Chesterfield Candidate Runs on YouTube 

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There are vast dark, culturally nebulous areas of Chesterfield County that continue to evade even the all-seeing eye of the Google Maps function. Yet small-time politics is entering the digital age here, in the otherwise inchoate western hinterlands of the county's vast Matoaca district.

More specifically, Marleen Durfee, running in a four-way race for the district's open Board of Supervisors seat, has entered the YouTube age.

Her nearly four-minute video, posted about two weeks ago, is about as grass-roots as you might expect of an independent candidate running in a race that's likely to draw fewer than 3,000 voters.

The video's various monologues, scripted by a half-dozen or so Durfee supporters, were taped in area homes and the subjects shift and shuffle awkwardly. Hiding behind coffee cups or pretending to pause from typing, they extol the virtues of Durfee, founder of the Responsible Growth Alliance of Chesterfield County.

One supporter, Karen Petrone, wears a thousand-yard stare -- a shell-shocked look made fashionable during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis — while she provides a compelling testimonial for Durfee.

Despite the amateur edges, the overall effect is dazzling compared with the unevolved, flint-and-stone technology of the standard campaign mailer. And that's the point, says Jamie Radtke, a local political consultant who advised Durfee to commission the YouTube video.

Politicians entered the YouTube arena long ago. A recent presidential debate relied exclusively on questions submitted by YouTube users, including one from an animated snowman. Radtke helped Joe Blackburn with a YouTube ad in his run against Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico.

Durfee's video had received more than 400 hits at press time. That's more than a tenth of the expected vote total in the race.

"We need to be new and open in the way we're going to campaign," Durfee says of her campaign. "I'm a trendsetter."

She's also the first local candidate to rent space on the side of a barn along Route 288 that's been used by gubernatorial and presidential candidates.

YouTube is cost-effective too, Radtke says. The video cost about $400 to make, compared with the thousands it costs to produce for radio or TV. And "you can't even specify the county" where the ad runs, Radtke says.

Still doubt the power of YouTube? Radtke references former Sen. George Allen's infamous "macaca" incident, in which he taunted a campaign worker for Jim Webb by using the insulting term. The footage, uploaded to YouTube, hardly enhanced Allen's reputation for racial sensitivity.

"A lot of people feel like that significantly impacted the race," Radtke says.

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