Friday, May 11, 2007

Earl Hires Netroots Consultant; Senate Bid to Come?

Here's an interesting story, on a couple of levels, from MyDD blogger and Oregon netroots wunderkind Jonathan Singer:
I am excited to announce that starting next week I will be doing netroots consulting for Congressman Earl Blumenauer, my representative here in Oregon's third congressional district...I'm stoked to be working with someone on Capitol Hill who really gets it and look forward to helping get out his message so that he can work even more closely with the Netroots to effect positive change, both here in Oregon and around the country.
First of all, congrats Jonathan! Despite my frequent hectoring of Beltway culture, it's still an honor and a privilege to score oneself a staff position working for a Member, and it's truly worthwhile work. We consider ourselves good friends of Jonathan's, so it's great to see him well on the path to success at such a tender age (at this point anyone under 30 is tender to me).

Secondly, it's certainly a positive sign for Blumenauer to take the step of hiring someone to advise him on the netroots; I can tell you from personal experience that the term "blogger" still raises goosebumps on the skin of Congresspeople and many in their staffs. Of course Singer has a bit of an advantage, having (if I'm not mistaken) the more traditional Hill assets of a poly sci college background and experience managing a political campaign--but he's still a member of the strident leftist blogger class (like us), and it's courageous and smart of Earl to embrace the idea and put someone like that in his corner.

But you have to wonder: why now? It's hard to say that he's just getting on board with using the netroots to Democratic advantage, given his acknowledgement and support of campaigns like the "Use it or Lose it" movement, which encouraged Members in safe seats for 2006 to spread some of their campaign kitty around to needier members of the caucus. He figured that one out without a consultant, so is it just a matter of getting around to it or finding the money to pay a netroots consultant--or is Blumenauer ramping up his office capabilities to prepare for some big project, like...say...a run for Senate in 2008?

Obviously I could give Earl and Jonathan the Larry George treatment, but if (and until) he announces I can guarantee he won't spill the news to us, so I'm left to speculate. What does a netroots consultant offer him, potentially?
  • Greater message reach--as a Portland politician, Earl will need to venture out into the hinterlands more often in order to run for statewide office. He's already done some of that, but there are only so many miles you can drive in a day--and you hate to show up somewhere after 6 hours of driving, without any advance buzz, just to talk to three vegetative residents and a janitor in some senior home. Using the net properly will make it easier to schedule and coordinate appearances around the state, build interest in his campaign before he gets there, and also to reach those folks who don't ever get the chance to see him speak.

  • Connection with his base--a large number of the people who currently support Earl in his district are exactly those folks most plugged in to the net: young people, creative professionals, and issue-activists. As much as he needs to get outside the Willamette Valley, the more votes he locks down in Multnomah the easier his work elsewhere.

  • Entre' into national money--Earl is no DLC lapdog, so to the extent that he might gain significant funding and help from the DC establishment for a Senate race, he won't capture this race by relying solely on traditional top-down efforts. On the other hand, with a good netroots coordinator he can tap into the simply huge market for individual Democratic dollars around the country. I gave money last fall to Ned Lamont, even though I have no vested interest in CT politics, because I recognized that he was a strong progressive who could make a difference. In the 2006 elections the phenomenon of citizens contributing money to politicians outside their districts and states really broke open, and there is a ton of money out there for next year--IF the candidate knows how to get it. One has to start by proving their bona fides and viability for winning the office, but once that threshhold is reached the sky is the limit. Don't believe me? Look at what they did across the US for Jon Tester in Montana.

Does this mean he's definitely running? Of course not. But if I was considering a run for federal office and I wanted to set myself up right early on, one of the first things I'd do is hire someone to be my link to the netroots. We shall see...