Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rodriguez, Lamont and the Direction of the "Netroots"

I'm sure that at least a few of you have been following the Democratic primary in Texas's 28nd House District, in which a conservative Club For Growth-backed incumbent, Henry Cuellar, was challenged by more liberal candidate Ciro Rodriguez. Rodriguez had run against Cuellar in 2004, only to lose by a handful of votes.

The race has some eerie similarities to the brewing Senate primary here in Connecticut. Rodriguez, like Ned Lamont, drew heavy support from internet activists, especially from major sites like Daily Kos, while Cuellar was backed by conservatives and plenty of Republicans. In fact, no Republican candidate has yet emerged in the district.

The race even had its own "kiss" moment:

Rodriguez was running a low-impact, low-budget campaign until President Bush affectionately greeted Cuellar before January's State of the Union address by playfully grabbing Cuellar's face while the congressman smiled. A newspaper captured the moment in a photo, energizing Democrats who maintain that Cuellar is too close to the White House. (Badger)

While Henry Cuellar didn't incur the kind of intense, passionate, almost personal hatred from national Democratic activists that Joe Lieberman does, he still wasn't well-liked among the party's progressive wing and internet activists. Money poured into Rodriguez's campaign from all over the country, and his candidacy was hyped by most of the bigger and more influential liberal websites.

The result? Cuellar won by a much wider margin than he did in 2004. Rodriguez's base, the people of San Antonio and its environs, didn't turn out like he had hoped.

So what does this race say about the liberal/progressive "netroots" and the viability of insurgent Democratic candidates like Rodriguez and Ned Lamont? At this point, it's impossible to separate the two.

The race seems to raise more questions than it answers, especially when considering our own situation in Connecticut.

Will the demographics of Connecticut Democrats make Ned Lamont a more attractive candidate than Ciro Rodriguez was to the Democrats of his Texas district? They may. A moderate-to-liberal Northeastern state may be more receptive to internet-backed progressives than any slice of Texas outside of Austin.

Can internet activism, especially on the liberal/progressive side, actually win a race for a candidate? Rodriguez may have been helped by the support of the liberal blogosphere--in fact, he almost certainly was--but it apparently wasn't enough. The Web is still growing in clout, though, and we may see political blogs and other sites actually pick up a win or two here and there later this year. The fierce endorsement of Daily Kos, Eschaton and similar sites will translate into votes for Ned Lamont in August. The money flowing from these sources guarantees more exposure, which should garner him some actual votes. Will it be enough to win? In Rodriguez's case, turnout in his home county wasn't much above what it was in 2004. Therefore, it seems that the answer may very well be no.

So where does the liberal blogosphere go from here? If Rodriguez, Lamont and other progressive-backed candidates can't win, then what?

The problem may be that while the Internet is a great source of publicity and funds, it's so far been kind of lousy at creating actual, on-the-ground organizations. This seems to be what Rodriguez lacked, especially considering how poor the turnout in his home county was. The national "netroots" are too widespread and farflung.

The Lamont campaign may be the exception as blogs and political sites start to emerge at the state and local level. I've seen a lot of organizing going on over at My Left Nutmeg and other Connecticut-based sites. Lamont's candidacy, with regards to the Web, anyway, may work like this: The national sites provide the funding while the organization and communication takes place on the local sites and the official campaign site. This is how parties and organizations work offline: funding and general directives come from the national office, while the local people carry things out semi-independently. I'll be interested to see just how this dynamic plays out with the Lamont campaign during the coming months.

The Internet is still finding its place as a campaign tool and a vehicle for candidate promotion. With each election cycle, it becomes more advanced, complex and influential. Even if the blogosphere and other political sites can't win in 2006... maybe they will in 2008.


Badger, T.A. "Cuellar defeats Rodriguez in congressional grudge match." Associated Press-Texas 8 March, 2006.


Anonymous said...'s Commissioners fined 500 each

wake up GC

Anonymous said...

33 of 53 comments in the last thread were anonymously.

Why should anyone take this site,or anything posted on it, seriously?
I'll bet even the owner posts anonymously.

Genghis Conn said...

I have never posted an anonymous comment, er, anonymous, as that would be silly. But I do respect the requests of many commenters to remain anonymous.


And other anonymous, you can't give me five minutes?

ctblogger said...

Interesting post. I just don't know enough about Texas to comment on the race but one thing is for certain, internet exposure is less important than campaign volenteers woeking the streets and GOTV.

From what I saw at Lamont's campaign meeting in New Haven, I don't he'll have a problem with his volenteers working the streets.

Genghis Conn said...

One major difference I neglected to mention was that the Texas primary was an open primary, I believe. That matters a lot.

I think we'll see the Internet used as an organizing tool more than anything else in the future. But you're right, ctblogger, it can't replace volunteers hitting the streets.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 12:40: if you are so brave why don't you post your name and shoe size. And the link is to WTNH is true because I beleive everything that I see on the TV.

Anonymous said...

GC: just having a little fun with you since you are always so damn on top of things.

CT05 Admin said...

You've got it about right GC. The mistake people make regarding the blogoshpere and the web is when they come to believe there is a "there" there. The only "there" is the polling booth on election day.

