On Monday, December 18, Iowa Democrat Tom Vilsack appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He was the first 2008 presidential hopeful to appear on show targeted to those under the age of 35. As a sophomore at Hamilton College (the same one from which Vilsack graduated), my peers and I have been extremely impressed by how much the Governor has reached out to the younger generation.
To start with, Vilsack is taking a page out of Howard Dean's playbook by using the power of the Internet to get the younger generation more involved. Fortunately, this Governor at least knows there is no "s" at the end of "the Internet." While at the age of 55, Vilsack admits that he is not fluent with all of the technology, he is eager to learn and communicate with everyone. When you go to his campaign web site, the video blog is front and center. There, the governor or others will talk with YOU. He said on one of his videos titled Using the Internet and the Videoblog, "I may not be able to meet every American face-to-face, but with this technology we could certainly have quite a conversation and I'm looking forward to it." With a place for comments located directly under the video you can simply write what you think and he will read it. You can even "Ask Tom a Question" and he will answer it on the video blog himself.
Having a video blog is not the only reason why my generation can relate to the Governor. He also blogs for popular sites such as DailyKos and MyDD. Further, I was surprised to come across the official campaign pictures displayed on Flickr, a popular place for students to place their own photos to show friends. Also, Vilsack has created a YouTube page for himself where you can watch clips of him on places like CNN or C-Span. I know students are on YouTube all the time and this is a simple way for us to relate to the campaign.
And then of course there are Vilsack's profiles on Facebook and MySpace. The entire concept of a politician having a Facebook profile started to receive a lot of attention when Sean Patrick Maloney decided to run for New York State Attorney General. He was not very well known but decided to have his own profile on Facebook and start "friending" people. Alex Libin wrote about receiving "a somewhat awkward friend request" from Maloney in New York University's Washington Square News: "Could this be a practical joke crafted by someone with way too much time on his hands? After lamenting the lunacy of this foolish ploy, I found myself having a strange change of heart; perhaps this was just the most brilliant political move of the 2006 election season." For Libin and many others, Maloney deciding to join Facebook, putting his candidacy on the map for younger people (but in the end, he still lost). For those of you who are around my age or who know people my age, we are on Facebook ALL THE TIME. Not a day goes by when I have been on that web site at least five times and is the number one procrastination device in America!
I was curious about this strategy and wanted to ask the Governor myself why he is targeting a younger generation. I contacted the campaign as nothing more than a student journalist and was treated like a member of the Associated Press. After Vilsack's appearance on The Daily Show I was able to join the Governor and other members of the media on a conference call where he answered our questions.
Vilsack told another reporter that "The Daily Show is one of the most popular news shows for those under the age of 35...humor has been a part of politics for quite some time." And as for my question abut why he is focusing on my generation, he responded that the 2008 election is about the future of youngsters, my generation. Vilsack strongly believes that "it's important for candidates to get out and listen to all age groups." It seems like his strategy is working. I found a few students in the Daily Show audience Monday night and asked them about the Governor's performance. Will Hudson, a Virginia Tech sophomore, was impressed not only because Vilsack was funny, but because he was able to make fun of himself. "Politicians are starting to act more human and have less scripted answers," he said. "Vilsack definitely showed that." Finally, politicians are not only attending expensive fundraisers and talking with those on programs only my grandmother watches. Governor Vilsack is here to talk with, and listen to, me, you and everyone.
I would expect to see Vilsack on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno soon — or maybe a voiceover for Family Guy (one of the Governor's favorite TV shows, according to his Facebook profile).
(See a clip of Vilsack on The Daily Show here.)
Follow Eric Kuhn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kuhn