TCS Daily

Politics and the Web

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - November 8, 2004 12:00 AM

With the election over, some people are starting to question whether the Web had an impact. Ed Cone writes:

"From the Register of Deeds race in Guilford County, N.C., where victorious challenger Jeff Thigpen used a Weblog to tell voters how he'd modernize technology faster than the longtime incumbent, to the dozens of congressional and senate campaigns throughout the country that deployed blogs, e-mail broadcasts and event planning software, on up to the John Kerry presidential campaign's $80 million haul from online fund-raising, Internet marketing of candidates made the leap from bleeding-edge to must-have. Yet in several high-profile races, superior online campaigning did not prove to be a decisive advantage. The potential for raising money and organizing supporters has been revealed, but the ultimate payoff, victory, remains elusive."

There's something to that criticism. The Daily Kos weblog, which I praised here earlier as a mini-political machine, didn't have the impact its supporters hoped -- "Daily Kos raised more than $500,000 to assist the campaigns of fifteen candidates. None were elected." (According to the Wall Street Journal, Kos is now worried about his livelihood as ad revenue has dried up, though I suspect that it will bounce back somewhat soon. Things will slow down, post-election, but he's got a lot of readers and plenty of them will stick around.) But expecting a weblog to make or break a political campaign is probably naive. At least most of the time.

One place where a weblog did make the difference, or at least a large part thereof, was in the defeat of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Professor Jon Lauck's Daschle v. Thune weblog played a big role (along with quite a few other South Dakota political blogs) in nationalizing that campaign, and in applying scrutiny to South Dakota's main political news outlet, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, whose pro-Daschle slant had previously gone unchallenged. The Argus Leader's sputtering responses are the best proof that this had an impact, but folks also noticed in neighboring North Dakota. As the Grand Forks Herald observed:

"This little-noticed development deserves a lot more attention. The Daschle-Thune race differed from previous South Dakota Senate races in this way: Conservative Web logs gave South Dakota voters access to news like never before.

"Take a look and you'll see what we mean: Web sites such as Daschle vs. Thune and a few others chipped away at Daschle's image day after day.

"They also charged South Dakota's major newspapers were in Daschle's pocket. They backed the charge by showcasing, for example, the fact that Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader's political reporter had been active in the Democratic Party as a South Dakota State University student in the 1960s - as had his then-friend and fellow student, Tom Daschle.

"These Web logs served as a South Dakota version of Rush Limbaugh's talk show, legitimizing criticism of the incumbent and using the media as a whipping boy. The reports galvanized Daschle's opposition and gave them lots of material to rally around."

I've written before that blogs on state and local affairs have more potential than is generally realized, and this is another example. National political blogs have to compete with the national press and punditry, and with a host of similar blogs. Local blogs can often devote as many person-hours as local newspapers and television stations, and can pay close and continuing attention to subjects that the traditional local outlets gloss over or ignore. This is probably better for Republicans than for Democrats, since traditional media tends to lean pro-Democratic, but it's also probably better for challengers than for incumbents, since challengers face more barriers to getting their message out than do incumbents. Expect to see a lot more of this sort of thing in the next election cycle.


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