It’s Love! Campaigns Supersede the Press, Feed Favorite Blogs

Mr. Daou “knows everything there is to know about blogs,” according to Matt Stoller, a prominent progressive blogger at Open Left. Before joining Senator Clinton, Mr. Daou, who’s based in Manhattan but spent a decade living in Beirut, did some rudimentary Internet outreach for Senator John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004, and, perhaps more important, was a well-regarded liberal blogger for Salon. When he signed on with the junior senator from New York in June 2006, Mr. Daou titled his final Salon post, “Closing the Triangle with Hillary Clinton”—the ‘triangle,’ he wrote, being “comprised of the traditional media, the political establishment, and the blogosphere.”

If Senator Clinton’s approach to the blogosphere has been characterized, appropriately, by triangulation, Senator Obama’s has often seemed to convey outright disdain. Last year, he committed a cardinal Internet sin by backing the hawkish Joe Lieberman over his Senate primary challenger, netroots darling and Iraq war opponent Ned Lamont. Since then, things haven’t improved. Some bloggers expressed irritation that at a closed-door session at Yearly Kos, Senator Obama would speak to them only off the record. Others have complained that his campaign hasn’t been sufficiently open to the netroots’ policy and strategy ideas, relying instead on a more traditional coterie of inside-the-Beltway advisers. Referring to the senator’s Internet outreach strategy, Stoller recently wrote, “The Obama campaign basically does nothing.”

And yet, for all the grousing, Senator Obama’s campaign has had no trouble using blogs to selectively frame stories when it has wanted to. In July, it ensured a cycle or two of positive press by leaking its impressive online fund-raising numbers to MyDD, where blogger Jonathan Singer enthused: “Howard Dean raised about $25 million online of the $50 million or so he raised over the course of 2003, so Obama appears to be on pace to top that online fund-raising record by a fairly large margin.” And he remains a favorite on several prominent sites, most notably The Huffington Post.

If any major candidate has tried to replicate Mr. Dean’s more old-fashioned outreach strategy, based on winning bloggers’ unconditional support, it’s been John Edwards. The former senator has hired Dean’s onetime Internet guru, Joe Trippi, as a campaign strategist, and given liberal bloggers the hard sell. Though the effort has won Mr. Edwards goodwill from some bloggers, it’s offered nothing like the boost, in money or popular support, that Mr. Dean received last time around. The “son of a millworker” remains mired in third place, and his fund-raising, both online and off, has been anemic.

Republicans may have figured some of this out quicker. The conservative blogosphere has never played as prominent a role in making or breaking candidates, and as a result, G.O.P. campaigns are more likely to value blogs for their ability to help frame messages and release information, without worrying too much about winning their undying allegiance. Indeed, when a rival Republican campaign wanted to highlight a damaging video of front-runner Rudy Giuliani taking a soft line on immigration in the 90’s, it leaked the footage to the liberal site Talking Points Memo—which dutifully posted it and kicked off a round of media attention.

Though most bloggers might prefer the role of kingmaker to that of bullhorn, it’s mainstream reporters who could end up being the biggest losers from the changed setup. “There might be times when I see something on a blog and wish that they had called me,” says Dan Balz, The Washington Post’s veteran political reporter. “I’ll call and say, ‘That’s something I’d like to have known.’” Still, he adds, “there’s too much else to worry about. There’s so many moving pieces in this campaign. There’s food for all.”