Utah politicians are just beginning to tangle in the Web.
In the 1998 election cycle, Utah candidates have waded cautiously into cyberspace, most posting fairly simple, to-the-point Web pages maintained by volunteers.But unlike 1996, they are all online, with the exception of 2nd District Republican Rep. Merrill Cook, whose site is in the works, according to campaign manager Caroline Roemer.
Even Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, who is running unchallenged, has a site.
"I have been just amazed at how much things have changed," said Kevin Parke, who ran Bobbie Coray's 1996 U.S. House campaign and now manages Steve Beierlein's run for the same seat. "I think by the 2000 elections, it will be almost unheard of not to have one."
Steve Petersen, state director for Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, agrees.
"This is here to stay. It's cheap enough and it's actually one of the best ways to disseminate information," he said.
But Utah voters seem to lag behind in accessing the campaign Web sites. Most candidates who record hits say their sites have been accessed a few hundred times.
For example, the Web site for 2nd District Democratic challenger Lily Eskelsen has had just over 500 hits since May. And Beierlein's site has been getting between 15 to 20 hits a day.
That's a far cry from sites in California, where gubernatorial candidate Gray Davis sees up to 5,000 hits each day. And in New Mexico, Gov. Gary Johnson has had 25,000 hits on his campaign Web site in the past month.
But Utah campaigns are not deterred.
"If you think about it this way, not many people pay attention to politics before Labor Day, so if we've had 500 hits this early, there are going to be a lot of people who see that page and get on there and read about Lily," said Eskelsen's campaign manager, Megan Sather.
Greg Hopkins, campaign manager for Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, said Bennett has a site, but Hopkins believes politics on the Web is in its infancy.
"I think every year it will play more of a role. I just don't think we're there yet," he said. "I'm not sure we're to the point where you could affect the outcome of an election with just the Internet."
Ross Anderson, who ran for Congress in 1996 and was the only Democrat to have a Web site, was disappointed with the response he got. But he believes they could prove valuable tools once more people gain access to the Internet.
"I thought it was a great way to communicate very substantive information, certainly much better than 30-second spots on TV or 60-second radio spots," Anderson said. "I think it strengthens our democracy when people at their leisure can pull it up and find out where candidates really stand on things."
Spencer Stokes, executive director of the Utah Republican Party, points to groups like College Republicans that are making the most effective use of the technology. "It's not new to them. It's their generation," he said.
The big obstacle to Web sites, says Todd Taylor, executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, is they demand a considerable amount of time and most campaigns, especially underfunded Democrats, can't afford the manpower.
Another drawback, he said, is that the Internet fails to "reach out and grab" undecided voters with a passing interest, the way television or print ads do.
"It's definitely a brave new world and the question is how to make the best use of it," Taylor said. "We're not there yet, but someday somebody will figure it out. It could be 2000, 2002 or 2004, but we'll get there."