Politicians, especially those running an election campaign in 2006, are embracing (or at least sporadically touching) new media as they attempt to figure out how effective the medium is at a number of factors, most important of all, winning a seat.
Daniel Glover, columnist for NationalJournal.com’s Beltway Blogroll, has been following political incursions into the blogging realm for years as managing editor of National Journal’s TechDaily newsletter, even though the blog itself just celebrated its first birthday.
He says the relationship between new media and politics continues to grow.
“I don’t think it has peaked; it’s like a rollercoaster – it goes up and goes down,” Glover says. Given the election season, he expects this to be another peak, followed by a dip until the 2008 presidential election heats up.
While politicians are looking towards this medium, they’re not necessarily approaching with reckless abandon, says Glover.
“Right now, they’re using it one as an ATM machine, and two as a buzz machine,” Glover says.
Dems hit up blogs Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and Huffington Post, while Republicans show up on Pajamas Media.
He adds that when these lawmakers who blog – which he refers to as blawgmakers – post an entry and disappear, it may cause more damage than good with their constituents.
But few politicians are sticking around to truly interact with the community. Glover cautions that such a cut-and-run approach could be detrimental, if the appearance is billed as part of the “conversation.” Glover says that it will likely take a newer politician with nothing to lose to truly dig into the environment, answering the tough questions that are likely to come up in the comments section.
One such politician is David Schlosser, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) PR manager and a Libertarian candidate running for senator in Arizona, who says blogs are a true tool for third-party candidates.
“The best thing about blogs, which is particularly true in the early stages in a campaign, is they expand your reach beyond your geography,” Schlosser says.
He counts readers in countries such as Russia, Korea, and the United Kingdom; while they are unlikely to provide funds and very unlikely to provide votes, Schlosser says that, by tracking stats, he can find people out of state directing Arizona citizens to his blog.
“The great thing about it is that anyone can read a blog, and then send it to someone in Arizona,” Schlosser says.
Unlike some candidates, Schlosser writes his own blog entries.
“What I really get out of a writing a good blog entry – or answering a reader’s question – is it makes me think about what I believe and why I believe it,” Schlosser says. “A great frustration of voters is the disconnect between them and their representatives; when they send a letter, saying, ‘I’m really mad about this;’ six weeks later they get back a form letter. A blog is more direct.”
While the well-known politicians are not necessarily embracing the complete experience, politicians and their campaigns at least understand how to use the tools.
On YouTube.com, there’s a veritable struggle of pro- and anti-Joe Lieberman ads facing off against each other. The campaign team for Mark Wilson, a Democrat who is running for the Senate in Washington, has uploaded 16 videos on YouTube, one of which has some flubs.
“Online communications are changing the way campaigns are conducted,” says Mark Bergman, press secretary for Jim Pedersen, a Democrat senatorial candidate from Arizona. “There’s a viral aspect; it’s not just messaging dissemination.”
In addition to new media like an online campaign diary, webcasts with top supporters, and online banner advertising, the campaign launched Doubletalkexpress.com, which attacks opponent Senator Jon Kyl’s (AZ– R) record.
“It’s not just about getting a quick way to get your message out, but to get it out to a larger audience,” Bergman says.
When asked how the campaign balances online initiatives with both traditional press outreach and in-person interaction with constituents, Bergman says, “I don’t think it has to be a balancing act; online [work] can be an effective complement to a campaign.”
Mark Kennedy, a Senate candidate, posts his iMark podcast on iTunes media, and Representative Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN), a Tennessee Senatorial candidate, is also podcasting.
Kevin Whalen, a Topaz PR account manager in its buzz media and online communication department, also hosts Pundit Review Radio, which has been following the environment.
Pundit Review Radio, which has been broadcasting since September 2004, is a political talk show with a conservative bent that has hosted new-media commentators. Whalen and his co-host had on Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit.com blogger, who eventually started his own successful podcast. Like a game of tag, Reynolds hosted Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) on his podcast, and the senator has gone to start up his own.
Whalen says that while politicians have embraced new media, new media have likewise embraced politicians. He points to the reaction from some in the right-wing and military blogosphere to Representative John Murtha (D-PA)’s comments about the war, and reelection campaign, have led them to pledge more than just a vote to his opponent, Diana Irey. According to Whalen, Irey has received donations from 45 states and endorsements on blogs like Powerlineblog.com, which is based in Minnesota.
“A lot of politicians are still afraid to dip into this lawless blogosphere, but she’s had an unbelievable response,” Whalen says of Irey.
He also points to politicians integrating blogger conference calls where they brief the top 20 or 30 bloggers in their party.
Even though there hasn’t been a clear-cut example of a “blogging” candidate winning an election because of that outreach, Glover says that politicians are well-aware of the policy victories drummed up from the blogosphere, from the online referendum on Harriet Miers to elevating John Boehner as speaker of the house.
Earlier this week, news broke that Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has hired Salon.com political blogger Peter Daou to help her disseminate her message to the blogosphere. Daou, who helped John Kerry create online strategy for his failed 2004 Presidential bid, will serve as "Web consultant." What that means exactly is unclear, but it is crystal clear that the online media rollercoaster will continue.