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Politics, anyone? 2006 was a warmup

You may have noticed, in recent months, politicians trying to get your attention. You, the electoral lab rat, may also have noticed a few innovations in campaign tactics. Internet videos were popular enough to affect races. Meanwhile, time-tested...

You may have noticed, in recent months, politicians trying to get your attention. You, the electoral lab rat, may also have noticed a few innovations in campaign tactics. Internet videos were popular enough to affect races. Meanwhile, time-tested methods reached new heights.

All are sure to be refined for the 2008 campaign, which is due to begin, oh, right about now. Here is a review:

GAFFES + YOUTUBE = GOTCHA

It used to be that when the klieg lights went out and the microphones were turned off a candidate could relax a bit, assuming he or she made it through the debate or the news conference without committing a major blooper.

No more. Now every public moment -- and some in private -- is potential fodder for YouTube, the brutally efficient distributor of political gaffes caught on video.

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One clip that may have tipped the scales: Sue Kelly, a Republican congresswoman from north of New York City, ran away from a local television crew as she was asked about her connection to the congressional page scandal. (She was chairwoman of the board in charge of House pages in 1999 and 2000.)

The encounter made it to YouTube and was viewed tens of thousands of times. Kelly lost her seat in a close race with John Hall, formerly of the band Orleans.

Michele Bachmann is another Republican with a catalog of YouTube clips, and they weren't posted by her. An opposition blogger put up videos of Bachmann addressing a church group, in which she discusses how she submits to her husband's wishes and calls herself "hot" for Jesus Christ. They may have helped: She won her election in Minnesota's 6th Congressional District by about 8 percentage points.

POLLING POLICE

With the national voting apparatus still a patchwork of sometimes-balky technologies, bloggers and videographers emerged in large numbers to shine a light on problems at the ballot box as quickly as possible.

Right-leaning Redstate.com reported alleged intimidation of poll-watchers in Philadelphia, where Rick Santorum, the Republican senator, needed every vote he could get. "Video the Vote," a coalition of left-leaning groups, urged anyone with a camera to "stop voter suppression" by posting alleged irregularities on YouTube.

LOADED LINKS

You search Google for information about a candidate, by his name. High on the list are links to negative articles about him. That's because he's been "link-bombed" -- his opponents have engineered a flood of Web links and cross-links to unfavorable content, which then muscles its way up the search rankings. Left-wing bloggers went after about 50 Republicans this way. Look for more of the same against both sides.

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ROBOCALLS ON THE MARCH

Election-season dinner conversation seems doomed to interruption by automated phone calls, a feature of political campaigns for many years. But 2006 saw a major push by Republicans to use telemarketing methods normally used to sell consumer products.

Proponents say the calls serve as voter education. The objects of their efforts -- Democrats -- saw "gutter politics," in the words of Benjamin Cardin, the victorious U.S. Senate candidate in Maryland.

The automated, interactive calls ask pointed questions on campaign issues. If those on the other end of the line indicate that they agree, they then learn that their local Democrat felt otherwise, presumably leading them to vote for the GOP. The effort was criticized as an update of the push poll, an old tactic used by campaigns of many stripes: Callers (humans) say that they're conducting a public opinion survey, then ask loaded questions that push voters to specific candidates.

The effectiveness of the souped-up robocalls is open to debate. They were intended to help Senate candidates in Montana and Maryland who lost, and another in Tennessee, who won. But they seem likely to recur because they're cheap. One call costs about 10 to 15 cents, a fraction of those placed by humans.

HUMOR AMID THE ATTACKS

Fusty politicians are getting feisty, at least in their commercials. With a large subset of voters getting their news from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," the Onion and other wiseacre sources, candidates are trying to join in the fun (when they're not busy eviscerating their opponents).

A commercial for Jon Tester, the Democratic victor in the Montana Senate race, showed supporters young and old getting shorn in the Tester fashion, a flat-top buzz cut. Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, played a sheriff in his own 30-second western.

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Not everyone laughed at the cheeky takedown of Harold Ford Jr., the Tennessee Democrat running for the Senate. The Republican National Committee sponsored the spot, which featured actors posing as unsavory Ford supporters, including a winking come-hither blonde. The ad was denounced even by Ford's opponent, Bob Corker, who went on to win the contest.

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