Spread John McCain's official talking points around the Web -- and you could win valuable prizes!
That, in essence, is the McCain campaign's pitch to supporters to join its new online effort, one that combines the features of "AstroTurf" campaigning with the sort of customer-loyalty programs offered by airlines, hotel chains, restaurants and the occasional daily newspaper.
On McCain's Web site, visitors are invited to "Spread the Word" about the presumptive Republican nominee by sending campaign-supplied comments to blogs and Web sites under the visitor's screen name. The site offers sample comments ("John McCain has a comprehensive economic plan . . .") and a list of dozens of suggested destinations, conveniently broken down into "conservative," "liberal," "moderate" and "other" categories. Just cut and paste.
Activists and political operatives have used volunteers or paid staff to seed radio call-in shows or letters-to-the-editor pages for years, typically without disclosing the caller or letter writer's connection to a candidate or cause. Like the fake grass for which the practice is named, such AstroTurf messages look as though they come from the grass roots but are ersatz.
McCain's campaign has taken the same idea and given it an Internet-era twist. It also has taken the concept one step further.
People who sign up for McCain's program receive reward points each time they place a favorable comment on one of the listed Web sites (subject to verification by McCain's webmasters). The points can be traded for prizes, such as books autographed by McCain, preferred seating at campaign events, even a ride with the candidate on his bus, known as the Straight Talk Express, according to campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.
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