- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — This state may be the netroots’ Waterloo. At first glance, conservatives may not care that much whether Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman keeps his Senate seat, or whether Ned Lamont, cable-executive-turned-Democratic-nominee ousts him. Mr. Lieberman has indicated he will caucus with the Democrats; the difference is between an antiwar liberal and a prowar liberal.

Depending on which pollster you deem more accurate, Mr. Lieberman is up by two or up by 13 points; invariably, Republican Alan Schlesinger is a nonentity, registering in the mid-single digits. (Mr. Lieberman has led all post-primary polls.) But the matchup of Joe-mentum vs. Ned-renaline is turning into the make-or-break race for the reputation of the “netroots” — the fired-up, furious far-left bloggers who want to see “Fighting Democrats.”

Almost anyone who bothers to actually read Daily Kos or any of the most prominent liberal “netroots” blogs is taken aback by the vicious tone, use of the f-word more frequently than a comma, insults, scathing all-out hatred of dissent from the party line, conspiracy theories, accusations of the New York Times being a tool of the Republican National Committee. The tone is way out of the American political mainstream, and not what one expects from a political movement serious about persuading voters and winning.

Yet the mainstream media has largely treated the netroots with kid gloves. After Mr. Lamont’s primary win, the Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “it is clear that the netroots played an indispensable role in turning a quixotic, symbolic challenge into a decisive victory.” Tim O’Brien gushed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “Ned Lamont’s upset of Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary is actual, tangible proof of the claim that the liberal blogosphere has been making to the mainstream media and the Republican and Democratic party establishments for a couple of years now: It has real clout.” Time magazine declared, “the Netroots’ moment has finally arrived.”

But in more skeptical corners of the blogosphere, the debate is about just how bad the record of netroots-endorsed candidates is. In 2004, the Daily Kos site backed 15 candidates for local or state office — Tony Miller, Ben Konop, Dan Mongiardo, Richard Romero, Samara Barend, Jeff Seemann, Nancy Farmer, Ginny Schrader, Jan Schneider, Lois Murphy, Jim Newberry, Brad Carson, Tony Knowles, Stan Matsunaka, and Richard Morrison. At the presidential level, Kos backed Howard Dean, Wes Clark and John Kerry. In 2005, the site backed Democrat Paul Hackett in the Ohio special congressional election, and more recently, Ciro Rodriguez in his Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar, and Francine Busby earlier this year in the special election for Duke Cunningham’s seat.

All of these candidates lost.

Kos did back Jon Tester, who won the Democratic primary in the Montana Senate race. In interviews, he has also credited his site for being “very involved” with the wins of Barack Obama in Illinois and Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota. (This may come as surprising news to many South Dakota Democrats, as her win was credited to her moderate stands and close ties to local communities — not the energy provided by an out-of-state blog.)

Even granting him those wins and counting Mr. Lamont’s primary win, Kos is four for 25; without the gimmees, Kos is two for 22 (Messrs. Tester and Lamont) and has yet to have a candidate win a general election.

Jon Tester has a great shot at winning the Montana Senate race. Incumbent Republican Conrad Burns is so hampered by his connections to the Jack Abramoff scandal and anti-Republican wind in his face that the Montana Democrats could have nominated a scandal-free ham sandwich and had a decent shot at victory.

If Messrs. Tester and Lamont win, expect the newsweeklies to feature the two men on their covers, with the “year of the blog” sprayed in the largest possible font. But if Mr. Lamont loses, then that much-desired headline will be canceled. And it will mean that it is time for the softball coverage of the netroots to stop.

We all like to think, “boy, if they just listened to me” — we would have our parties winning with 90 percent of the vote. But the reality is that very few of us have the right combination of judgment, intelligence and resources to manage a successful campaign. The world is full of armchair strategists who think they know it all; but in recent years, we’ve seen serious candidates like Mark Warner and Ned Lamont turn to the blogs for actual input on how to run a campaign.

If Mr. Lieberman wins, it will be time to close the book on the hype of the “netroots.” A serious political movement figures out how to win a general election or two in the first 26 tries.

Jim Geraghty is a contributing editor at National Review and author of “Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership.”

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