Webb: The use of the Internet is expanding rapidly in political campaigns. Some respected political analysts and technology gurus have flatly stated that the next president will be elected over the Internet.

The Internet will clearly play a large role in Utah's 2006 election. We're already seeing candidates make use of advanced Web tools, especially in the U.S. Senate race.

Both Steve Urquhart and Pete Ashdown, who have launched long-shot bids to unseat Sen. Orrin Hatch, vow to use online campaign tools to their advantage. Hatch's campaign manager Dave Hansen says Hatch will match them technologically, but he added there's nothing like old-fashioned wearing out of the shoe leather, noting that Hatch has personally visited Sevier, Garfield, Millard, Piute, Sanpete and Juab counties in the past few days.

The Web and its related tools and technologies facilitate every aspect of a campaign, including fund raising, grass-roots organizing, scheduling, managing volunteers, sophisticated voter targeting, get-out-the-vote, neighborhood walking maps and literature drops, and all sorts of communications (automated voice broadcasts, campaign newsletters, rapid response to criticism, creating a "buzz," making announcements, getting people to events, delivering policy papers, sending campaign postcards that spread like a virus, etc.)

All of this can be particularly effective in targeting a limited political audience, like the 3,500 Republican state delegates up for grabs by Hatch and Urquhart.

Another fascinating political tool coming into its own is blogging. Millions of bloggers exist out there, and some of them have become influential political pundits. A handful of political bloggers operate in Utah (see list at www.utahpolicy.com).

Bloggers are known for their roles in bringing down such luminaries as Trent Lott and Dan Rather. With millions of readers acting as eyes and ears, bloggers can bring to light new information and keep a story alive.

Blogs are great tools to create a "buzz" and get people talking. Liberal bloggers fanned the flames of the Cindy Sheehan story until it exploded into the national spotlight.

Blogs and the traditional media feed off each other. A blogger may write about an issue or come up with a political "scoop." Other bloggers comment on that post and link to it. Pretty soon someone in the traditional media or on a radio talk show makes note of the issue and mentions the blog. Other bloggers then link to the story in the traditional media. Before long, the story is all over the newspapers, radio and television. The blogging/media world becomes an echo chamber that really revs up the buzz.

In Utah, we don't quite have the critical mass of well-read bloggers for it to work just that way, but we're getting close.

Utah's bloggers are mostly anti-Hatch. They are not so noisy that they've attracted much traditional media attention (except in this column), but they do link to each other and they have an impact in certain circles, particularly the high-tech community, which tends to not like Hatch.

Pignanelli: "Orrin Hatch . . . is the digital Joe McCarthy!" growled high-tech billionaire Mark Cuban on a local radio station and promised to contribute to Hatch's opponents. By referencing the anti-Communist crusader senator, Cuban (most Utahns know him as the vitriolic owner of the Dallas Mavericks) revealed the political controversy currently raging on the Internet that involves a handful of Utah politicians. Invigorated from the prior successes LaVarr noted, bloggers are now preparing for their biggest battle yet — the Utah 2006 U.S. Senate race. They and their high-tech allies (like Cuban) express open contempt for Hatch and his legislation to safeguard copyright protections through imposing liability on technology companies (recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court).

Hatch's Republican opponent, Rep. Steve Urquhart, is a hero to many Internet-savvy politicos. He is a longtime blogger who has gained recognition for his legislation dealing with high-tech issues. Presumed Democratic contender Pete Ashdown is the owner of Utah's most famous homegrown Internet service provider, XMission. Ashdown is well known in national techie circles for his articulate manner in discussing issues important to them and for the high quality of service his company provides to customers. XMission recently introduced free wireless access to the Internet in downtown Salt Lake City, and Ashdown now approaches cyber sainthood among bloggers.

Urquhart needs only 2,100 GOP delegates to unseat Hatch, a situation that holds promise for bloggers and their friends. Bloggers will increase their efforts to dissect and scrutinize every statement and action by Hatch, knowing that reporters will be mining the blogs for nuggets to use in traditional media outlets. They hope these activities will raise the political consciousness among potential delegates, who will then seek an alternative to Hatch. Moreover, studies demonstrate that bloggers are knowledgeable, enjoy high income and are well connected to the community — the kind of people who attend precinct caucuses and elect delegates. Thus, the bloggers' best chance to defeat the well-funded and hard-working Hatch is in the GOP convention; they simply do not have the numbers to make a real impact otherwise. Hatch has retained one of the best political minds in the country as his campaign manager, Dave Hansen — who is countering the bloggers' activities.

Some older politicos dismiss bloggers as loonies, but most political blog entries are well-written, substantive and witty. (My favorite is www.slcspin.blogspot.com, an insightful and humorous blog managed by Ethan Millard). Although their election plans may be unrealistic, campaign veterans are impressed with their strategy. The impact of bloggers on the democratic process will only increase over time.

• Yep, it's true. My mother, Patricia Murphy Pignanelli, filed as a candidate for the open Holladay City Council seat (and is challenged by Christopher Jensen). Readers can guess how I will be spending my time this fall.

Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant, lobbyist and publisher of www.utahpolicy.com. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake City mayor, Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is executive director of the state Department of Administrative Services in the Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. administration. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.