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Voters’ Primary Response To Candidate’s E-Mail? Anger

It seemed like a good idea to Murff Bledsoe, candidate for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2. Send mass e-mail to voters, using the Internet, and avoid the cost of paper, envelopes and stamps.

But it didn’t work as planned.

Instead of persuading voters, Bledsoe and friend David Eakin made enemies. Hundreds of angry e-mail recipients fired back, clogging Eakin’s Internet provider, which cut him off.

“I came up with the idea. Low-budget race, got to cover the whole state. What about mass e-mailing?” Bledsoe said. “Just like mass mailing, but I can’t afford that.”

He went to Eakin, a computer-savvy friend and a fellow assistant district attorney in Belton, Texas. Eakin proceeded to check on mailing lists and software for such an operation.

For less than $100, they bought software and a list of e-mail addresses through the Internet. Eakin said they sought to target Texas voters in the Tuesday Republican primary and avoid people who would object to getting the message.

They failed.

The result was an avalanche of messages from all over the United States attacking what cyberspace veterans call “spamming” - sending unsolicited e-mail, particularly on a mass basis.

What Eakin called a “test mailing,” to 12,000 customers on Feb. 24, also violated the policy of Eakin’s Internet provider, VVM Inc., of Temple, Texas. The company cut off his service.

VVM denies cutting off Eakin because of the mass mailing, citing a billing dispute. But Eakin said it is “quite a coincidence.” He’s had overdue bills before.

In any case, anti-spammers counterattacked with hundreds of messages intended to clog and shut down VVM’s system, which they did, VVM general manager Gary Dewrell said. It’s called bombing.

“We have no defense,” Dewrell said. VVM had to shut off all e-mail several times.

Political consultants all over the country are trying to figure out the best way to use the Internet to advance their causes, said Robert Jara of Campaign Strategies in Houston.

E-mailing has not worked because so many people object to receiving unsolicited e-mail, he said. Interactive Web pages and postings on bulletin boards work better, he said.

“I think people appreciate the interactiveness of the Web page rather than just getting junk in their e-mail,” Jara said.

Bledsoe said the experience has been interesting, but e-mail’s time as a political tool has not come. “It’s too early,” he said. “This is going to happen, but it’s going to happen when somebody can make a lot of money off it.

“Unfortunately, in a race like this, no one has money.”