Can National Bloggers Influence State and Local Politics?

Chris Bowers is one of the most influential Democratic bloggers around. So it's worth noting that his newest project, "From Blue to Bluer," ...
by | March 28, 2008
 

Chris Bowers is one of the most influential Democratic bloggers around. So it's worth noting that his newest project, "From Blue to Bluer," focuses on state and local politics:

From Blue to Bluer seeks to first identify, and then help elect, progressive, grassroots candidates who are running in competitive Democratic primaries in blue districts around the country. The primaries can either be for open seats or against incumbents who are either too conservative for their districts, or who are simply corrupt, or both. The goal is to find a handful of proudly progressive primary candidates for local and state legislative races, and then provide them with the national support they need to help put them over the top. Through this program, we can show Democrats across the country that that a fifty-state strategy means blue districts too, and that all Democrats, no matter how local, can be held accountable for not representing their districts or for selling out progressive ideals.

The city where I live, Philadelphia, is a perfect example of why we need From Blue To Bluer. With the city regularly voting for Democrats in general elections by more than 80%, Philadelphia is about as deep blue of an area one can find anywhere in the country. However, while there are very few elected Republicans in the city, that does not mean most of our elected officials are progressives.

In fact, the reality is quite the opposite. Many of our local Democrats are beholden to an often-corrupt, non-transparent political machine that governs to dole out appropriations and city jobs to friends, family and local party officials. Dozens of local officials, including members of city council and state Senators, have been indicated and / or are currently in jail. There is even a public, specific price that someone can pay the local machine in order to become an elected judge ($35,000, the last time I checked). Philadelphia politics are definitely Democratic, but we still have a long way to go until we can be accurately called progressive.

In deep blue areas like Philadelphia, Democratic primaries for open seats and primary challenges against Democratic incumbents are just about the only way local progressive reformers can make a difference on the electoral level.

If your goal is to help progressives, this strategy makes a lot of sense. Bowers is right that, in places like Philadelphia, activists have little to lose from challenging Democratic incumbents.

My biggest question, though, is whether many online activists really care enough about state and local politics to contribute time and money to this effort.

Sure, liberal bloggers in Virginia care about electing Democrats to the Virginia General Assembly, but do they care about the Idaho legislature or the Walla Walla City Council? To date, national Democratic bloggers haven't even shown a lot interest in gubernatorial races, let alone lower profile state and local races.

Perhaps that's partly because of the particular moment when the blogosphere sprung into existence. The 2004 presidential election was "the most important of our lifetime" (or at least until 2008). Then, in 2006, the focus was on the battle for Congress.

So, it will be interesting to see whether, over the next couple of election cycles, national bloggers can turn their attention beyond national politics.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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