For the first time in the history of Mesa mayoral elections, candidates are facing a battle of the blogs. Web logs and online comments weren't much of a factor in local races four years ago, and candidates are seeing mixed results this time around.
They say the instant communication and broad outreach has been a boon to their messages, but the anonymity and occasional cruelty of other people can be taxing.
Mayoral hopefuls Scott Smith and Rex Griswold have both become the subject of parody online.
The first one, griswoldwatch.blogspot.com,was started in January by a person who said he was a District 5 resident unhappy with the direction of the city.
Griswold represented District 5 for five years before resigning to run for mayor.
"When Griswold announced he was running, I just didn't think he was the right guy for the mayor's job," wrote the blogger, who runs the site anonymously but responded to e-mails.
The blog includes photos and quotes from the movie "Anchorman," starring Will Ferrell.
The blogger said it was the moustache on both Griswold and Ferrell that inspired him, and that he has watched the movie "too many times to count" in order to keep up with the blog.
And though the blogger says the Web site, with 37 posts, has grown pretty popular, he still thinks Griswold is a nice guy and that "it's nothing personal about him."
"I just think there were much better candidates for mayor, which is why I did the site in the first place," the blogger said in an e-mail.
Griswold said friends have showed him the blog, and he considers criticism part of the job.
"You need to be thick-skinned or have a sense of humor or don't run," he said. "Somebody either doesn't have a job or a date. They have a lot of time on their hands."
Scottsmithwatch.blogspot.com began the day after Smith finished first in the primary March 11.
The blogger, who did not respond to requests for interviews, wrote that the site was dedicated to "monitoring and reporting on the activities of mayoral candidate Scott Smith."
There have been 12 postings skewering Smith on a range of topics and a picture of J.D. "Boss" Hogg from TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Smith said he had seen the blog, but didn't care if he knew the identity of the blogger or not. "It's not some deep dark secret I'm just dying to know," he said. "Somebody obviously doesn't like Scott Smith. It is what it is. If I start taking things like that very seriously I won't last long in this job."
Smith said the Internet and his official Web site, www.scottsmithformayor.com, has been very helpful for his campaign to send out new information and archive previous messages.
He said that he also occasionally reads online comments, such as those posted with news stories on evtrib.com, but doesn't follow them "obsessively."
"A lot of people use the anonymity to say crazy and wild and outrageous things, so you take it for what it is," he said.
Griswold said he had a Web site during his last campaign for City Council, but the biggest change this time around has been in online donations on his site, www.rexgriswold.com.
"That's been amazing, and the people who donate over the Internet have been a major factor," he said. "That's brand new for me."
Former mayoral candidate Claudia Walters said she was invited to write a blog during her campaign for mayor but opted out.
"I felt like it was an opportunity for people to smack at me anonymously as opposed to having a give and take on issues," she said. "We all bring biases and mine are out on the table. Theirs aren't."
All of the candidates have expressed suspicions that workers on opposing campaigns are posting online anonymously.
"If it's a campaign person doing it, you'd like to know that," Walters said.
Political consultant Jason Rose said blogs and online materials like YouTube videos have changed campaigns significantly.
Rose is not working for Smith or Griswold.
"They affect campaigns because once it's on the Internet you can't afford to let it go unchecked, to viral out and spread into a bigger publication," Rose said. "That's the risk. If someone playing around ends up coming up with a fun or damaging viral idea it could end up hurting their candidacy."
He said the Internet's wide reach and no-cost features have leveled the political playing field and "enhanced democracy immeasurably."
"It's taken a lot of power away from the big newspapers and TV stations, and will just continue to impact elections more and more and more," he said.