For a break from my usual fare, I decided to take a look at the campaign websites of the main declared 2012 minor-party presidential candidates. I’m doing this because there’s not a one that’s particularly good. I’m a supporter of third parties across the board, and I’d like to see them get their message out. With websites like these, they won’t be able to do it.
Here are the candidates whose websites I looked at:
Wayne Allyn Root (Libertarian)
Lee Wrights (Libertarian)
Roger Gary (Libertarian)
RJ Harris (Libertarian)
Dave Redick (Libertarian)
Carl Person (Libertarian)
Joy Waymire (Libertarian)
Kent Mesplay (Green)
Stewart Alexander (Socialist)
Wayne Root is a handsome man. Unfortunately, the photo he chose to place on his website makes him look like a cross between a used car salesman and a vampire. I’m not going to criticize him for failing to state on the website that he’s running for President — he’s not yet an officially-declared candidate, after all — but it’s not clear what he IS doing. After looking at his website for five seconds, I learn that he likes to “Root Rant,” that he goes by the acronym WAR, and that he really, really loves the American flag. I also learn that he gets a lot of media attention — there are videos all over that site. That’s not a bad thing, but what kind of media attention is it? Is he even a Libertarian? What does he stand for? On the plus side, the banner header is at least minimally acceptable, except for the photo of course. Grade: D+.
I know that I like Lee Wrights, and from looking at his website for five seconds I know that he wants to “stop all war.” That’s good presentation. I also like the color scheme, which identifies the LP as a brand. What I don’t like is the lack of a photo of Wrights on the front page, or indeed any introductory content at all. Wrights apparently feels that his blog should go on the front page, as if everyone reading his website will already be familiar with who he is and what he stands for. That’s terrible strategy and terrible presentation, and Wrights should do something about it. Meanwhile, the photo of Wrights on his bio is pretty good — why couldn’t that be in the header? Grade: D+.
Roger Gary‘s website is somewhat better organized — the blog is still on the front page, but it’s below some headers that tell me about upcoming events and how to join the Libertarian party or get involved in the Gary campaign. Unfortunately, I have no idea why I should get involved in the Gary campaign, because there’s no clear statement of what Gary stands for (like Wrights’ “Stop All War”). Gary has “Rock-Solid Experience, Dedication, Leadership,” but this is the sort of empty platitude a Libertarian just can’t get away with. Everyone on the planet knows that Roger Gary doesn’t have as much experience as Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Again, why should I vote for him? What am I getting? Meanwhile — and this is really astonishing, I think — if I click on the tiny link that says “Who is Roger Gary?” I STILL don’t get a photo. As far as I know, Roger Gary looks like the Elephant Man. Grade: D.
RJ Harris has by far the best website of the lot. He has a banner image with a photo (a fairly blurry one, but one that makes him look pretty good) and a good catchphrase: “Constitutional Libertarian.” The rest of his page also looks presidential, from the design of the header buttons to the way summaries of his platform issues display on the page. It’s a good balance between images and videos, too. You can tell this was the only professionally designed website of the bunch (“Designed by The Political Group”). Things Harris should work on: 1) getting a better photo for the banner; 2) Properly punctuating “Wake up America!” (what am I supposed to do, play Reveille?); 3) include a prominent link to the LP’s website. All in all, little things that don’t detract too much from the message. Grade: B.
Dave Redick has a photo! Unfortunately, his photo looks like a painting in a cheap boardroom. The next two things I notice are that Redick’s hawking his book about “Dave’s ‘Private Gold Standard'” (you can get “Parts 1, 2, and 4″ in the sidebar) and that his main page is a single wall of text. In terms of website design, it’s the single wall of text that sinks Redick. Only crackpot candidates use the single-wall-of-text strategy; it’s a dead giveaway. Try again, Dave. Grade: F.
Carl Person only has a Facebook page. That makes him as qualified to run for President as I am. Grade: F. [Update] It’s been brought to my attention in comments that Person has what is indeed a nice-looking website, using the same software Bob Barr used in 2008. That site gets a C+ from me (lowered by the poor photo and the rambling, unedited text on the front page). On the other hand, what is Person doing to advertise the fact that he has a website? His own party lists the Facebook page as his official website. That in itself is a serious PR failure.
