U.S. presidential hopefuls flock to YouTube

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Top White House candidates unveiled their own YouTube video channels on Thursday, pushing the 18-month-old Web video-sharing site even farther into the U.S. political mainstream.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) greets the crowd at the Cuyahoga Community College-Eastern Campus in Highland Hills, Ohio, February 26, 2007. REUTERS/Ron Kuntz

Google Inc.'s YouTube, best known for short, amusing videos made by users at home, says You Choose '08 ( will allow candidates to control how they exchange views with voters.

Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson have signed up to have their own channels. So have Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

They can post a video in which they speak on a given issue while members of the public will be able post a video response or questions for the candidate.

Politicians have the final say about what appears on their channels, but they still may be unable to prevent being caught up in what became known last year as the “macaca” phenomenon.

Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, lost a closely fought election after getting some unwanted publicity when a video showed up on YouTube of him calling a rival’s staffer “macaca” -- an African monkey and sometimes a racial slur. The rival’s staffer was of Indian origin.

Jordan Hoffner, YouTube director of content partnerships, said candidates might get the most benefit from their channels by being as open as possible.

“I think the politicians will be better served by letting the dialogue with the public take over,” said Hoffner. “Our users are very smart and savvy and they can see through something if it’s not genuine.”

U.S. presidential candidates are increasingly taking advantage of online video to get their message out. Both Clinton and Edwards opened their campaigns with online messages to voters.

This week McCain launched a channel on Veoh Networks, a smaller online video rival site to YouTube. Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro said other politicians would soon be joining the site to establish their own channels.

“We live in a world where people want to hear directly from their politicians and not sound bites filtered by editors. Nobody believes the media is impartial,” Shapiro said.