Blogging Down: Not All Sites Catch Fire
Internet campaigning is a bipartisan issue. While Howard Dean is setting the pace online in his quest for the Democratic nomination, Republicans are also active at the electronic grass roots. But the most influential conservative sites are driven more by issues and the party itself than by individual candidates.
One of the more effective online efforts is a site called GOP Team Leader (www.gopteamleader.com), which provides volunteers with a variety of ways to get involved in local and national politics. The crisply designed site helps volunteers write or fax local media outlets, contact elected officials, form working teams of fellow activists, get GOP talking points, and make donations to the Party.
The front page of Team Leader provides news, commentary and links with a Republican flavor. Users even accumulate "GOPoints" by carrying out given tasks, which they can redeem for merchandise such as hats or coolers with the Team Leader logo. The site was started during the 2000 election and proved so successful that it has been absorbed by the Republican National Committee.
Another site, not officially connected to the Republican Party but dedicated to conservative issues, is called Grassfire.net. Claiming over 1.2 million registered users, the privately owned, three-year-old site was founded by activist Steve Elliott. It coordinates e-mail petitions on hot topicssupporting the war in Iraq and opposing the removal of a Ten Commandments display from an Alabama courthouse, for examplewhich are forwarded to political representatives. Grassfire also lets users communicate with each other.
But these toolsets havent carried over to individual Republican campaigns. The Bush/Cheney campaign, for example, has a staid weblog, with a distinct aroma of press releases, and an unbloglike lack of comments. Like the new White House e-mail system that went live last summer, which makes users click through numerous pages and fill out a detailed form to send a simple message to the president, the campaign blog bespeaks a certain level of discomfort when it comes to interconnectivity with the average American.
On the other side of the aisle, liberals and Democrats, too, are using the Web for issue advocacy. A site called MoveOn.org, founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, generated over 1 million e-mails and 250,000 phone calls to Congress to protest the impeachment of Bill Clinton. MoveOn now claims over 2 million supporters and is active in anti-war and environmental causes. In November, billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis combined to pledge up to $5 million to match online donations to MoveOn in order to fund television ads criticizing President Bush.
Meanwhile, many of the real stars of political blogging are individuals unassociated with campaigns. For example, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, who supports Bush on Iraq, reaches more readers through his Instapundit (www.instapundit.com) site each day than some political magazines reach each month.
Then theres the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which was humbled in the 2000 election when the GOP sent 30,000 e-mails to Florida voters on Election Dayand the DNC sent none. Since then the Democrats have created a weblog called Kicking Ass (its logo is a Democratic donkey kicking its heels in the air), which features commentary, links and guest bloggers such as satirist Al Franken, who wrote to inspire the grass roots: "Moneys good. Works good. Did I mention that money is good?"