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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Mother Jones Profile: Real Time Politics

Andy Isaacson did a profile story on me for Mother Jones Magazine:

Real-Time Politics
News: Bob Brigham and other bloggers like him are putting the fight back into Democratic campaigns:

There is a discussion of Paul Hackett and the OH-02 Special Election (which made for a Mother Jones cover story a few weeks ago).

Earlier this year, Brigham and a 29-year-old Midwesterner named Tim Tagaris discovered Paul Hackett, a former Marine running in a special election for an Ohio congressional seat in a predominantly Republican district. The Democratic leadership, which traditionally targets resources to races deemed statistically winnable, had written off the Ohio race. But Hackett was that rare thing in electoral politics today—a straight talker, particularly on Iraq, which appeared to earn voters’—and bloggers’—respect. And in Hackett’s framing of the issues (“Democrats are for limited government because they don’t want government in our bedrooms”), Brigham and Tagaris saw a strategy that could win. They galvanized the liberal blogosphere, which turned out volunteers, mobilized people from all across the country to the district, and raised around $600,000 for the Hackett campaign from the netroots, greatly out-raising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and forcing the National Republican Congressional Committee to spend money on a fight it hadn’t planned for.

The bloggers' effectiveness as a rapid-response team proved decisive in the Hackett campaign. When a conservative muckraker kicked off a “swift boat”-style smear campaign against Hackett—charging that the Marine had never seen combat—Brigham credits Tagaris with invalidating the claim and shutting down the stratagem within a day. On another occasion, at 10pm on the Saturday before the election, Brigham and Tagaris got wind of a video that Jean Schmidt, Hackett’s opponent, was set to air the next day, claiming that she’d never met Tom Noe. Noe was George W. Bush’s chief Ohio fundraiser, and he was then embroiled in a campaign finance and money laundering probe known as "Coingate." Alerted to the tape, Brigham and Tagaris speed-dialed bloggers across the country and set them to work digging up evidence to show that the two had, in fact, met. By the next morning they had proof, and they delivered it at a prime-time televised press conference on the courthouse steps.

In the end, of course, Hackett lost the race; but he came much closer than anyone had expected—thanks in large part to Brigham and the liberal blogosphere.

As a profile, he then gets to focusing on me:

The experience emboldened Brigham, who publicly denounced the DCCC as “irrelevant” and hailed the Hackett race as a model for future grassroots Democratic campaigning, and that “big, bold action not backing down will earn the respect of voters”—even conservatives. (Brigham has a tendency to speak in measured sound bites, as you might expect of somebody who's spent much of his young adult life, as he has, working on political messaging.)

Bob Brigham engages in real-time politics the way an aggressive mutual fund manager trades stocks. A Montana native who was introduced to computers around the time he was learning his ABCs, Brigham briefly went to college—where he was a lobbyist for the student body—but dropped out in 1996 to work on a political campaign. “I was able to learn traditional politics right at the point as Internet was maturing,” he says. “Being at that nexus allowed me to take principles underlying traditional political campaigning and couple them with the potential for online politics.” In 2004, Brigham blogged for Democrat Ginny Schrader during her unsuccessful run for Pennsylvania's 8th Congressional District. During this time he met “DavidNYC,” Swing State Project’s respected founding blogger, who was using the blog to raise money for Schrader. Swing State Project began focusing on swing states in the 2004 Presidential election, but has since put an emphasis on federal and state races in districts that people might not consider even to be competitive. Brigham, along with Tagaris—“the only two people using blog diaries to drive political messages in congressional races”—asked David if they could join forces with him.

Brigham’s approach to politics follows, he suggests, from having grown up in a generation bombarded by—and cynical about—commercial messaging. The Internet allows for real-time politics and supplies a new benchmark for measuring success, he says. “If we only take stock and evaluate our success the morning after election day, we only get one chance every two years to see how we’re doing. The mindset I advocate is to ask yourself every day whether we won on that given day. What that brings about is an end to compromising in hopes of winning an election and enforces best practices … on a daily basis.”

If the 2004 Presidential Election marked a coming of age for bloggers, who for the first time became highly visible and respected political players, 2005 has been a year for maturation. The bipartisan debate over Social Security last Spring, the blogopshere’s first large policy fight after mostly electoral battles, united the Democratic netroots and illustrated the power that 600 united bloggers can wield in shaping and spreading political messages. (“We had the perfect line,” says Brigham, referring to the slogan thought up by blogger Matt Stoller, after a Christmas Eve conference call, to counter Presidents Bush’s fear-mongering on the issue. “’There is no crisis.’”)

You'll be shocked to discover I got a little cocky when discussing Montana:

As for his next electoral battle, besides supporting Hackett in his new bid for Ohio Senator, Brigham is primed for the Democratic primary in Montana, a “marquee” race that he says offers the starkest choice of the competing directions for the party. John Morrison—“as typical of a Democratic Leadership Council candidate as Joe Lieberman”—is squaring off for a shot at a winnable red-state senate seat against Jon Tester, a state Senator. Tester, Bingham argues, also represents the past “but further back—the type of populist farmer who built this country. He’s also the future of the Democratic Party, which to a large degree [lies] out west.”

The liberal blogosphere is rallying solidly behind Jon Tester. MyDD and DailyKos bloggers Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsa flew out to Montana to meet the candidate and gave their blessings. Tester’s campaign has hired Montana blogger Matt Singer, who runs the blog Left in the West “Left in the West,” to do its online outreach.

Brigham plans to return to his home state with laptop packed. “I fully intend to raise serious hell before the primary,” he says, eyes lit up. “I have no problem going negative on John Morrison, as a member of the DLC, to the point where he has to change his name and leave the state after the election. The future of the party is decided in the primary. And he’s the past.”

Emphasis mine.

-By Bob Brigham

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