Ned Lamont's upset victory over incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman in
Connecticut's Democratic primary Tuesday is an electoral lesson about the power
-- and potential liabilities -- of bloggers and online organizers, a
growing liberal political force collectively known as the "netroots."
From the initial support of Lamont by influential bloggers like Markos
Moulitsas of the Daily Kos to the cash and volunteers supplied by the online
progressive hub MoveOn.org to the 11th-hour accusations on Tuesday that vandals
had hacked into Lieberman's campaign Web site, the netroots have been a driving
force in the campaign.
Ned Lamont, addressing supporters in Meriden, Conn., says he will push for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Reuters photo by Mike Segar
The netroots pushed voters to challenge Lieberman's support for the Iraq
war and raised the national profile of Lamont, a previously unknown candidate.
While some observers say the election's outcome should be seen as a
milestone for how the new media is reshaping politics, few suggest that online
liberal activists were entirely responsible for Lamont's victory. Rather, the
netroots amplified the political debate already rumbling in liberal
Connecticut: Lieberman was a vulnerable incumbent with ties to an unpopular war
in Iraq and to President Bush; Lamont is a multimillionaire cable television
executive with an anti-war stance and next to no political record other than
serving on local boards.
"Connecticut is a true blue state, and Lieberman is a little bit purplish,
and that angered people here," said Andy Sauer, executive director of
Connecticut Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that does not endorse
candidates. He has worked with operatives on both campaign staffs. The
netroots, Sauer said, "facilitated that emotion that was out there."
MoveOn.org Washington director Tom Mattzie said Tuesday, "We played a
small role in a larger effort." He estimated that 2,000 of MoveOn's 50,000
Connecticut members volunteered to help Lamont, and members nationwide raised
more than $250,000 for the candidate.
The online effort was strong, Mattzie said, "but if the voters aren't
feeling it for a candidate, it doesn't mean the same thing."
Jane Hamsher, who gets 75,000 visitors daily to her www.firedoglake.com
blog, spent the past month following and promoting the Lamont campaign. The
part-time Los Angeles resident downplayed the raising of $60,000 for the
campaign through her site, saying Tuesday that "there's a tendency to give the
blogs more credit than they deserve."
"But the fact is that an 18-year-incumbent (Lieberman) has a lot more
access to the media and can shape his narrative better," said Hamsher, the
producer of the film "Natural Born Killers." "We just helped (Lamont) to tell
his story a little better."
Hamsher's blog provided Lamont with an uncomfortable moment last week and
a lesson on how bloggers can become part of the daily news coverage in this new
era. A contributor posted a digitally altered photo of Lieberman in blackface.
It was in response to comments on Hamsher's blog about Lieberman's campaigning
in the African American community. Hamsher removed the photo after Lieberman's
campaign complained and tried to link Hamsher -- who is not paid by the
campaign -- to Lamont.
"Yes, I exercised bad judgment there," said Hamsher, who did not post the
photo herself. "But bloggers are just people like other voters. You can't hold
a candidate responsible for all the people who support them."
Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and a
Lieberman supporter, complained Tuesday about anti-Lieberman comments he found
on liberal blogs. "I came to believe that we liberals couldn't possibly be so
intolerant and hateful," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "Now, in the
closing days of the Lieberman campaign, I have reluctantly concluded that I was
But bloggers and other Lamont supporters noted that Davis quoted from
anonymous posters on liberal blogs, which is like associating the views
expressed in a letter to the editor with those of a newspaper's editorial board
-- except that letters to the editor are signed with writers' full names and
are selected for publication.
"It's just another thing to make blogs sound scary to people who are not
familiar with them," said Jennifer Nix, who has worked with Moulitsas and other
liberal bloggers and is now a fellow at the San Francisco-based New Politics
Nix and others believe the same blame-the-bloggers tactic was behind
accusations Tuesday by the Lieberman campaign that Lamont supporters had
sabotaged its Web site. Lamont's campaign offered to host his rival's site, or
help repair it, but said it did not get a response from Lieberman's camp.
This final flurry was a fitting end to a campaign in which bloggers pushed
the daily headlines.
Months ago, Moulitsas, whose www.dailykos.com receives roughly 600,000
daily visitors, spread the word of local support building for Lamont as well as
criticism of Lieberman's backing of the Iraq war. Earlier this year, Moulitsas
starred in a television commercial with Lamont. The blogger peeks into the
window of Lamont's home as the candidate is filming a campaign commercial, then
leads a troop of people inside and says, "We all want to volunteer."
"The blogs are certainly early amplifiers of interest in a campaign," said
Benjamin Rahn, of ActBlue.com, an online fundraising site for Democratic
candidates. More than 6,800 Lamont supporters raised $289,500 through ActBlue;
nine Lieberman supporters ponied up $359 there. "But the polling wouldn't have
been where it was if it was just Markos saying, 'Vote for Ned.' "
Indeed, on his Web site Tuesday, Moulitsas deferred praise, saying the
"Netroots is just a tiny subset of the broader progressive movement."
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle