Saturday, June 24, 2006

Conservative bloggers brought their message, and marching orders, to Capitol Hill yesterday morning.

The 16 panelists at a training session for Republican congressional staffers did not deny that liberal blogs control both a larger audience and most of the attention of the political blogosphere.

However, a smaller network of bloggers and technology strategists has been collaborating with influential Republicans, including the White House, for more than a year.

About 40 Republican staffers met in the Rayburn House Office Building in what was for some an introduction into the world of Web logs. When asked, no staffers in attendance acknowledged publishing a blog of their own.

“You don’t really have a choice whether or not to be engaged,” said Republican National Committee e-spokesman Matt Lira, warning that figures of all political stripes are daily targets of criticism in the blogosphere, “because sooner or later it will engage you.”

The tone of the two-hour session, moderated by David All, communications director for Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, was generally more upbeat as various specialists such as RedState blog CEO Clayton Wagar offered advice on connecting with non-traditional voters.

“Our entire society has turned into a feedback society,” Mr. All said, describing the phenomenon of blogs, podcasts and online video.

“What is like manna from heaven,” said conservative blogger Philip Pidot, is when Republican lawmakers provide information that is “fast, accurate and proprietary, if possible.” House Republican Conference spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said more than 40,000 subscribers have downloaded her group’s press conferences through ITunes and other outlets.

“The news cycle doesn’t start at 10 in the morning anymore,” said Don Stewart, communications director for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. Mr. Stewart said he now starts work at 4 a.m. to keep up with the blogs.

On a lighter note, White House Internet and E-Communications Director David Almacy shared his step-by-step formula for “using technology to promote the president’s message in different ways.” Of course, the message he described in heavy detail was a holiday video of President Bush’s Scottish terrier “Ms. Beazley” that drew an estimated 10 million viewers.

Liberal bloggers have been the subject of large press coverage in their mostly unsuccessful attempts to promote certain Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, some of the conservative bloggers in attendance tried to measure their own significance.

“We’re not that powerful,” said Outside the Beltway blogger James Joyner. “We’re never going to be like Walter Cronkite was 25 years ago.” Mr. Joyner estimates his Web site has about 10,000 daily readers.

However, Mark Tapscott said conservative bloggers like himself could become more independent and critical of Republican leaders if the party loses power or control of their agenda. Mr. Tapscott said Republican leaders “need to consider the possibility” of conservative bloggers “putting together a third party,” within the next several years.

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