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Democrats break into blogosphere

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

Sen. John Kerry blogs on his "diary" at the Daily Kos.

Other potential 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid have issued missives on the liberal Web site that gets about 700,000 visitors a day.

Liberal blogs, long the domain of mostly angry political junkies, have elbowed their way into the political process, especially among mainstream Democrat legislators forced to court the online activists popular among their party's vocal base.

"John Kerry never approached these blogs during the 2004 campaign. He didn't need to. Now if he wants the nomination again, he's got to court their approval," said William Beutler, who covers blogs for the nonpartisan Hotline.

The Massachusetts Democrat's relationship with Markos Moulitsas, aka "Kos," and his readers, the "Kossacks," has come a long way. During the 2004 campaign, Mr. Kerry publicly attacked the Web site and removed a link to it from his campaign site after Mr. Moulitsas expressed disdain for U.S. contractors killed in Iraq.

"Whether you agree with all the voices in the debate or not, blogs are modern-day town hall meetings," said April Boyd, a Kerry spokeswoman. "Senator Kerry likes the debate and the passionate voices in the blogosphere who are determined to cut through the Washington spin and conventional wisdom."

Although blogs carry weight on both sides of the political aisle, liberal bloggers appear more eager to shape the Democrats' agenda, while their conservative counterparts mostly promote the party line.

"This is the Democrats' Gordian knot: If they appeal to mainstream Americans, they alienate their liberal base, and if they appease the liberal bloggers, they show themselves as being out-of-touch," said Matt Lewis, who blogs for the conservative Human Events Online.

But whether the anger of bloggers actually proves detrimental to Democrats remains to be seen. Political strategists will pay close attention to this fall's midterm election as they try quantify the impact of such sites on the electorate.

Both bloggers and strategists speculate that the rage vented by liberal bloggers is a function of being in the minority and that conservative bloggers would become more angry when they're in the minority.

Ana Marie Cox, who gained prominence as the liberal blogger "Wonkette," said the partisanship of bloggers won't hurt Democrats so long as candidates courting their favor maintain integrity.

"The people who pander deserve whatever grief they get," said Mrs. Cox, who left her popular Web site to become an author.

"At the same time, I think it's good John Kerry and Harry Reid blog on Daily Kos. Having a public record of their views offers more accountability. And when someone changes their mind, those following the debate can measure if it's an evolution of thinking or a flip-flop."

Mr. Moulitsas did not respond to interview requests, but did post instructions on Daily Kos for his followers to avoid contact with The Washington Times on this article, saying, "Don't validate their efforts."

Democratic National Committee spokesman Josh Earnest says it's a delicate balance -- getting close to bloggers, but not too close.

"We've done events with bloggers and have a blogger doing outreach for us. But we don't put ourselves in the position of speaking for the blogs or having them speak for us," Mr. Earnest said.

Conservative bloggers also play a role in Republican politics and last week stirred conservative activists to press for a change at the top of the party leadership.

All three of the candidates for House majority leader did conference calls with conservative bloggers, and some lawmakers said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri lost the race, in part, because he did so poorly among the bloggers.

Republicans such as House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Republican Conference Vice Chairman Jack Kingston also keep their own blogs and have written for various party-affiliated sites.

Republican National Committee (RNC) e-campaign director Patrick Ruffini says the convergence of blogs and party politics will only continue.

"We think it's a tremendous and growing medium," Mr. Ruffini said. The RNC has sponsored several blogger conference calls with Republican officials.