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Toward a Geeky Politics

As I'll note in my cover story this week, Rhode Island's 2010 gubernatorial race will probably be the state's first test of a post-Obama, technology driven politics. Sure, candidates for local and statewide office have posted web sites and made use of a little Facebook now and again. But no Rhode Island pol has truly harnessed the web as an organizing tool.

The leading gubernatorial hopefuls will undoubtedly take the plunge in the coming months. But how much time and money should they invest? Will twitter and texting make much of a difference in an older state, with a traditional political culture? Last night, over drinks at Tazza, I put the question(s) to Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, & the Future of American Politics, which parsed the values of The Millennial generation - born between 1982 and 2003 - and made the list of The New York Times' favorite books of 2008.

The pair, on a national tour to promote the paperback copy of their book, acknowledged Rhode Island's unique politics, but said any Ocean State pols who hope to remain in office would be ill-advised to focus too much on the white, blue-collar, ethnic vote. "They are not only not the key to victory," said Winograd, "they will cause you to lose if you chase their beliefs and attitudes at the expense of Millennials."

There may be some wisdom in those words. Barack Obama's campaign energized a netroots in this state that is not to be underestimated. And the demographics are compelling - Millennials are having a growing impact on American elections. But I wouldn't write the obituary for a traditional Ocean State politics quite yet. Hillary Clinton's old-school approach may have contributed to her demise on the national stage, but the senator put an old-school licking on Obama in Rhode Island's Democratic primary.

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