WASHINGTON &

For months, the presidential wannabes have been churning out serious, talking-to-the-camera videos for YouTube. So far, viewers prefer the spontaneous, unauthorized, less flattering fare.




Traffic on YouTube related to the 2008 presidential race spiked in March and April, largely on two unofficial, critical videos: one about Democrat Hillary Clinton; the other about Republican John McCain, according to a study of YouTube traffic by Nielsen/Net Ratings.




An anti-Clinton "1984" video, in which the New York senator is portrayed as a Big Brother-ish figure""accounted for about 75 percent of all traffic to candidate-related videos on YouTube in March, Nielsen found.




A month later, a video of McCain, the Arizona senator, joking about bombing Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys classic "Barbara Ann," helped him attract more than twice as many visitors on YouTube than his Republican rivals.




While overall viewership of political videos is relatively small, the clips are becoming increasingly important in the elongated 2008 presidential campaign cycle. Lesser-known candidates are using YouTube as a low-cost method to get some attention, while the leading candidates are trying to avoid any embarrassing on-the-trail goofs that can be exploited by their opponents or their supporters.




This early in the election cycle, it's hard to say that Internet volume at candidate Web sites is an indicator of ultimate success at the polls. If anything, the data show that the increasing attention being placed on the Internet by candidates is a double-edged sword, since they are getting the most attention online for video clips beyond their control.




Nielsen found a far greater number of unique visitors watched Democratic candidate YouTube videos in March &

1.54 million visitors, compared with Republicans' 108,000 visitors. But that number was high because of the anti-Clinton "1984" video, which was produced by a supporter of her leading rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. April, traffic had stabilized, Nielsen found, and both sides attracted 300,000 to 400,000 unique viewers on YouTube.




Of the Democrats, Clinton's Web videos drew the most attention, drawing 23.2 percent of the total time in April spent by YouTube visitors viewing political videos. Obama followed with 20 percent. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was third, at 16.1 percent.




The Republicans followed, led by McCain, who drew 14.9 percent of all political viewing time. His two main rivals &

former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani &

lagged behind at 6.2 percent and 1.3 percent.




Clips of speeches and debate performances make up the majority of the video clips being uploaded by the campaigns these days. But a few candidates are starting to take a more lighthearted approach.




When New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson began running television ads in some early primary states in an effort to introduce himself to voters, he released an extended version on the Internet.




The ad, which featured the governor in a job interview, shows him ticking through his qualifications to a dubious interrogator. The video, showing Richardson playing up his underdog status, attracted more than 174,000 viewers on YouTube in the past month, far more than a clip of Richardson announcing his presidential bid, which has drawn about 10,000 viewers.




An unofficial video of Edwards fussing his hair continues to be the most-watched video of him on YouTube. His campaign posted a video last week of two staffers being gently chastised by his wife for managing to burn a pecan pie.




Meanwhile, two video clips of Clinton asking supporters for help choosing an official campaign theme song have drawn close to a million views on YouTube and her official Web site, says Peter Daou, the Internet director of Clinton's campaign.




The videos were done as part of YouTube's "YouChoose" campaign, which features one candidate each week. The feature has been boosting traffic for every candidate featured.




The Clinton campaign asked for help with the theme song in its first clip, in which the senator mocked her own out-of-tune warbling of "The Star-Spangled Banner" caught on a cable broadcast. It drew more than 600,000 views; 200,000 votes have been cast in the theme-song contest, the campaign says.




The campaign has tried to use a mix of substantial and funny videos, Daou said. "Some people like the more lighthearted videos. They each have their place."