YouTube launches interactive forum for ’08 candidates

Online video service YouTube is providing presidential candidates with a virtual soapbox that allows them to interact with the online community.

The Google-affiliated website added a feature to its You Choose ’08 site that encourages a two-way dialogue between candidates and voters. The Spotlight feature was launched Wednesday and allows a different candidate each week to create a video for the Spotlight to encourage responses from YouTube users.

“It’s an interactive platform,” said Steve Grove, head of the site’s News and Politics division. “It’s revolutionary because it encourages dialogue and conversation in an authentic way.”

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The Spotlight will be featured on each candidate’s YouTube channel and on the main site’s News and Politics category. Throughout the week, users can engage in dialogue with candidates by posting videos back and forth in the Spotlight section.

“The candidates can take any approach they like to respond to these videos,” Grove said. “It’s up to them how they want to engage users.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is the first candidate to be featured. Users this week will have a chance to respond to Romney’s question, “What do you believe is America’s single greatest challenge and what would you do to address it?”

“Rarely do presidential candidates have the chance to communicate with such a large number of voters and directly solicit their ideas and their input,” Romney commented on the new initiative. “I’m looking forward to interacting with this engaged community of people about the new generation of challenges confronting our nation.”

Grove said ten additional candidates have agreed to participate in the Spotlight – Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards on the Democratic side, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) on the Republican side.

“ Every candidate understands YouTube is an integral part of their outreach,” Grove said. “It’s really nice to see campaigns recognize the power of YouTube. In the 20th Century, candidates relied on radio and TV to get their messages out. Now, it’s broadband access and sites like YouTube that they’re relying on.”

Grove added YouTube has extended the invitation to all candidates that have YouTube accounts, explaining why candidates without accounts, like Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabe, weren’t mentioned.

“As soon as any candidate is on YouTube, they’ll be invited to take part.” Grove said.

He added that the site anticipates adding more features to its You Choose ’08 section as the campaign season progresses.