Thursday, November 30, 2006

Bayh carves niche in cyberspace, but will it matter?

Bayh carves niche in cyberspace, but will it matter?

For Howey Political Report Nov. 30, 2006

Two days ago, Democratic congressional candidate Barry Welsh woke up still owing $3,000 in campaign expenses accumulated during his failed bid to unseat Republican Mike Pence in Indiana's 6th CD.

By bedtime, the debt was gone, thanks to Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, caretaker of the liberal political blog site found at

"Barry Welsh ran a brave race in a tough district," Zuniga wrote in a brief plea posted online at 2:46 p.m. Tuesday. "Let’s help him retire that debt and get him prepped for his big rematch in 2008." The blogger contributed $1,000, and almost immediately donations began to roll in, mostly in virtual $10s and $20s, until the deficit was officially erased around 10:30 that night.

Welsh's experience demonstrates that the internet is playing an increasingly important function in grassroots politics, a role certain to be even more vital in the next election cycle, the 2008 presidential campaign.

Evan Bayh has ramped up his online presence in a much-publicized effort to carve a niche in cyberspace. In addition to the standard fare found on his official senate website, he has a page on that boasts 5,000 "friends" and recently launched a debate on His leadership PAC, All America PAC, is updated often, with links to websites touting the senator and the causes and candidates supported by the PAC. Bayh also has penned commentary for numerous blogs.

"The internet component is very important to our overall communication strategy," explained Dan Pfeiffer, the senator's communications director. "Americans are spending far less time using traditional forms of media and a far greater portion of their time online and any communications strategy must take this into account. The form in which you reach out to these voters must reflect this change as well and must be one that they are comfortable with."

The authors of a Nov. 6th analysis by the Pew Internet & American Life Project wrote, "Looking ahead, it's clear that the Internet's role in politics will continue evolving as the technology improves and users continuously adapt it for new purposes....But thus far, the most compelling narrative about the internet's political is not about candidates' skill with new media. Rather, it centers on stories from the grassroots: activists' use of email and Web sites; small donors' contributions online; bloggers' passion to tell stories and debate issues; and amateur videographers' quest to record 'gotcha' moments."

Zach Wendling is one Hoosier blogger who says he is skeptical of the netroots' influence. Wendling maintains the Indiana Blog Review, a website that monitors and highlights many of the state's most active blogs.

"The blogosphere has proven good at two things: being an echo chamber for candidates and for countering attacks," Wendling told HPR. "I have no doubt that if Bayh were on the ticket, the left side of the Hoosier blogosphere would join in, and the right side would perhaps be more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. The big question, though, is whether blogs have any influence or whether they are just talking to each other."

Democrat Barry Welsh is convinced the netroots represent the future of politics.

"The netroots will be crucial especially in a national campaign," he said. "As an 'Indiana Boy' I would like to see Sen. Bayh as president.... I don't know if the senator, or if many in Indiana, understand the importance of the netroots, but that is the future of politics and will be even bigger in 2008 than in 2006."

A recent Pew poll found that nearly one in five American adults turned to the internet for news or information about politics and the midterm elections. It seems likely that someday, and it could be sooner rather than later, a politician will win by mastering the medium the way FDR perfected radio or Ronald Reagan exploited television. Only then will we know that the internet age in politics has truly arrived.


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