Perriello workers get Web lessons from blogger

Perriello workers get Web lessons from blogger

As Lowell Feld tells it, his blog, (the self proclaimed “Voice of Progressive Virginia”) was born out of cynicism, depression, anger and just a teensy bit of hope. After John Kerry lost the 2004 presidential election, Feld, then a bureaucrat in Northern Virginia, fell into a funk, daunted by the prospect of four more years of George W. Bush.

So he started blogging. “I can’t stop [Bush], but I’ve got to be able to make a difference somehow,” he thought to himself. “I didn’t come at this from a technological view.” Four years later, his main site (which he now calls RK because of some disappointment with Kaine) is the most read political blog in Virginia.

On July 24, Feld spoke at Saint Anne’s-Belfield, discussing how to leverage the Internet in campaigns to a group of mostly college kids who have spent the summer working for Tom Perriello in the Fifth Congressional District, which includes Charlottesville and Albemarle.

Lowell Feld said that part of the key to beating George Allen was to show that he was nasty, not the jovial cowboy he made himself out to be.

Feld had some experience with the medium prior to starting RK. He had worked the grassroots of the Internet—dubbed “netroots”—with websites trying to get Wesley Clark the nomination for the 2004 race. After helping Governor Tim Kaine in 2005, he used his site to push Jim Webb to victory in the Democratic primary over party insider Harris Miller. Webb went on to a slim victory over heavily favored incumbent George Allen, with Feld part of the campaign as “netroots coordinator.”

“I can’t overstate the impact of that campaign,” said Nate Wilcox, a campaign consultant who co-authored a new book, Netroots Rising, with Feld.

What can a blog do? Feld said that it wasn’t about persuading millions directly, but about influencing the thousands of “influentials.” He talked about a blog’s use in raising money. And he also discussed one of the biggest assets of a blog—the ability to relentlessly ridicule your opponent. The mainstream media is limited by column inches, noted Feld, but “a blog, you can just keep doing it and doing it and doing it.”

The approach leads to a strange hybrid, says Feld: “We’re sort of journalists. We’re sort of activists. We’re sort of operatives.”

Feld didn’t see a dime from Kaine’s campaign, but “in the Webb campaign, we kind of got away with murder,” said Feld. Even though he was paid by the campaign, no one filtered what Feld said. After he called George Allen a racist, he was disowned by Webb’s communications director, but the senior strategist told him to stay on.

“I would have fired [Feld],” said Wilcox, who pointed out that the disorganization of Webb’s campaign ironically ended up helping him. “If [the Webb campaign] had been just this much more competent, they would have lost the race.”

Both Wilcox and Feld thought that the Democratic Party has misstepped by not spending more attention—and money—on Internet efforts and bloggers. But if more and more partisan bloggers—most of whom currently see little money for their efforts—get paid by the parties, don’t they lose the credibility that gave them an audience in the first place?
“To the extent people perceive you as a paid shill, it’s potentially dangerous,” says Feld. “I just try to deal with it by full disclosure of what I’m up to, and people can draw their own conclusions from that.”

Wilcox points out that the right wing is good at remunerating bloggers with stipends, scholarships and speaking fees. “There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat.”

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