Democrats Wooing Bloggers

Posted July 23, 2004 at 4:07pm

Seeking to boost its credibility with the growing online political community, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will host a “Blogger Bash” on Wednesday night in Boston.

“They are a group of people we want to develop a long-term relationship with,” said DCCC Executive Director Jim Bonham. “They are worthy of being treated as an important constituency.”

The event will be held at Meze Estiatorio in Charlestown from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The DCCC also hired Joe Trippi, campaign manager for the presidential bid of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), and Nicco Mele, the webmaster for Dean’s efforts, as consultants in early July. Mele will work full time at the DCCC through the election.

Mele, who now serves as president of a company called EchoDitto, said his interest in the DCCC was centered on a desire to “use the Internet in a way that made politics more accessible to people.”

The DCCC “is paying attention to what people are saying on the Internet,” Mele added.

The event this week, coupled with the hiring of two leaders from the campaign most revered by the progressive online community, is simply the latest in a string of attempts by both parties to — belatedly — recognize the growing power of the Internet as a fundraising and organizing tool.

For the first time in history, bloggers (short for “Web loggers”) will be credentialed as press at both this week’s Democratic convention and the Republican National Convention in New York, which begins Aug. 30.

As Dean showed in the primary process, the Internet is an increasingly powerful fundraising medium as well.

Dean used Web appeals to raise more than $50 million, primarily in small-dollar donations, for his ultimately unsuccessful presidential bid. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has raised $56 million online since the start of the year, including $3 million in a single day late last month.

The Internet’s effectiveness as an organizing medium remains an open question.

In its first major test, the attempt to organize a turnout effort online largely failed, as Dean, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination at the start of 2004, failed to win any of the early primary states before dropping from the contest in March.

But House Democrats believe that their victories in competitive special elections in Kentucky and South Dakota earlier this year were due in no small measure to their decision to organize volunteers online.

“That was an unwritten story about the success in Kentucky and South Dakota,” Bonham said.

He pointed out that the entire volunteer effort was handled through a secure Web site and that “all of a sudden 500 volunteers appeared out of nowhere” in Kentucky and another 800 were enlisted in South Dakota.

Democrats took over seats previously held by Republicans in their two special election victories — the first time in more than three decades that the Democrats accomplished that feat.

But Bonham conceded that a large part of the DCCC’s online success in the coming months and years is dependent on building a working relationship with people who rely on the Web to disseminate and acquire political information.

“Creating an online program for a national party committee is very different from creating one for a candidate or for a presidential race,” Bonham said. “A lot of trust-building needs to occur.”

Bonham explained that as a party committee, the DCCC represents the very establishment that many bloggers are rebelling against.

“The heated activists online are anti- establishment,” he said.

Attempting to bridge that divide, the DCCC has launched several new programs in recent months to expand its reach among Web denizens.

An online “Survivor”-type game produced more than 320,000 e-mail addresses for the committee; the Majority Makers program allows individuals to develop their own Web sites and articulate why others should donate to the DCCC.

Mele offered a different perspective on the makeup of the blogosphere, arguing that bloggers are not necessarily “motivated” by anti-establishment themes.

“What motivates the community is generally a progressive interest on the issues,” he said.

Regardless, both Mele and Bonham warned that it is wrong to assume that the blog and broader online communities are a huge vein of Democratic voters waiting to be tapped.

Bonham cautioned that it “is easy to make the mistake of thinking the online community is a resource from which Democrats can draw. It’s not.”

“It is not a monolithically progressive community,” said Mele.

He added, however, that the DCCC “courting them is a natural thing to do.”

Some Members of Congress have already latched on to the potential of the blogosphere, and that will be evident at the convention this week. Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) will host a breakfast for 10 to 15 bloggers this morning.

A few Members and ex-Members will even have their own blogs during the convention. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who represents much of California’s Silicon Valley, said she would likely be blogging on her campaign site during the convention “for those that can’t be in the room.”

Meanwhile, fellow Golden State Rep. Lois Capps will do a daily blog for her local paper, the Ventura County Star, and former Sen. Max Cleland (Ga.) will continue his “On the Road with Max Cleland” blog that currently appears in conjunction with the Kerry campaign’s official blog . Cleland’s convention observations and doings, recorded by Kabir Sehgal, a 21-year-old Dartmouth senior, will also be posted on the Georgia Democratic Party’s Web site.

For those Members not yet brave enough to venture out on their own, DCCC officials will “be looking out for Members and grabbing them” to appear on the campaign committee’s blog, said DCCC spokesman Greg Speed. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) is scheduled to appear, with at least a dozen Members expected to post to the DCCC blog over the course of the week.