So the web is a medium, not a destination. But an important one, because of two very, er, run-of-the-mill reasons: cost and speed to market.

It costs nothing to communicate over the web, or via email. The significance of this echoes the impact of direct mail thirty or thirty five years ago. There are a number of discrete factors, but no need to go into the nitty gritty.

Ideas can be floated and messages vetted much more quickly. People don't have to physically go anywhere to have a meeting, and so on. This means that the speed with which you can deploy a communication - in both directions - is reduced to nearly immediate.

As turfgrrl mentioned elsewhere, the basic facts of life are these. That said, ideas and policy potentially become bigger factors as more and more people aclimate to the new medium and the costs and channels for communicating fragment and become more fluid.

Ten years from now campaigns, like the main stream media, will be fundamentally different than they were in 2002.

Genghis Conn said...

Well said, CT05Admin.

Campaigns are going to have to operate competently on multiple levels using multiple media. The Web is just one aspect--albeit a crucial and growing one--of modern campaigning and communication.

Gabe said...

One major difference I neglected to mention was that the Texas primary was an open primary, I believe. That matters a lot.

I clicked through to post that this was an open primary, but you beat me too it. It might be worth putting an update on the original post though, so people who aren't clicking through to read the comments see that.

It is a major difference under any circumstances, but in this case it is magnified that there was no Republican candidate running in the primary. Any Republicans that showed up to vote yesterday were voting in the Democratic primary. I agree, if Republicans were allowed to vote in the Democratic primary in CT, Lieberman would win hands down and Lamont would be on a fools errand.

What would be interesting, and I can't find this information on the TX SoS website, is to see how many Republicans voted in the primary. It is a fairly safe assumption that the (vast) majority of those Republicans voted for the Club For Growth-endorsed Cuellar over the progressive-leaning Rodriguez. A fairer measure for what you compared in your post would be to compare the vote totals of Ceullar and Rodriguez among registered Democrats. The spread, out of 44,744 votes, was 5400 votes. Anyone want to bet that there were more than 5400 non-Democrats (Repoublicans, Independents and third-parties) voting for Cuellar than for Rodriguez?

Anonymous said...

One big difference between Ned and Ciro is time. Ciro had only a few days before the primary when the netroots got involved. Lamont has weeks or months, depending on how you look at it.

The drawback for the netroots support for Lamont comes down to this in my mind: how many delegates in the Nutmeg state are behind him? The bloggers bring in the money, but if all the delegates are locked into Lieberman (some by owed favor, some by choice, others by peer pressure from the establishment), the netroots aren't enough.

If Ned can't get the delegates, then he's got to get the signatures. Again, that takes shoe leather and clipboards, not posts.

The most frustrating thing about Lamont so far is that no one seems to be talking about these two critical issues. Are there any delegates committed to Lamont at this point? Is anyone collecting signatures at this point? Lamont could help us all out by letting us know.

Anonymous said...

Gabe, speak for yourself. In an open CT primary, as a GOPer I'd vote for Lamont all day. Moderate dems and U's would be sour on such a lib and a sqish republican could sneak in.

and in response to the earlier commenter impugning anon posters, just because someone posts using a clever screen name doesn't mean they aren't trying to remain anonymous. in addition to becoming quite well known throughout the CT political mainstream as a place for good discussions, this blog is also among the premier rumor mills. Why would you ever want to change that?

CGG said...

I think comparing Texas politics to Connecticut politics is probably apples and oranges, but I do see your point about Internet support as opposed to support at the polls. CT has a rich loca blogosphere, but I doubt that a signifigant number of the state's population read political blogs on a daily basis. Like a few others have said, it's going to take dedicated volunteers hitting the pavement for Lamont's campaign to succeed. I see the blogs mostly as a way to movtivate the already dedicated supporters.

Proud Moderate said...

Problem with the "blogsphere" is that it is totally unrepresentative of the electorate. Anyone who would take the time to read a political blog (never mind post to one) is in the top 1% of the population in terms of interest to politics....and why even single person here has their mind made up about everything! :)

These blogs are dangerous for both parties because they strengthen the perception that the extremes are larger than they are. We need more moderates in both parties, not more Jesse Helms and Chuck Shumers. I'll take a Voinavich and Lieberman any date of the week (and the electorate will too!)

Anonymous said...

psst... PMD...

There is nothing really moderate about Lieberman. Pre-emptive wars, Iraq occupation, torture, FoxNews friends... these aren't moderate positions.

Anonymous said...

The net didn't erase geography. Cueller crushed Rodriguez in/around Laredo cause he was the local guy.

Watch Hamden, North Haven et al do likewise to Lamont

Gabe said...

Anon -

As a Dem, I wasn't even speaking for myself.

That said, to make your point, you completely missed mine. In TX-28, there isn't a Republican running. The winner of the Democratic primary will roll over the third party candidate and be elected. Voting for a liberal over a conservative Dem would be asinine because no Republican could "sneak in"; they won't be on the ballot! Which is why TX and CT are not comparable.

Also, Lieberman's approval ratings are higher among Republicans than among Democrats. Some of your fellow Republicans would not want to roll the dice and would vote for Lieberman in a Democratic primary.