SECOND LIFE, Virtual World - To find volunteer Redaktisto Noble, you have to go to John Edwards' presidential campaign headquarters. Not in Iowa or New Hampshire, but in cyberspace.
There, Noble can lead visitors along a boardwalk lined with billboards describing campaign issues such as Iraq and health care. On the way out, visitors can pick up free "Edwards for President" T-shirts that their animated alter-egos can wear.
It's old-fashioned campaign work in a new setting. Noble works at Edwards' virtual campaign headquarters in the animated online world called Second Life, which has more than five million members - many of whom can vote in real life.
Democrat or Republican, the White House campaigns are using new online tools in the hope of attracting supporters who give not only their votes but also their time and money. Candidates want to be where the voters are, and Americans today are spending their time online.
"When the industrial revolution came, candidates learned real fast that they had to go stand at the factory gate," said Joe Trippi, a political consultant who managed the Internet-savvy Howard Dean presidential campaign four years ago and joined the Edwards team this month. "Why? Because at 5 o'clock when that whistle blew, that's where the workers would be. You're campaigning where the community is."
Which is why every presidential candidate can be found on MySpace, a networking site with more than 64 million members. Visitors to Republican Mitt Romney's page can click and play Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." Republican John McCain lists 24 as his favorite TV show and Viva Zapata! as his favorite movie.
Democrat Barack Obama became the first candidate to sign up 100,000 MySpace friends. And his own version of social networking, My.BarackObama.com, has allowed Virginia mothers Ruthi David and Kulia Petzoldt to become active in politics for the first time.
They formed Families for Obama Feb. 10, the day the Illinois senator announced his candidacy, and their organization has grown to 24 chapters nationwide. They said the online tools had allowed them to become engaged, and estimated that 80 percent of the chapter administrators also were first-time organizers.
Petzoldt pointed out that hiring a baby-sitter so she could volunteer at campaign headquarters would have been too expensive, and that making phone-bank calls from home would have been problematic with her toddler screaming in the background. But she holds regular coffee and campaigning play-group meetings at her home in Burke, Va., including one where children babbled and ground crackers into the rug while their mothers discussed the text of Obama's Iraq legislation.
The event was advertised on My.BarackObama.com for anyone in the area to attend. Petzoldt and David also use that Web site to recruit members, blog and solicit donations. They complement it with a site with an easier-to-remember URL, www.familiesforobama.org, where they can have threaded discussions, share photos, keep a calendar of national events, and post party guides.
"I probably couldn't have done this if we weren't doing a lot of it online - the organizing, anyway," David said. "I've got three kids."
Instead of building his own social network, Edwards is reaching out to already established ones. That way, voters "don't have to search for information about you," said Mathew Gross, Edwards' senior adviser for online communications. "They've already seen you on YouTube or MySpace. They've found you through their preferred medium."
Volunteers designed the Second Life headquarters, but they said they coordinated with the Edwards campaign. Noble is the alter ego of teacher Jeremy Aldrich of Harrisonburg, Va.
"We want people to fly over and say 'what's that?' " Aldrich said in a telephone interview. Flying, it turns out, is one way to get around Second Life.
Aldrich said the goal was to draw visitors into the issues, and show them how to get involved "in a way that isn't possible in other games, and is more engaging than a Web page."
That's also the idea behind Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton's ICanBePresident.com, where young women, girls and others are encouraged to sign up and realize that anyone can lead the country.
The McCain campaign's site combines plenty of video of him on the trail with an in-house tool called McCainSpace for his supporters to network and have some fun. When he posted his NCAA tournament picks and invited others to do the same, the campaign collected valuable contact information from all who played.
The biggest change between e-campaigns in 2004 and 2008 might be the increased availability of broadband, which allows more Internet users to download video. When a 13-year-old video of Romney defending a woman's right to an abortion appeared on YouTube, his campaign posted - also on YouTube - a tape of Romney declaring that he was wrong on the issue back then.
Michael Silberman, director of the online consulting firm EchoDitto, said campaigns could get the most out of online video once they stopped viewing it as a form of television and used it to have a give-and-take with voters.