CBS News Campaign Unit
If you are reading this article on the CBS News Web site, chances are you're well versed in all things Internet. You may have cancelled your subscription to The New York Times in lieu of free online news, and every few hours at work, you might sneak a peak at that eBay auction. And you've likely posted a thread or two on a blog – under the guise of a very creative, if not snarky handle (you know who you are).
For those I may have lost, go ahead and look it up in the dictionary. A blog, short for Weblog, is one of the newest words added to the Oxford Dictionary of English – and with good reason. Blogging, or posting information and messages in an online journal of sorts for others to view and respond to, has become one of the most popular Internet pastimes. It's kind of like opening your living room up to the world. Or, in the case of some politicians, opening up campaign headquarters to a vast online community.
"It is the modern-day equivalent of precinct organizing, and it certainly injects a grassroots element back into national campaigns," noted Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant and former senior strategist for Wesley Clark's presidential campaign.
Howard Dean's Internet-driven campaign may have made blogs a viable means to connect supporters, but the other candidates quickly followed suit and soon each campaign's Web site had an official blog. The phenomenon gave supporters a venue to discuss their candidate's latest pancake breakfast, bash the "establishment media" or convince each other that a Dean (or Clark or Edwards) administration was possible.
"A blog's main value is social and social contact has long been known as the important glue that binds supporters together and keeps enthusiasm up," explained Michael Cornfield of George Washington University's School of Democracy, Politics and the Internet.
By that definition, consider the political blogs a huge success.
"I mean it, the Clarkies on this blog give me so much hope," wrote one supporter on Wesley Clark's blog. "Let's stay together. The general needs us here," wrote another.
Over on the John Edwards blog, more of the same: "So few of my family and friends 'get' why I want to be so involved. It's great knowing all of you are always here," read one post, followed by a "group hug" to all the other bloggers.
These entries may sound like they were posted by impassioned supporters in an attempt to push their candidates on to victory in New Hampshire, but they were actually posted over the last week. Although Edwards, Clark, and Dean have stepped in line behind John Kerry, it seems their online faithful haven't yet been able to let go of their blogospheres. Take for example the "Clark Community Network" blog. Three months after the general left the race, it still averages well over 1,000 messages a day.
Intrigued by the sustained chatter, I spent a few voyeuristic days eavesdropping in on the former Democratic candidates' official blogs and noticed a common theme: although most bloggers despise President Bush, few are particularly crazy about Candidate Kerry.
"I'm terrified that Kerry is our nominee. Terrified," wrote one Clark devotee. "Every time I see or hear Kerry, I get an emptiness in the pit of my stomach," lamented another.
The Edwards supporters aren't much more optimistic. "Now is the time for Kerry to show what he's made of, if it is more than what we have seen so far," read one message. "It's pretty sad that many of us have little to no trust in politicians, even in our own party," wrote another cynical blogger.
Over on Howard Dean's "Blog for America," one correspondent tried to look up from the depths of her disappointment. "Nobody said it would be fun the way it was when [Dean] was our candidate. Nobody said it would be easy. We have to do it. There's nobody else."
But it's more than the shared pain and agony of defeat that keeps these blogs up and running. What fuels the talk is the possibility – however slight it may be – that their candidate will have a second coming – as Kerry's running mate (Dean supporters haven't discussed something so far-fetched. They tend to talk about his future in broadcasting, or challenging Gov. Schwarzenegger in California's next election). Many of the posts project doom and gloom if Kerry doesn't pick their guy.
"Seemingly everyone loves [John Edwards], so [he] would improve Kerry's image by association," offered a hopeful Edwards supporter. Most on this site maintain that a running mate must be able to warm up the Democratic ticket. "As JRE gets Dems back on an optimistic track, [Kerry] will begin to smile, loosen up, and gain backing," suggested another Edwards fan.
General Clark's supporters see the role of running mate in a different light. "With Iraq center stage, and likely to stay there through November, it is imperative that Kerry make Clark his running mate." "[Kerry] needs an attack dog with credibility, gravitas, and most importantly, one who can ensure the American people that we will be safe with John Kerry as president."
Bloggers post any and every article that mentions their candidate's name and "running mate" on the same page. And in an attempt to create some buzz, some are conspiring to run up their choice in online VP polls – including the one on CBSNews.com. One Clarkie wrote, "Let's not remind anyone on the non-pure Clark sites about [CNN.com's] Veepstakes," after she encouraged multiple voting.
The ex-candidates' bloggers are also trying to plug their pick (and point out the flaws of the competition) over on the Kerry blog. But when the posts turn negative, the Kerry crowd is quick to scold. "We're not all gonna agree on everything. The only thing we all DO agree on, is that we've gotta work to remove the national disgrace that is George Bush. End rant," one warned. Another diplomatic blogger tried to soothe the rift, writing, "This is bigger than me, than an individual, or even Kerry and whomever he picks. This is about our country's future and standing in the world."
The Kerry campaign says it does monitor its own blog to "diagnose trends," but insiders say it's unlikely that the VP chatter registers on the campaign's radar. Lehane, who was involved in running mate discussions for Al Gore's campaign in 2000, says this flurry of activity is "a factor, but a very minor factor" in the decision-making process.
Still, many argue it behooves the Kerry campaign to reach across the Internet divide to rally the troops and tap the potential from their former rivals' bloggers. "They need those people. They need them not to stay home, and they should be making contact with those blogs; engage them, and get them to work for them," said Cornfield.
Kerry may be able to rely on his core Democratic base in November, but he should put them to use in the meantime. "My Dean sign is still in my front yard," wrote one recovering Deaniac. "I guess I need to just grow up and get on with it, but I'm still just checked out—I'm looking for a way to get fired up again."
By Bonney Kapp