Clinton, Obama lead Web vote

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NEW YORK -- With the Web having emerged as a vital front in the 2008 presidential election, the candidates' official Web sites are in position to be an important forum in the race to the White House.

According to Nielsen//NetRatings, the top Democratic candidates outpaced their Republican counterparts in August in terms of visits to their official Web sites. The sites for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were first and second, respectively, by a considerable margin, attracting more than 300,000 additional visitors for the month than John Edwards and Republican candidate Fred Thompson, their closest rivals.

In July, however, Obama had the most-visited site with Clinton leading all candidates in June in this metric.

Max Kalehoff, vp marketing for the newly formed Nielsen Online, stressed the importance of these official Web sites in the run-up to the election. He said that the presidential hopefuls, like any other brand, need a strong online backbone and that their official Web sites should play this role.

"What you often see is that the brand Web site is such an important force because it's looked at as an anchor," Kalehoff said. "It's an in-depth link and a referral for further background as people interact on the Web. It's sort of a currency."

He drew a parallel to Apple's launch of the iPhone, which was surrounded by massive blogosphere hype. A big reason for this, he said, was because the official iPhone site was "absolutely optimized" to this end and served as a hub for information about the product, something the candidates should strive toward.

Kalehoff also said that the candidates have been increasingly "experimental" with their Web presence and that online video has emerged as an important medium and has become the "norm" in this campaign.

Clinton showcases a campaign commercial on her homepage which, when clicked on, leads to a section called HillaryTV that features other commercials and short videos, one featuring director Rob Reiner. Obama has a similar section on his page featuring the candidate giving speeches alongside short clips featuring supporters of his campaign.

The candidates' Web presence, of course, goes beyond their official Web sites with the blogosphere and social networking sites getting involved with campaigns as well.

YouTube and CNN co-hosted a Democratic debate in July and a Republican one is scheduled for December. MySpace and MTV presented a dialogue with Edwards last month and last week they announced that Obama would participate in a similar discussion Oct. 29.

As far as the blogosphere, Clinton leads all the hopefuls in buzz, meaning blog mentions, said Nielsen//BuzzMetrics. Kalehoff noted, though, that discussion in this forum usually involves all the candidates "concurrently."

Nielsen//NetRatings, BuzzMetrics and Nielsen Online are owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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