LOL:) Look who's podcasting! No, it's not your teenager. It's your senator.
Veteran politicians more familiar with turntables and typewriters are enlisting twentysomething computer whiz kids to help them brave the digital world of blogs, podcasts, and the Web as they look to connect directly with voters.
The 2004 presidential campaign ushered in Internet fund-raising and the lightning speed effectiveness of Web logs. The next campaign promises a significant increase in Web activities; politicians are responding to the reality.
Few are treating it with a LOL -- laugh out loud -- attitude. This is serious business.
Consider Ari Rabin-Havt, 27, who blogs for a living as a staffer to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, 66, a Nevada Democrat. Rabin-Havt's duties include watching the blogosphere for what's being said about his boss and others, and helping manage the blog and other Web activities for Reid.
Rabin-Havt said the way politicians and their staffs view blogs and other Internet tools is dramatically different from just two years ago when he was helping Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts with his Internet strategy.
''There was a communications staffer who once said to me -- in the summer of 2004 -- I wouldn't know a blog if it slapped me in the face," Rabin-Havt said. ''I don't think that attitude exists anymore."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, responds weekly to questions on his blog. He also is among several politicians who have recorded podcasts, self-made audio or video broadcasts that can be downloaded from the Internet to a computer or portable gadget.
The former heart surgeon, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid, said he saw the power of podcasts when one in which he discussed avian flu was featured on a conservative blog and downloaded a million times.
Frist, 54, said the technology allows him to ''break through the gaggle of reporters" and ''touch people who are sitting in Smyrna, Tenn."
John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee and a White House hopeful in 2008, recently showed off a newly designed website that features a reality television show that tracks Edwards, up close and personal, as he goes around the country.
The former North Carolina senator has favored video blogs, in which individuals submit questions to his site via video and he responds in the same format.
''Where in history has that ever happened?" asked Ryan Montoya, 32, technology adviser to Edwards, 52. ''He sees the people, and he is able to respond to their questions directly. That's democracy."
Strategists in both parties say the drive to use new media is simple: It's cheap, easy, and more and more people are connected.
According to a survey after the last presidential election, reliance on the Internet for political news during the 2004 contest grew sixfold when compared with 1996.
At the same time, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 40 percent of Internet users found the Web important in helping them decide for whom to vote.
In the 2003-04 election cycle, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean used the Internet to raise tens of millions of dollars and stun his primary rivals early in the campaign. He surpassed Republican Senator John McCain, who had relied in part on the Internet for his fund-raising in 2000.
Zack Exley, 36, who directed the Kerry campaign's online activities, said e-mail actually sounds old-fashioned to techies, but remains vital.