Monday, October 01, 2007

Previewing Virginia's web campaign for 2008 has the story "Virginia Senate race will be Web battleground" on the front page of its political section this morning. The article focuses on the highly developed Virginia political blogosphere and its likely role in next year's Senate race between Democrat Mark Warner and an as yet unnamed Republican, both vying for the seat to be vacated by John Warner's retirement. It's an interesting article, definitely worth a read, but I have a few critiques.
"Democrats have two advantages online in Virginia. First, Democratic bloggers are organized and ascendant after two straight wins with Kaine and Webb."
In point of fact, Democratic bloggers are not especially well organized in Virginia. There is no formal Democratic bloggers organization in Virginia. Any organization between Democratic bloggers in Virginia tends to be ad hoc and informal. By comparison, the Republican bloggers' organization, the Old Dominion Bloggers Alliance, is highly regimented and makes overt attempts to influence the messaging of its members. There simply is no equivalent of the ODBA on the Democratic side. I do agree with the description of Democratic bloggers as "ascendant," though. In somewhat the same vein is this quote:
Conservative bloggers in Virginia lack the organizational capacity of their liberal opponents, but many insist the Old Dominion is still a red state and they plan to boost the eventual Republican candidate by keeping the political narrative focused on Warner's record on taxes. According to Randall, the NRSC will also assist conservative blogs with background and opposition research on Warner.
Republican bloggers in Virginia are far more organized, in the limited sense that they have a central organization that they receive directions (or maybe "strong suggestions" is a better way of putting it) from on a regular basis. It is clear that the Republican Party of Virginia is working closely with the ODBA and routinely reposts blog posts from ODBA members on its site. The ODBA and RPV are working hand-in-glove, so this quote about organization is really just wrong on its face. John Randall, the NRSC's ePress Secretary, had it right when he said:
There is a strong and widespread conservative blog network in Virginia that is committed to defeating a liberal, Democrat candidate . . .
The other major error in this article--at least in my opinion--is the emphasis given to video tracking:
"I think that both campaigns are going to have a video camera in the face of each candidate every day when they speak, hoping for that magic moment to happen again," said Brian Kirwin, who writes for the conservative blog BearingDrift. "They are going to try to find whatever misstep somebody makes and try to make it into the latest scandal."
Trackers are nothing new on the political trail. Most people in Virginia, including the political press, don't seem to realize--or have conveniently forgotten--that George Allen's campaign deployed multiple trackers against Jim Webb, beginning as early as March 2006, well before Webb had won the Democratic nomination. One of these trackers was so aggressive--"bumping" Jim Webb, trying to get him to react, and trespassing onto private property--that he was arrested and subsequently banned from the campaign as part of a plea agreement. Allen deployed at least four trackers to a Democratic unity rally in June 2006, taped everything that was said by Webb. Allen had more video cameras at the event than Webb did. Video cameras on the campaign trail are nothing new, and George Allen wasn't tripped up by some new and mysterious technology. Allen was done in by nothing more than his own hubris, thinking he could say something patently offensive on tape without any negative consequences. With all due respect to Mr. Kirwin, video tracking is nothing new.

Both sides will face real challenges next year, though those challenges will be very different in nature.

On the Democratic side the challenge will be to find a real role for the very independent Democratic bloggers. Democratic bloggers were so important last year because there was such a strong need for a grassroots effort on behalf of Jim Webb. For the first time the grassroots had a voice: the netroots. This led to a highly dynamic and exciting relationship between the campaign and bloggers.

The scenario Mark Warner faces is very different. Warner has plenty of funds and an extensive organization to insulate him from real contact with the netroots. Will the Warner campaign be able to let the amateur organizers of the Virginia Democratic blogosphere in? Will Democratic bloggers have a genuine and creative role, or will they be reduced to simply repeating the canned messaging produced by campaign staffers?

The challenge that faces the Republican candidate is even more daunting. The simple fact of the matter is that the Virginia "Rightosphere" is much more likely to hurt the Republican candidate than help them. Historically, the ODBA has been far more focused on perpetrating dirty tricks and smears than doing any real positive messaging. There is very little actual discussion of serious conservative political philosophy in the Virginia "Rightosphere."

The Virginia "Rightosphere"'s penchant for self-destructive negativity was most strikingly demonstrated by last year's dismal "Allen's A-Team" blog. This blog was begun by Jon Henke, a Republican blogger I have a lot of respect for, but was quickly hijacked by the most negative and irresponsible bloggers on the Right. [Correction: Jon Henke had nothing to do with the creation or direction of the "Allen's A-Team" blog, which does a lot to explain why it was so bad. See Jon's comment below.] The fact that the "A-Team's" blog was taken down and scrubbed is deeply symbolic of the challenges faced by a Republican candidate: Republican bloggers are far more likely to get out of control and hurt the campaign they are working for. Not only did the "A-Team" fail in its declared mission of helping George Allen get past "Macaca," it made the situation far worse by alienating anyone who read their demented rants.

Will the Republican candidate be able to rein in the Rightosphere and use them for some kind of positive, pro-conservative messaging that supports the candidate's campaign? Or--far more likely--will the Republican bloggers quickly spiral out of control into poisonous negativity that undermines the campaign and drives away would-be supporters?

The fact that several Republican bloggers have already posted multiple profanity-laced attacks against Mark Warner's family illustrates just how difficult it will be for the Republican candidate to avoid being dragged down by the negative actions of his own supporters.

Read "Virginia Senate race will be Web battleground" by Peter Hamby at

For more about the legacy of "Macaca," read "The Legacy of Macaca is alive and well."


Jon Henke said...

Thanks for the kind words, but I should clarify something: I had nothing to do with the idea or creation of the Allen A-Team blog. I don't believe there was any campaign involvement with its establishment, either. It was wholly a product of the people who were listed on the masthead.

Incidentally, you should really have an email address listed somewhere, so I can thank and disabuse you privately. :)

The Richmond Democrat said...

Thanks for the head's up John; I have placed a correction in the text of the post.

Paradox13VA said...

You're absolutely right, there is no organization of Democratic Bloggers in Virginia, move along.

bava84 said...

Y'all - "The Richmond Democrat" bloggers - are disgusting for attempting to pass off your vile, hate-filled rhetoric as part of an honorable, large-scale agendum, alleging the welfare of America’s working, middle class. (We know better.)

The only reason M. Warner and his bottom-feeding cohorts would be enjoying sizable leads in the polls is almost directly attributable to the rising tide of hatred and radicalism for and within our country, and to Warner’s clandestine association with NOVA and its unruly commerce.