October 27, 2008
Written by Jeanine Koranda
Wichita Eagle

It doesn't replace knocking on doors, but some candidates are reaching out to voters --particularly younger ones -- through social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace.

"The chances of meeting under-30 people at home are very slim because they are busy and out networking," said Jinna Jeffery, a Democrat running for Kansas House District 91 against Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr. "I feel that through Facebook or MySpace I am more likely to reach them."

The free sites allow a user to set up an account, list interests, display photos and link to other people. Facebook also has a separate category where people can become supporters of a candidate.

So far only a handful of local candidates have set up sites on the networks.

"In terms of communicating, especially for folks 30 and under, this seems to be the way their world works," said Karl Peterjohn, Republican candidate for Sedgwick County Commission District 3.

Wichita Republican Fred Pinaire, candidate for House District 87, said he set up a politician's site on Facebook after his "volunteer computer guy" -- a high school student -- asked what he was doing to connect with younger voters.

"He though that was a necessity to reach the youth vote," Pinaire said.

The site also is an easy way to notify people of events and information, he said.

His opponent, Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, also has a Facebook page.

"If you are in college now you would be hard-pressed to find somebody that is not on Facebook at least in some minimal way," he said.

Tools like the networking sites are helping make campaigns more affordable and accessible to political hopefuls, said Michael A. Smith, associate chair of political science at Emporia State University.

"It is just as easy for somebody running for state representative to get on Facebook and connect with voters as somebody running for president," Smith said.

The networking sites are also interactive. Visitors and supporters can post their own comments or encourage their friends to support a candidate.

That ability to link to other people is part of the appeal of the sites for both parties.

"If one person can say I know 20 people that would support you and use their network on Facebook it grows from there," Kenny Johnston, technology director for the Kansas Democratic Party.

The state party uses Facebook, MySpace and the popular video site YouTube, which also allows people to link to each other, he said.

There is also the cost factor, pointed out Christian Morgan, executive director for the Kansas Republican Party.

"It's free. A lot of the people you are reaching by social networking sites are young people that might be first-time voters," he said.

Reaching out to new voters and expanding contacts are important, especially since some past elections have been extremely close, he said.

"I'm encouraging every candidate to do everything they can to get those extra two votes because it could be the difference between winning and losing," he said.

While the sites are reaching out in a new way, that doesn't mean politicians have stopped pounding the pavement.

"I'd be surprised if anything ever replaces the importance of having a conversation with people about issues and concern for the community," said Goyle, who added that nothing was more important than talking to voters on their doorsteps.