The informally anointed Democratic candidate for President and the North Carolinian who many experts think could wind up as his running mate recently joined networking Web site Friendster.com, whose visitors create profiles of themselves and connect with various virtual communities of like-minded people. Friendster, whose 5.5 million registrants are 27 years old, on average, is a logical place to find the young voters that former Vermont Governor Howard Dean attracted to his party until his candidacy ended.
Kerry's and Edwards' profiles are revealing -- if not of how they see themselves, then of how they would wish others to see them. Kerry casts himself as a fun-loving boomer who hasn't lost touch with his youthful side. He has posted a picture of himself windsurfing and lists other interests such as "hunting, motorcycles...and offering a REAL DEAL to America." His favorite music choices include the Beatles, Bruce Sprinsgteen ("No Surrender is my campaign song"), and U2.
And for someone whose stump speeches ooze gray eminence, his movie choices are surprising. Three of his five favorites are Animal House, Blues Brothers, and Old School. Kerry, a Friendster member since last September, writes in the "About Me" section: "I love Hostess chocolate cupcakes, although [my wife] Teresa tries to limit them."
By contrast, Edwards' formal, unsmiling portrait and occupation of "Senior Senator" seem an attempt to deflect criticism that he's inexperienced and lacks gravitas. The section on his favorite books, movies, and TV shows is blank. His "About Me" dishes out his familiar populist spiel: "I was born 50 years ago and grew up in a tiny mill village named Robbins, N.C. For nearly 20 years I was a lawyer fighting for people like you against big insurance companies and big corporations."
For their different approaches, both candidates seem to have struck a chord with a small but enthusiastic following. Kerry has received 68 gushing "testimonials" from other members. One, from "Benjamin," reads: "John's the type of dude where you're like, 'that guy can be our president.'" Says "Seth": "He digs Springsteen and he's going to create jobs. It simply doesn't get any better than that."
Edwards, who joined Friendster in February, only had eight testimonials by the time he shuttered his campaign for the Democratic nomination on Mar. 3. But they are every bit as effusive as Kerry's. Of the North Carolina senator, "Patty" writes: "Everything he says makes me smile and makes me warm inside!" And "Paul" offers: "Hey y'all, I know John's photo looks a little serious, but this guy is a ray of sunshine."
NO FRIENDS NEEDED?
Being able to attract such high-profile visitors -- even though it's possible some staffer created the profiles instead of the candidates themselves -- is another positive sign for Friendster, which last fall received $13 million in seed money from Silicon Valley venture capitalists, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The site's appeal only goes so far, however. President George W. Bush declined an invitation to join. A campaign spokeswoman says Friendster doesn't fit in with his Internet strategy. Apparently, Bush is willing to cede the young, hipster demographic.
By Brian Hindo in New York