Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign is trying to tap a new audience of potential voters by taking his campaign message straight to liberal and nonpolitical issues-based blogs, which reach millions of readers but don’t often delve into conservative politics.
The strategy was in full swing yesterday when Mr. McCain invited non-conservative bloggers to join his regular blogger conference call, just hours after he delivered a major speech previewing his war strategy and other priorities for a first presidential term.
It already has started a war among liberal bloggers over how to react to Mr. McCain’s overture.
In answering the first question on the call, Mr. McCain said his likely Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, lacks the judgment to be commander in chief, which set him up for a bruising from the readers at TalkingPointsMemo.com, a liberal-leaning site that joined in the call.
Blogger Greg Sargent said it amounted to “what may be [Mr. McCain’s] most direct attack yet on Barack Obama’s national security credentials.” But commenters were split: Some took aim at Mr. McCain, some said they were thankful for the intelligence on “what the enemy is planning,” and others lashed out at Mr. Sargent, saying he should have been harsher in evaluating Mr. McCain’s attack.
“This IS a Democratic blog, and as such, it would seem to me that there SHOULD be SOME bias with regards to how YOU report of McCain’s craziness, as opposed to treating his ranting and attacks with a sort of dignity they and he DO NOT deserve,” wrote one emphasis-abundant reader.
Mr. McCain’s campaign said the Web outreach is a logical extension of an attempt to reach voters beyond his base. It also builds on his successful use of conference calls with conservative bloggers during the Republican primary, which blunted many of the harshest criticisms of the senator.
“The plan is to take the work we’ve already built on with conservative bloggers and to open up a dialogue with non-conservative bloggers and even nonpolitical bloggers,” said Patrick Hynes, Mr. McCain’s point man for blog outreach.
“We hope to be the most accessible and transparent campaign in history, to take advantage of what we think is one of the campaign’s strongest assets, which is Senator McCain himself, and frankly to empower voters who are also bloggers to get the answers they need to decide who to vote for.”
A call last week focused on Mr. McCain’s health care plans. Top McCain advisers talked with health-care-specific bloggers and sites that cater to mothers, a demographic that the campaign figured would be interested in health care issues. The campaign also deployed adviser Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, to talk with major health site WebMD’s reporter.
Democrats have had success with online fundraising, but conservative and liberal bloggers said Mr. McCain’s outreach to them puts the Republican presidential nominee far ahead of his Democratic counterparts in getting out information.
David All, a blogger who also runs Slatecard.com, a site that channels online contributions to Republican candidates, said reaching bloggers is not about mass communication, but about reaching opinion leaders who are likely to help shape others’ opinions. By taking that beyond the political and into the policy areas, Mr. McCain is tapping a wide-open market.
“They are the experts in understanding health care policy, and they are the ones who will get beyond the first two bullet points of a health care debate,” Mr. All said. “Everyone who’s reading the health care blogs, the first sentence they’re going to see is something to the effect of, look, I don’t agree with everything in this plan, but I just got off the phone with John McCain, and now here are my more-informed thoughts on the plan.”
Those who follow blogging said the McCain campaign will have to pick and choose whom to invite to conference calls, arguing that some sites won’t treat Mr. McCain fairly.
“I don’t think the people at DailyKos are going to treat John McCain mercifully, but I think the fact that people get their question heard makes them dial it back a bit,” said Soren Dayton, a blogger who worked briefly for the McCain campaign and now works at a public affairs company, New Media Strategies.
Going forward, Mr. Hynes said, the campaign would like to have Mr. McCain talk to sports bloggers, too, as a way to “humanize John McCain as something other than a carbon-copy politician running for office, delivering talking points.”
On yesterday’s call, Mr. McCain fielded seven questions, including three from non-conservative bloggers: Kate Sheppard, political reporter for environmental Web site Grist.org; Joanne Bamberger of PunditMom (https://punditmom1. blogspot.com); and Erin Kotecki Vest, who blogs at catchall site BlogHer.com as well as liberal sites HuffingtonPost.com and MOMocrats.com.
“I give them an A for effort,” Ms. Vest said in a phone interview after the conference call.
She asked Mr. McCain whether the vision he laid out yesterday of U.S. troops succeeding in Iraq by 2013 didn’t amount to the sort of timetable he has criticized when Democrats propose a specific date for withdrawal.
Mr. McCain shot right back: “Either you didn’t read or didn’t understand my speech. One of the two.”
Ms. Vest said she “read it and understood it just fine, and I don’t understand how 2013 isn’t a date.”
She said she doesn’t expect bloggers to be as nice as some of the traditional media have been in asking him questions, and was thankful for the chance.
“The fact that I could ask my question and have it smacked down is farther than a lot of people could get,” she said.
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