Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Conservative bloggers still may not carry the political clout of their liberal counterparts, but a group of Washington-based online journalists and activists has increased its influence in the past year.

One prominent example is the “Conservative Bloggers Briefing,” a weekly discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey.

“These meetings started out as strategy sessions for conservatives to talk about policy,” said Mr. Bluey, who co-founded the briefings about a year ago while writing for the conservative publication Human Events. “They’ve quickly evolved into a destination for members of Congress, authors and others in the movement to share their ideas with an active audience of bloggers.”

Guests have included House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who discussed earmark reform; National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who invited the group to NRCC headquarters to discuss 2008 election strategy; and Washington reporter Robert Novak, who promoted his best-selling autobiography, “The Prince of Darkness.”

“It will only grow from here,” said David All, a Republican Internet consultant who is a regular at the blogger briefings. “There’s nothing like a face-to-face contact, and the bloggers here have continued to impress.”

Republican visitors during the campaign season last year included Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, budget stalwart Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Georgian who is considering a 2008 presidential run.

Attendance at the gatherings started slow, but late arrivals today often find themselves without a seat.

The weekly crowd of about 25 bloggers needs little extra incentive, but it never hurts.

During a recent briefing, Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, served sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, a restaurant chain founded in his home district.

Asked how the concept of the meetings evolved, Mr. Bluey said, “I found it both surprising and alarming that many people in the conservative blogosphere knew each other only by communicating via e-mail. We thought there was a tremendous opportunity to bring people together in one room each week to share information face to face.”

Mr. All and Mr. Bluey are celebrating another success for conservative bloggers: getting the field of 2008 Republican presidential candidates to reverse its stance and embrace a debate sponsored by YouTube.

Yet conservative bloggers acknowledge they have a long way to go to generate the ability to raise money and influence that progressive bloggers have with the Democratic Party.

Mr. All recently started a consulting business to help Republican candidates and causes get hip to the age of Web 2.0, a term used to describe social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

“It’s front and center now,” he said.

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