Candidates Court Liberal Bloggers for Campaign Boost

Posted August 15, 2009 at 4:46pm

PITTSBURGH — Minnesota state Sen. Tarryl Clark (D) touched down for less than 24 hours in the Steel City in an effort to meet as many liberal bloggers as possible from around the nation.The state Senate Assistant Majority Leader is running for Congress almost 1,000 miles away, and there likely wasn’t a single 6th district voter in a crowded bar on Friday night on the city’s north side. But Clark figures that if she wants to match Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) national following, she is going to have to seek support from all over the country, too.“I think it’s important if we’re going to win this, we’re able to play on the even playing field,— Clark said. “And the net roots can help do that.—Fortunately for Clark, Bachmann is a popular villain among the Netroots Nation because of her well-publicized controversial comments on cable news shows. Clark was one of almost a dozen candidates who attended the annual convention’s “meet the candidates— pub quiz night in an effort to nationalize their campaigns for Congress.Rep. Kendrick Meek leaned against the doorway to the bar, where he observed the crowd of liberal bloggers. The four-term Florida Democrat is waging an uphill open-seat Senate battle and is likely to face popular Gov. Charlie Crist (R) in next year’s election.Meek admitted he doesn’t know many of the net-roots writers in the room, but that’s why he’s there — to begin to build relationships with activists that could nationalize his campaign. In particular, he said he needed all the help he could get to collect the more than 112,000 signatures he needs to get on the 2010 ballot.“I am here to be able to expand my campaign, not only in the state of Florida, but also nationally,— Meek said.Not only are the net roots helpful for candidates when it comes to their activist organizing, they also have the manpower to boost a campaign financially through online fundraising. Meek will need that kind of support in 2010. He had just over half of Crist’s $4.3 million in the bank for his bid at the end of June, although Crist will have to spend some of his funds fighting off a primary challenge while Meek currently has no opposition for the Democratic nomination.“They are Davids in the worlds of Goliaths,— Meek remarked of the bloggers. “There are many Davids in that room. And that’s what my campaign is all about, David versus Goliath.—But in politics, David doesn’t always win. Just ask two former candidates also at the bar, net-roots darlings Darcy Burner and Sam Bennett, who lost to Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), respectively, last cycle in Democratic-leaning districts.The two women are prime examples of how liberal online support can boost a candidate’s campaign, but it doesn’t push them over the finish line. In fact, several national Democratic operatives have argued that because Burner, who also lost to Reichert in her first bid in 2006, courted the left — including the net roots — she ceded the middle and could not prove her moderate credentials to independent voters in order to win the suburban Seattle district.But that fear doesn’t stop the other candidates from trying to build relationships with bloggers in Pittsburgh, in some cases traveling hundreds of miles or taking precious time away from the district to talk to a group of online writers from all over the country.It’s increasingly less of a gamble for candidates to take a detour off of the campaign trail to attend the conference. While Republicans have berated Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) for being out of their districts during the August recess to attend the conference, it’s much less of a political risk than it was several years ago to associate with the liberal bloggers.While there might not be an immediate benefit to their campaigns, candidates often saw their bids take off in the last few months of the race if they had net-roots support. On the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) — who did not attend the conference — won his 2006 race in part because of a last-minute online fundraising boost.And especially for candidates stuck in primary battles, the net roots confab is a prime place to develop relationships with online writers on the far left of politics.Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D), who is favored to win his 2010 Senate primary against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, greeted bloggers for two days at the net roots conference in wrinkled khakis. Fisher has unsuccessful bids at statewide office several times before joining a winning ticket with now-Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2006, but he will be on his own if he wins the primary and faces former Rep. Rob Portman for Senate in 2010.It was the 58-year-old Fisher’s first trip to the conference, which he could only compare to the activism he witnessed in the 1960s while he was in college — several years before most of the participants were born.“I did some live blogging,— Fisher said enthusiastically. “It was all my words, but if I would have been typing, it would have been a six-day conference.—