Tiny Town Blazes New Campaign Trail, Using Social Network

The last time Columbus, Kentucky was a significant part of the national political dialog was more than 200 years ago, when Thomas Jefferson proposed moving the national capital here after Washington D.C. was razed.

Now the tiny rural burg of 229 residents is poised again for the historical spotlight, thanks to trendy social networking tools and experimental grassroots digital campaigning that’s taken center stage in the 2008 election campaign. This week, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will announce a stop here in early October, a result of placing his itinerary in the hands of voters through Eventful, a web–based event-planning site, a campaign spokeswoman said.

"I think such visits are important because they engage rural voters," said Shawn Dixon, a 24-year-old activist who helped orchestrate the trip, besting efforts from much larger destinations through clever digital lobbying. "I think people write us off, but when 1,800 people from a region step up and say we want people to come to speak, that gives rural Americans a voice."

Edwards' journey to an obscure town in the Bluegrass state highlights the often-unpredictable ripple effects from unprecedented Web 2.0-enabled community involvement in this campaign. So far this year, the candidates and electorate have been subjected to a CNN/YouTube debate that was criticized for falling flat and not being community-oriented enough. Earlier this month, they saw a half-hearted attempt by Yahoo to give voters a voice in interpreting candidates' messages through a promotion of its presidential mash-up.

San Diego-based Eventful, founded in 2004, is used by performers and businesses worldwide to interact with their audiences and customers. Musicians and festival organizers use the tool to promote their events and determine venues. More than 20,000 musicians, for example, have asked their fans to help select tour stops. Since the application's launch in 2006, there have been five million "demands" in all for performers registered on the Eventful website, said company CEO Jordan Glazier.

With a mere three or four visits from presidential candidates so far this year, Kentucky ranks among the most neglected states on the national political stage.

Since its primary takes place on May 20 -- well after the agenda-setting Iowa caucuses in January and the crush of Super Tuesday primaries in February, Kentucky isn't attracting much attention from the presidential candidates.

But in June, Edwards promised to speak in the city that piled up the most demands for him by July 18, through Eventful.

Columbus, with a population of 229, won the contest with 1,870 demands. The town is located on a bend in the Mississippi river in Hickman County, which is home to just under 5,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Hickman County residents won over larger metropolitan areas such as Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The city with the second-most demands for Edwards was Eureka, California, with a population of about 26,000 people.

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