Editorial: HatchVernon.com and sneaky politics


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Depending on the speed of your wireless router and the juice your Internet service provider pumps through it, HatchVernon.com may or may not be old news. The website, birthed by the Branstad Committee, is a parody of a typical political promotional site, complete with an endearing picture of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jack Hatch and running partner Monica Vernon. While, on the surface, the site is very convincing, several seconds of reading and a smidgeon of common sense verify that it does not speak in favor of Hatch and Vernon, that it’s a joke. Though the crooked — albeit completely legal — ruse by the Branstad Committee seems to be rooted in deceit and treachery, it was a very successful publicity stunt, and it could help teach Iowans and political candidates in Iowa to stay on their toes.

The successful deception of the website lies in its simplicity: different hues of blue, smiling mug shots, and the obligatory use of the word “vision.” It’s like something you’d assign an unpaid intern to create — something many politicians stand by — an easy-to-digest environment to make ambiguous promises, collect emails, and solicit campaign donations. The sarcasm in the website’s prose is the icing on the cake, claiming that the duo’s vision includes “Restoring High Unemployment” and “Passing Unbalanced Budgets.” Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, the site proves to be a good chuckle if you’ve got the right sense of humor.

Still, Gov. Terry Branstad’s name slapped on such a website is concerning. But it’s not a new political tactic, even in Iowa. Once before, StaciAppel.com, a different malicious website created to aid Republican Kent Sorenson in defeating former Democratic state Sen. Staci Appel, was used to shift the way voters viewed a political candidate, as noted in an article published by the Des Moines Register.

Political committees have been buying hundreds of opposing political domain names for years, and companies and individuals have been purchasing desirable domain names since the Internet’s infancy. Parody websites and Twitter accounts for celebrities and politicians are oftentimes created in good fun, but when such a website is so massively publicized — especially in a state that falls behind most of the Midwest in access to competent Internet — red flags go up. It’s a sneaky move, one that raises questions about the honesty of politicians, even in a seemingly honest state such as Iowa, though that’s a different discussion.

Regardless, the success of such a prank is applause-worthy. While StaciAppel.com is blatantly negative, HatchVernon.com is much more subtle, mildly more tasteful. Scummy as it seems, even with negative publicity from watchdog journalism, the website was a PR success. It was the push that set the snowball rolling, and the name “Branstad” will continue gaining momentum and growing more memorable as we move closer to Election Day. It’ll be interesting to see what new methods committees attempt to employ. With continued audacity, things should get pretty interesting, maybe even dirty.

To be clear, the Editorial Board does not promote dishonesty in the political campaigning process, but creative moves stemming from dishonest places are hard to ignore. Only time will tell how HatchVernon.com will ultimately affect voters’ perceptions of Branstad and his competitors, but in the meantime, it’ll make for some interesting viewing as politicians respond to and learn to use the opportunities offered online.

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