U.S. experts eye French election's web campaigning

PARIS (Reuters) - U.S. poll strategists said on Thursday they were impressed by the Internet strategy used by French presidential candidates, noting their innovative ideas could be adopted by the next tenant of the White House.

An employee hangs presidential campaign posters on official boards near a polling station in Saint Laurent du Var, southeastern France April 10, 2007. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

France’s main presidential rivals are all using the Internet as a key campaign tool, rightist Nicolas Sarkozy presenting his policies in web videos and Socialist Segolene Royal consulting voters on their views on her site.

“In some ways, the Sarkozy site is more advanced than most of the typical American political sites, particularly in the use of video,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican campaign strategist, who has visited French campaigners with Republican and Democratic colleagues ahead of the 2008 U.S. race.

“That was interesting and could be used in the U.S.,” said Murphy, who has advised Republican politicians including Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain.

French candidates’ official Internet sites and blogs have become key campaign instruments, reaching out beyond traditional campaigns waged via television, radio, newspapers and door-to-door campaigning.

Today, 10.6 million French homes of a total of about 26 million are online.

“We need good ideas, a good candidate and a lot of energy, because we don’t have any money,” said Jean-Marie Vanlerenberg from the team of French centrist candidate Francois Bayrou.

Bayrou, who has narrowed the gap on rivals Sarkozy and Royal in opinion polls in recent weeks ahead of the April 22 first round, said he hoped his team could also learn from the experience of American colleagues.

“They are very professional. We are less so. They are rich. We’re not,” Bayrou told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting between his campaign team and the U.S. experts.

David Mercer, a Democratic strategist and fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 bid, noted Clinton and Royal were both battling to become their country’s first woman president.

“What I found inspiring about Segolene’s campaign was their use of the Internet as a network,” he added of Royal, who has promoted grassroots democracy and called on supporters to share their views in local meetings or on the web.

“They have created a ‘Segoland’,” he said.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau