Merlot Democrats, Google Republicans; Measuring the Power of Blogs

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary J. Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Conventional political wisdom holds that identifying, energizing and mobilizing loyal voters - the vaunted political base - is the key to winning next November's off-year congressional elections. Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Howard Dean calls his party's core constituency "Merlot Democrats," according to media reports. Republicans, who probably prefer a label in the Pilsner variety, did some outreach as well last week, hosting their first ever "Blog Row" on Capitol Hill with members of this new communications medium.

So are they the "Google Republicans?"

Labels aside, experts agree that winning lower-turnout congressional elections in 2006 depends on effectively activating friendly voters. And Web-based political applications will play an increasingly critical role in this process. In particular, the fast-growing blog community, still evolving and somewhat unpredictable, deserves more attention and understanding by elected officials selling policies and their campaign teams trying to win elections.

Michael Barone's recently released introduction to the "2006 Almanac of American Politics," uses Web-politics as an organizing thesis. "American Politics in the Networking Era," is the title of his excellent new summary of the contemporary electoral landscape. Describing the new, Web-connected environment, Mr. Barone writes that 2004 "produced a different kind of politics, a politics that reflects the character of the post-industrial, networking age we live in."

Mr. Dean's use of the Web grabbed most of the early attention in the 2004 presidential campaign. The former Vermont governor harnessed the Internet as both a fund-raising platform and a device to mobilize like-minded supporters. But while the Internet-friendly Dean campaign garnered the media attention, it was the Bush re-election effort that most effectively exploited the new technology. While many supporters were impressed that the Dean camp amassed 600,000 e-mail addresses, Mr. Barone writes, "Few reporters at the time took note of the number of e-mail addresses the Bush campaign had collected: 6 million." He also writes that the Bush campaign enlisted an unprecedented cadre of 1.4 million active volunteers - communicating with many as cyber precinct captains - while the DNC only recruited 233,000 people.

And the virtual campaign delivered real results. Mr. Barone reports that while Sen. John Kerry won 16 percent more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, Mr. Bush's numbers in 2004 ballooned 23 percent compared to four years earlier.

Beyond using the Internet for fund-raising and party-based mobilization efforts, Weblogs are a fast-growing, little-understood and unpredictable part of new media politics. …