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That Internet-savvy political party with all the snappy YouTube videos and political blogs - could it be Montana's GOP?

OMG!

Republican legislators, once the butt of embarrassing YouTube moments caught by camera-ready Democrats, have harnessed the Internet to spread their message about the state Legislature.

The lawmakers present their take on the 2009 Legislature daily, with fresh postings and video on www.rotundareport.com. The site gives full attention to Republican work that might garner only seconds on the nightly news.

"I've been pleasantly surprised and impressed with how many people visit our site," said Sen. Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo. "The average stay on the site right now is about five minutes, which is very impressive."

Peterson, the Senate majority leader, said the blog was necessary to reach younger voters who increasingly turn to the Internet for information and to communicate. His children, both in their 30s, were pretty insistent that Republicans needed to get with the times or face being left behind.

In the not too distant past, GOP politicians from Montana were being outplayed by Democrats armed with video cameras who followed Republicans around, waiting for a juicy faux pas to post on YouTube.com, which hosts myriad videos created by users.

Once online, the videos play to an audience beyond the scope of any Montana media outlet. In 2006, Democrats posted footage of then-U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., struggling to stay awake during a Senate Farm Bill hearing. The clip, complete with Roy Rogers dubbed in singing "Happy Trails" as the senator's eyes close, has been viewed 135,501 times. Burns narrowly lost his re-election bid that year to current Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat.

In 2007, House Majority Leader Michael Lange, R-Billings, was captured delivering a profanity-laced tirade about Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer. The clip that had a TV life of just two minutes still plays on YouTube, where it has been viewed 35,780 times.

Democrats haven't used the Internet much as a tool to interact with voters. The most current news item on the party's Web site, www.montanademocrats.org, was posted last May 9. The party posted audio clips on its site in 2006. Democrats in the Legislature don't publish a party blog. The party did not respond to an interview request by Tuesday.

The Republican Web site currently features party plans to make it easier for Montana public school students to transition between grades and ultimately to college or working life. The site listed hearing times for controversial bills of the week and a four-minute video about Republican plans to allow taxpayers to track government spending on the Internet. The latter proposal by Sen. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, received brief mention on the nightly news when it was unveiled last Friday. The Web site gives full coverage of the announcement.

"I think that we're seeing the need as Republicans to reach out in new ways to new audiences," said Scott Mendenhall, House Republican leader. "We understand that technology rules these days and we need to embrace it and be in the middle of it."

Mendenhall credits Rep. Tom McGilvray, R-Billings, for pursuing the blog.

McGilvray said he was inspired not by other political Web sites but by his son, who was posting videos of his hunting dog online. McGilvray's thinking was the people's business was deserving of a place on the Internet. He credits GOP spokeswoman Alden Downing with making the site successful. Downing was previously a TV journalist.

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