Michael Meckler: 'Establishment' Politics Enters Cyberspace





[Michael Meckler is a journalist and historian who lives in Columbus.]

The blogosphere's importance in Democratic politics has acquired additional scrutiny in the wake of Rep. Sherrod Brown's recent decision to re-enter next year's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mike DeWine. Brown, of Lorain, earlier had announced that he would not give up his House seat to run for the Senate. That encouraged Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett to seek the Democratic nomination. Hackett, a fresh face in state and national politics, had become the darling of progressive bloggers with his near victory this summer in a special congressional election in a heavily Republican district in southwest Ohio.

Those bloggers who have been the most passionate about Hackett's Senate campaign are now deeply upset over Brown's about-face. Bloggers generally view themselves as anti-establishment insurgents, and they like to champion political novices over established politicians. Few Ohio Democrats are more established than Brown, whose political career extends over three decades in Columbus and Washington. His status as a congressional incumbent and political insider ensures a large campaign chest. Some of those funds are being used to promote Brown's candidacy among some of those same Web sites that earlier championed Hackett. Critics contend that Brown is attempting to buy off the liberal blogosphere and stifle its anti-establishment tone.

This criticism is most sharply directed at Jerome Armstrong, the blogger and national political consultant who, with his business and political associate Markos Moulitsas, catapulted to fame two years ago with their work on behalf of Howard Dean's ultimately unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Armstrong, through his consulting firm, Political Technologies LLC, has been receiving $5,000 a month from Brown's campaign for Web site hosting and design. Brown has what amounts to two separate campaign Web sites. One, SherrodBrown.com, functions as a traditional source for candidate information. The Brown campaign has been paying $3,500 a month to a blogger who writes entries on and oversees the other site, GrowOhio.org. It has been in operation since the early summer but was actively promoting Hackett against DeWine until Brown decided earlier this month that he was going to run. Beyond the sense of betrayal felt by Hackett's supporters is the commercial muscle Armstrong has used to suppress blogger sympathy for Hackett.

Unlike the most popular conservative blogs, whose readership is evenly distributed among a variety of sites, Moulitsas' Daily Kos dominates the liberal blogosphere, with more than three quarters of a million visits each day, or nearly five times the readership of the next most popular progressive blog, Eschaton. According to recent statistics from SiteMeter, the 10th-most-popular political blog on the left attracts roughly 20,000 daily visits, while the 10th-most-popular political blog on the right has roughly 25,000 daily visits. This drop-off in visits among lesser-read blogs continues to be more severe on the left than on the right, indicating that many progressives tend to visit the same small set of sites, giving those blogs much greater influence among Democratic activists than conservative blogs have among Republicans.


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