacy. Not the kind of local knowledge that Tip had in mind.