Lesser-Known '08ers Reach Out to YouTuber

The former Georgetown student who has gained celebrity status on YouTube by interviewing lesser-known presidential candidates from his dorm-room is back at it -- this time sitting down with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.

James Kotecki, 21, became a player in the digital world of politics by interviewing former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tx., in his dorm room, and then posting the video to YouTube, the popular video-sharing website.

In his latest offering posted to YouTube Thursday, Kotecki, aka "EmergencyCheese", went on location to interview Huckabee before a fundraiser.

Kotecki had previously called out Huckabee in a YouTube video, arguing he was one of the least web-savvy '08 candidates running.

In the interview, the former governor said he is frustrated with the lack of dialogue in the Republican debates about education.

"We've been in three debates now, three debates! And not one time has a question been raised about education," said Huckabee. "We've made a big mistake in taking music and art out of our schools."

Huckabee delivered a veiled swipe at the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" policy, arguing education should be left to the states.

"There are a lot of kids putting their head on their desk and taking a very expensive nap at the government's expense," said Huckabee. "These kids are bored."

When asked about his lack of foreign policy experience, Huckabee said he's visited over 40 countries and said governors deal with trade issues with other countries.

In another swipe against President Bush, Huckabee added, "Good foreign relations are really about one's character, judgment and capacity to work with other human beings."

YouTuber on a Mission

When he's not interviewing long-shot candidates, Kotecki creates videos with his political musings that have drawn almost 30,000 views so far on YouTube.

"My mission is to encourage politicians to have more of a direct dialogue with people through YouTube," said Kotecki in an interview with ABC News last month.

Kotecki argues most of the '08 candidates aren't effectively engaging YouTube users with their campaign videos.

"It can't be just TV on the Web," he said, arguing some '08 videos are overly produced. "They need to start having an ongoing, real, two-way conversation with people."

His YouTube Web video postings have begun to grab the attention of '08 candidates big and small.

Dorm Room Interviews With Lesser-Known '08 Candidates

Lesser-known presidential contenders Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel have stopped by his dorm room for interviews.

"Congressman Ron Paul, thank you so much for joining me in my dorm room!" begins Kotecki in his video interview with the GOP candidate. Toiletries and books decorate the background as they chat about Paul's libertarian views on U.S. foreign policy and the Constitution.

In the interview with Gravel, the former Alaska senator sat in front of Kotecki's closet.

"Nice to be here!" said Gravel before explaining his plan for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Other candidates address their Web videos directly to Kotecki and post them on YouTube.

Long-shot candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, posted a YouTube video responding to Kotecki's criticism that his videos lack personal appeal and are too stilted.

"Hi James," says the Ohio congressman in a tightly shot YouTube video posting, "I think you had some good suggestions and we're already taking them into account with these close-ups."

Critiquing the Candidates' Web Videos

In his own videos, Kotecki looks directly into the camera and tells the '08 candidates directly what they're doing wrong.

"Sen. Clinton ... I've been a bit disappointed recently with your performance on YouTube," he says in his critique of Clinton's videos or Hillcasts.

Kotecki then tells Clinton she "appeared to be loosening up at bit" on her more recent campaign Web videos, but that she needs to produce more of them.

In another Web video, Kotecki slams GOP candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for posting videos that are almost an hour long -- too long, Kotecki argues for a Web audience.

"You can't just make videos for an unseen audience at a particular speech somewhere," Kotecki says into the camera. "We the Internet viewers are your audience so talk to us."

Kotecki critiques them all.

On Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.: "Senator, you're missing a great chance to connect with the YouTube community," says Kotecki, complaining McCain hasn't responded directly to video questions from YouTube users.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gets high marks from Kotecki for uploading a lot of videos, but he argues that the videos aren't interesting.

"Most of them are clips from the news," Kotecki said. "It's not just about regurgitating content ... it's about creating new content where you create this one-on-one dialogue with people."

Kotecki has argued that the three least Web video-savvy candidates are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., all Republicans.

"What's really frustrating here is that since none of these candidates are front-runners, they could all benefit from a YouTube strategy," says Kotecki, urging the White House wannabes to post videos on YouTube.

Student Has Ear of Campaigns

Leading '08 campaigns have begun to take notice.

Kotecki is well-known to the Web gurus hired by '08 front-runners, including Romney's director of online communications, Stephen Smith.

In an interview with ABC News, Smith said Kotecki is pushing the candidates to upload more videos and make them more personal.

Smith points out Romney answered a video question posed to him by Kotecki when the former governor was featured on YouTube's "YouChoose '08 Spotlight."

"James Kotecki raised this question with regards to globalization," Romney says on his video response.

Other candidates have also answered Kotecki's video questions on YouTube.

But Kotecki has recently stopped posting questions for the candidates.

"I didn't want the candidates to think, oh we can just respond to this guy and check off the box," he said. "It's gotta be about more than just me, it's got to be about everybody."

Kotecki has also attracted the attention of YouTube's management.

In an interview with Kotecki, YouTube's news and politics editor Steve Grove praises him, calling him an "intelligent, creative YouTuber."

The Potential Impact of Video

The 2008 presidential election campaign will be the first since YouTube, the popular video-sharing site, was created.

But YouTube's impact on politics was felt during the 2006 congressional midterm elections, when a video of former Virginia Sen. George Allen calling someone "macaca" was posted to the site.

Soon mainstream media outlets began reporting the racially charged remark and linking to the video. Allen's '06 campaign never fully recovered and his presidential aspirations were squashed.

There have been other examples of videos posted to YouTube that have garnered mainstream media attention. An anti-Clinton ad posted by Obama-supporter Phil de Vellis likened Clinton to an Orwellian big brother.

But what isn't clear is how many YouTube users will translate their interest in irreverent, witty videos into votes.

A recent study conducted by Pew Internet & American Life argue that while an overwhelming majority of American adults use the Internet, only a small minority of people are like Kotecki -- deeply engaged with campaign 2.0 by creating digital media or blogging.

If You Post, Will They Vote?

Analysts say whether YouTube will have any impact on the '08 election remains to be seen.

However, candidates, hungry for votes, aren't waiting to find out. Most are embracing the new digital reality in public.

"We're trying to bring people into the campaign, to turn a casual observer into a full-scale evangelist," said Stephen Smith, director of online communications for the Romney campaign.

But are their efforts paying off?

Kotecki argues that most of the candidates have a long way to go before they are engaging video users as frequently and as casually as they want.

"Ideally, the campaigns would just make a video from the back of their campaign bus, just the candidate and their staffer, just keeping it really simple I think would resonate much better with YouTube viewers," Kotecki said.

Kotecki has graduated and moved out of his famously cramped backdrop.

"We're not in the dorm room anymore, but I'm still having a great time interviewing presidential candidates," reads his YouTube submission.

After taking a job as a political analyst for a financial firm in Washington, D.C., Kotecki is now video blogging from his new office in Georgetown.

"I just have so much fun doing it, there's no way I can stop," he said.