Slouching Towards Tampa (Cyberpunks edition, part 1)

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John McCain had a campaign website four years ago, although there were conflicting stories about whether the candidate himself was computer-savvy enough to visit it without expert assistance. That was hardly the only issue McCain’s site had, of course. In June 2008, the Obama campaign site drew 3.3 million unique visitors, while McCain’s managed only 1.6 million, and the average time per visit on the Obama site was more than 11 minutes, against the McCain site average of five and a half.

So far this cycle, Republican web presence is generally better. Sure, most surfers are still going to spend less time at Rick Santorum’s or Jon Huntsman’s or Michele Bachmann’s little corner of cyberspace than they will at Funny or Die or The Gallery of Regrettable Food, but the candidates’ web teams deserve some credit, especially given the wretched products they’re trying to promote. Let’s take a look.

Michele Bachmann’s campaign site currently features a 25-second video of the candidate and four of her kids wishing us a Merry Christmas. Bachmann conscientiously cautions us not to forget the reason for the season. Curiously, however, she seems to have forgotten the reason for a campaign website; the sole link on the page leads to, well, the same page, where you can watch the video again and click the link and watch the video again and click the… well, you get the idea.

Grade: M (as in “Möbius”)

Compared to Bachmann’s Yule-themed visuals, Jon Huntsman’s site is mostly pretty sterile, but a big graphic alleges that the New York Times gives Huntsman a 71% chance of beating President Obama next year, as opposed to Bachmann’s feeble 12% chance. So there, Michele!

The graphic also favorably compares Huntsman’s odds to Herman Cain’s, but since Cain dropped out on December 3, this doesn’t strike me as something to brag about. Actually, boasting about nothing much seems to be a general theme of the site.  For instance, under the robustly enthusiastic headline “New Polls Show Huntsman Surging!” we learn that:

We have exciting news to share.

A newly released Suffolk University poll shows Governor Huntsman surging in New Hampshire, jumping into third place with 13 percent of the vote.

13%? Opa!

Still, Huntsman’s actually kind of a cool guy, by Republican standards. The site’s main page features recent Tweets from the candidate, one of which links to video of Huntsman sitting in on keys with the band on his recent Letterman appearance, where Dave also showed a 1979 photo of Huntsman’s band Wizard. Huntsman, of course, was easily recognizable as the one with the perfectly coiffed hair.

Grade: B (as in Jonny “B.” Goode)

The Gingrich campaign site is clean, attractive, straightforward and easy to navigate. So pretty much the exact opposite of Newt Gingrich himself.

Currently, there’s a slickly produced video featured, wherein Perfesser Newt tells us the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776. Gingrich knows about this stuff, you see, because he’s a historian, and (if you act now!) you can look forward to four or even eight years of tendentious lectures like this one coming to you direct from the Oval Office. The final dissolve from Gingrich’s face to a portrait of President Washington is intended to seal the deal, I guess, but it was a little like seeing Eric Cartmann’s visage morph into George Clooney’s.

Gingrich being such a famously devoted husband, I wasn’t surprised to find something called “Callista’s Canvas” on the front page. Mrs. Newt’s own little free speech zone features stories about her involvement with Mr. Newt’s bid for the nomination. In one, she is described as “chief morale officer” of the campaign. Now, I don’t know if that’s a paid position or not, but I hope the FEC is paying attention. “Money” plus “Gingrich” – historically speaking – equals “some sort of malfeasance.”

Oh, and I also learned that Callista plays the French horn, was once Chief Clerk of the House Committee on Agriculture, and lives with her husband.

Grade: WK (as in “Who knew?”)

And then there’s Mitt. Quite appropriately, Romney’s site is the HTML equivalent of an empty suit. There are large amounts of blank space, an incoherent color scheme, and a structure that defies user intuition.

But what about content, you ask? Well, you’ll discover things like the name of Romney’s three-day New Hampshire bus tour (the “Earn It!” tour), and that Mitt met his wife Ann in elementary school and chucked pebbles at her when she rode past him on a horse, but has apparently never strapped her to the roof of a station wagon. You’ll learn that despite the awful track record of Romney’s former firm Bain Capital in destroying thousands of American jobs, Mitt has had an epiphany:

Things are happening in America today that break my heart. Joblessness is one of them.

Once you wipe the grateful tears from your eyes, you’ll be able to purchase a “Romney – Believe in America” baseball cap ($30) or water bottle ($15). You’ll go on to find that Mitt “… will defend America abroad in word and in deed.” You’ll get links to exciting Romney op-eds like his recent one for USA Today, where he asks: “What kind of society does America want?” And that’s a sincere question; he really has no idea, just caffeine-free pseudo-Randian gobbledygook pretending to be an idea:

In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy.

And if they fail, Romney’s site becomes their home page for all eternity. That’ll pull up some bootstraps.

Grade: ABR (as in “Anyone but Romney”)

Next time, we’ll check out the official campaign sites of Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, and more.