Democratic candidates see the light:
the Internet

By Andrew Stern

Every U.S. presidential candidate has a Web site, of course, but when the top Democratic hopefuls were asked on Saturday whether they would appoint a White House blogger if elected, all of them said yes.

The candidates' impromptu show of hands at a convention organized by the leading Internet forum for liberal-minded writers on the Internet, DailyKos.com, was tangible evidence of the Web's increasing political sway.

"The Internet is not just a platform for raising money and organizing, it's for everything. Any campaign that isn't using it is lagging behind," said Robert Gibbs, an adviser to Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.

Many political analysts say the "blogosphere" has injected a more populist sentiment into the eight-way race to become the Democratic nominee next year.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' campaign has been particularly aggressive, with the candidate's wife, Elizabeth, recently telling The New York Times: "The Internet is the principal way we are communicating with voters right now."

All but Delaware Sen. Joe Biden among the Democratic candidates attended the YearlyKos bloggers' convention this weekend in Chicago.

"I'm aware not everybody says nice things about me" on the blogosphere, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York joked in addressing a roomful of convention attendees.

"But thank you for being so involved in creating a modern, progressive movement in this country. You've stood up and created an alternative to the right-wing noise machine," said Clinton, who is leading national polls to become the party's nominee.

UNFILTERED MESSAGES

When the candidates participated in a question-and-answer forum and each agreed to appoint an official White House blogger, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel suggested a blog would be one of the next president's most powerful tools.

While the Web is accessible to practically anyone who thinks they have something to say, it offers politicians a medium to disseminate messages unfiltered by what many bloggers view as an increasingly conservative, tightly controlled traditional media.

That seven of the eight Democratic hopefuls would show up at a convention attended by a mere 1,500 people -- joined by 250 members of the traditional media -- was further evidence that the Web is the medium of the moment.

"You can't win an election with the 10 million people who read blogs. But you are going to get people who will get out there and knock on doors," Markos Moulitsas, founder of convention sponsor DailyKos, said in a telephone interview.

The growing prominence of the Web was on display during last month's YouTube.com Democratic debate on CNN during which the candidates fielded selected questions from regular people, not from reporters.

"Real democracy is messy," Moulitsas said. "Anytime you have a forum like this, you get a few cranks, a few people that are crazy, and a few that are stupid. No one is being excluded."

"All these campaigns need to be close to the blogosphere," Blogtalkradio.com founder Alan Levy said. "They need to get closer to the people to understand what they really want."

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