Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston says Republicans need to use the Internet better to connect with nontraditional voters and to monitor the concerns of constituents heading into this year’s midterm elections.

“It’s the new talk radio. We can connect with new people who will come out and vote for us,” said Mr. Kingston, vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, who has a blog and writes an occasional “diary” for the popular conservative site

On Monday, Mr. Kingston held an hourlong conference call with conservative bloggers. Unlike most conference calls, which traditionally target a specific issue, Mr. Kingston allowed participants to address topics ranging from Iraq to illegal immigration.

Popular conservative blogger Matt Margolis, who has participated in several of Mr. Kingston’s conference calls, said such interactions provide insight and access to bloggers, and, ultimately, will help legislators get out an unfiltered message.

“Republicans need bloggers to help get their message out, while Democrats have been able to rely on the mainstream media,” said Mr. Margolis.

The Kingston communications staff, led by David All, says it goes through about 50 blogs daily and helps keep the House Republican leadership up to speed on which issues are driving their base.

In addition, both the House and Senate Republican leadership have hosted bloggers on the Hill during the past year, including a section for blog reporters during this year’s State of the Union address.

“Kingston has been at the forefront of getting the congressional majority to understand what role the blogosphere plays,” said Republican National Committee ECampaign Director Patrick Ruffini. “And not just in commenting, but in taking action. It’s been an incredibly helpful development.”

Mr. Kingston says the Internet has increased conservative expectations for real-time results and that Republicans must act quickly to ensure high voter turnout.

“What worries me is that conservative thought is moving quickly, but we’re kind of the pachyderms in Congress because things move so slowly,” Mr. Kingston said.

“If we don’t keep them happy and energized, they are not going to vote. We need to make sure they have a reason to show up in November.”

Critics of blogs and nontraditional political programming point out that conservatives often receive the same slanted coverage they see in the mainstream media.

But Mr. Kingston says that even if he and his fellow conservatives are teased, they still will reach a new and potentially sympathetic audience.

“People expect to see white guys, Sunday afternoon, on ‘Face the Nation.’ And people with a direct interest in politics do watch those shows. But not a lot of normal people watch those shows. But, ‘Real Time With Bill Maher,’ it’s unbelievable how many people watch that.”

“Plus, if you’re funny, if it’s interesting, you’re joining the joke, rather than being the point of it,” Mr. Kingston said.

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