Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The role of blogs in Webb's win

The Virginia political blogosphere has been getting a lot of scrutiny this fall. And, deservedly so. Without the busy blogosphere’s input Jim Webb’s upset of George Allen would surely not have happened as it did, if it would have happened at all.

Then again, without Allen’s own videotaped gaffes and botched damage control, the tireless work of Webb’s blogging hired hands, and his many more blogging amateurs, probably wouldn’t have mattered all that much.

Still, when Allen did begin to meltdown in August, the bloggers for Webb were already in place. Moreover, they were practiced and poised to bury Allen, which they did quite effectively. Watching the mainstream media covering the blogosphere’s role in exacerbating the Allen campaign’s meltdown was fascinating.

Now veteran campaign experts of every stripe are trying to figure out what happened in Virginia. One of the obvious things they will see is there were more bloggers for Webb than Allen.

Just prior to the Nov. 7 election the editors of two of the aggregators of Virginia’s political blogosphere were asked about the number of blogs they had listed, and how they decided whether to list them, as well as how they categorized them.

Waldo Jaquith, editor of Virginia Political Blogs, said: “I count 94 by Democrats, 66 by Republicans and 19 that are not clearly discernible, centrist, or bipartisan. I’m afraid that I haven’t kept any records of trends -- I just add new ones as I spot them or as people submit them.”

The editor of BlogNetNews, Dave Mastio, said: “[T]here are 70 libs, 46 cons and about 20 or 30 I haven’t categorized yet, mostly more recent ads. By the way, I am not trying to achieve any kind of balance -- I want people who are writing about Virginia state and local issues. Other than that I want to accurately reflect the state of the blogosphere however it happens to be tilted.”

Another thing any study of how the race played out on the Internet can’t help but reveal is that the quality of the information offered by the blogs supporting Webb was consistently superior to the blogs for Allen. Thus, the advantage Webb had with influential bloggers eventually filtered down to flush out more volunteers, more money and more momentum for the stretch run.

Whether this phenomenon can be bottled and used in other states, in other races, remains to be seen. For now, what happened in the 2006 Virginia senatorial race, to do with blogs, is something that has the political pros’ attention.

Was Webb’s remarkable win, owing much to blogs, a fluke? Or, is Virginia’s churning blogosphere, flying by the seat of its pants, the avant-garde of American politics?

Ed Note: In the paragraph above where Waldo Jaquith says how many blogs were by Democrats, Republicans and so forth, I have made a change of what was a typo. "Democrats" was changed to "Republicans". Thanks to the two readers (in the comments section) who caught the mistake.


Kenton said...

I doubt it's a fluke. Blogs will probably remain tilted liberal, because when conservatives need their grassroots media, they turn to talk radio, and the rest of the reliably conservative media empire. The mainstream media tries to appeal to everyone while cowering when charges of liberal bias are bandied about. Liberals have no such medium--and so they blog.

Mosquito said...


An astute insight...I agree with you; talk radio is definitely a factor.


teacherken said...

You cannot just look at the Virginia blogs, as important as they may be. Many of us also crosspost at national blogs, especially at dailykos. And markos was an early and strong supporter of Webb, also giving him - and the Allen gaffes - attention on the front page. This helped elevate the race and all of its twist and turns even more in public consciousness, and in media attention.

It is also important to note that under the guidance of Lowell Feld Jim and others in his campaign (Steve Jarding, Dave Mudcat Saunders and even Jessica Vanden Berg as well as Jim's eldest daughter) live-blogged at dailykos. That created buzz and enthusiasm, and contributed to national support, especially financially.

F.T. Rea said...


In the immediate future blog(gers) may remain tilted to the left, or perhaps not tilted to the right is more accurate, as rightwingers in Virginia tend to see anyone who isn’t on their bandwagon as a lefty. Still, as a broad generality, I have no trouble accepting that those who listen to Rush Limbaugh for their political insight tend not to be writers, even wannabe writers.

However, I’m not so sure who reads blogs, or who will be reading them six months from now.

This year we know the mainstream media were fascinated with reading blogs. Feature stories about the phenomenon were published all over the place during the summer -- Mark Warner’s appearance at the Kos confab, etc. Then, during the campaign in the fall reporters covering the Allen vs. Webb race were obviously using the blogs as a source, which no doubt helped Webb.

Whether that will continue is not something I’m so sure about; for me, it‘s too soon to tell. That said, without the mainstream media to amplify what was happening in the blogosphere, especially the YouTube suicide by Allen, I am quite sure Webb’s road to victory would have been much more difficult to travel.

The real question to me is this -- if/when the mainstream media stop promoting the blogosphere as the new Wild West of politics, will the public move from reading about them to reading them firsthand on a regular basis?


Daily Kos surely played a role in creating national interest and in validating Raising Kaine’s Netroots credentials.

Raising Kaine played a huge role in building a community of volunteers for Webb, especially when he had so little money on hand. But without the Macaca Gaffe and the subsequent meltdown, it’s not likely blogs alone would have put Webb over the top.

In fact, I’d say that without Allen’s last-ditch, desperate attack on Webb’s writing, and the newspaper articles about that tactic, it’s not that certain Webb would have won at all.

The important thing was this -- once those things happened, the Webb-leaning Virginia blogosphere was already in place to make the most of those opportunities.

So, my question is -- can that formula be bottled and used again?

If it can, and if Kenton is correct in his assumption the blogosphere will continue to tilt left, then Virginia’s blogosphere is the avant-garde of American politics.

Kevin said...

"I count 94 by Democrats, 66 by Democrats and 19 that are not clearly discernible, centrist, or bipartisan."

Which one is Dem and which one is Repub?

spankthatdonkey said...

I am also confused by 94 Dem, 66 by Democrats?

Do you mean 94 blogs in aggregate and 66 were Dems?

The average voter never tunes into blogs.. until some how they are inserted as television ads :-)

If that were the case, then Flora's (UCV) Utube on Webb would have been decisive. in my opinion...

F.T. Rea said...

Kevin and spank,

Thanks for spotting that error. I clipped and pasted it from Waldo's email answer to my query and didn't lookly closely enough to spot the problem. However, I'm pretty sure he meant 94 were Democrats and 66 Republicans, since the rest of the graph I pulled that quote from goes like this:

"I put it up on April 29 of this year. There are 174 blogs listed, as of this evening. I count 94 by Democrats, 66 by Democrats [sic] and 19 that are not clearly discernible, centrist, or bipartisan. That adds up to 179. Go figure. (It probably means that 5 blogs are listed within the source code, but not on the website, because they were down as of the last update.)"