“Miss Joy Waymire,” as she prefers to be addressed (howdy, ma’am!), has one of the most curious sites I’ve seen in a while. Her basic site design is clean (Wayne Root could learn something from her) but her choices are baffling. Chief among them: why does the Italian flag appear twice on the front page of her website? Also, as with Gary, no image of Waymire appears even on her bio page. In this case, I’m going to chalk it up to Waymire not having the technological know-how to post images online. Grade: D-.
I had hoped that Kent Mesplay would have a better website, given that this is his third run for President and he had a decent one last time. Unfortunately, Mesplay has decided the strategy of leading with his blog is better than actually bothering to introduce people to who he is and what he stands for. I do know that he’s a Green Party candidate, but I don’t really know what he looks like — he has TWO photos of himself on his website, neither of which is particularly good, and owing to some unfortunate facial-hair changes they look like they are of different people. He also has a slick, professional introduction video — which is squandered by the fact that his campaign apparently knows how to make a production video but not how to embed it in a webpage. Grade: C-.
Stewart Alexander cares. I know this because his website says so. I also know that I am one of his “comrades” (hello, Karl Marx!) and that he’s a Socialist candidate for President. Interestingly, Alexander downplays his involvement in the Peace and Freedom Party, even though their relationship stretches back decades and they control the most important ballot line (in California) he’ll be contending for. The basic presentation in the header is good, though the photo is outdated (it’s the same one he used in 2008) and the important tagline “The time for the working class is now!” is written in a light color that fades into the background. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. The rest of the page is a series of small-print links, half of which go to the SP’s website. There’s no information on Alexander at all, except for a link to a 10MB PDF file that’s only one page long and advises people to visit Alexander’s site “for more information”! There’s also a YouTube video of Alexander essentially reading off a piece of paper at an SP organizing convention two years ago. Remember when Socialists used to be fiery orators? Those days are long gone. Grade: D+.
Conclusion: Third-party candidates don’t have any idea how to make campaign websites for themselves. If you want to run for President as a third-party candidate, hire an experienced campaign firm to make a website for you, like RJ Harris did. Otherwise, your website is going to suck pretty badly.
[Update] Here are three I missed in the original post:
As far as I can tell, Jim Duensing looks like Dylan Ratigan. That’s whose photo dominates the front page of Duensing’s website. Yes, folks, it’s another instance of a candidate making the mistake of putting his blog on the front page. Duensing compounds this problem by never updating his blog, so that Ratigan’s scowling face has been his de facto campaign photo for over a year now. Meanwhile, the website seemingly goes out of its way to deny that Duensing is running for anything. A link at the top takes you to a “Duensing for ???” page, which purports to be “endorsing and championing candidates across the country” but then says that Duensing is running for President and offers a photo of three women wearing “Duensing for President” T-shirts. Is he running for President or isn’t he? Grade: D-.
Jim Burns could have a really good website if he wanted to. His intro text is good, his photo is at least passable, and his issues and platform are organized well. Unfortunately, everything’s in the wrong place. The photo is at the bottom of the page, not the top, the buttons are on the left instead of the header, and the result is another of those awful single-page-of-text websites that denote crackpottery rather than candidacy. Still, there’s potential here. Grade: D.
I really don’t know what to say about Robert Milnes. There are some good things about his website; his photo is front and center (Wrights and Gary, take note!), his intro text is concise, and I like the general site organization (including the prominence of the donations button). But I can’t get past that God-awful photo, which makes Milnes look like a serial killer. This isn’t a comment on Milnes’ actual appearance; rather, like Wayne Root, he desperately needs to go get some professional photos taken. That photo should be a warning to anyone who thinks he can put amateur photos on a campaign website and not have it come back to bite him later. My other problem is with Milnes’ foregrounding of the PLAS (Progressive Libertarian Alliance) in his intro text. I like that Milnes is leading with campaign strategy — many candidates (I’m looking at you, Miss Joy!) don’t seem to have given that any thought — but I have no idea what Milnes stands for or what ideas he sees as a bridge between libertarians and progressives. With a new photo and some more issues-based campaign materials, this could be a good site, but it isn’t one now. Grade: D.