I started posting on HowieinSeattle in 11/04, following progressive American politics in the spirit of Howard Dean's effort to "Take Our Country Back." I decided to follow my heart and posted on seattleforbarackobama from 2/07 to 11/08.--"Howie Martin is the Abe Linkin' of progressive Seattle."--Michael Hood.
1. Will the progressive movement see its influence suffer without a standard bearer in 2008? The 2003-4 Dean campaign remains the defining moment for the blogosphere, the netroots and the contemporary progressive movement. Whatever other campaigns, innovations, and media stories we helped shape, it was only when the movement nearly made an obscure former Governor of Vermont the Democratic nominee for President in 2004 that the movement received serious attention from the political and media establishment. It is from the Dean campaign that the small donor explosion, the fifty-state strategy, the silent revolution, the revival of volunteer activism, and the confrontational attitude toward Republicans all arose. While up to half of the netroots and the progressive movement supported someone besides Dean for President in 2004, it was the online support for Howard Dean that put the netroots on the map as a force with which to be reckoned.
By way of contrast, at least at this early point, there does appear to be a candidate behind whom even a plurality of the netroots and the progressive movement would support en masse. Several potential candidates, most notably Clark, Edwards, Gore and Obama, appear to have a substantial amount of online support. The BlogPac netroots survey of MoveOn.org members back in June showed Edwards, Gore and Obama with clear advantages over other potential candidates. However, it does not take much to wonder if a divided progressive movement in 2008 will result in a dilution of netroots influence over the primary season. All of these potential netroots candidates, to differing degrees, will be starting out behind Hillary Clinton in terms of pole position. Even though Edwards, Gore and Obama would all occupy the tier just below Clinton in the early stages of the campaign, one has to wonder just how much room there is for non-Clinton candidates. As such, could a divided netroots drag all of its favorites down? Will the netroots and the progressive movement as whole see its influence in the Democratic Party wane without a clear standard bearer in 2008?
2. Will the progressive movement emerge as a distinct voting demographic in the 2008 primaries? The last truly drawn out and conflicted Democratic primary season was 1988. Three candidates, Dukakis, Jackson, and Gore all emerged from Super Tuesday with nearly identical delegate totals. This three way campaign happened because of Gore and Jackson were able to forge together solid majorities, if not super majorities, of Democratic voting demographics. For Jackson, his base of support was within African-American voters, and for Gore it was within southern and rural whites. Dukakis ended up prevailing, largely on the basis of super delegates and released Gore delegates, but deep and real divisions within the Democratic Party were revealed.
Much of it will depend on which candidates end up running, but I am interested to see if these old voting blocks within the Democratic Party still exist, and if the progressive movement has emerged as a new potential voting block. Looking over the post-New Hampshire, pre-Wisconsin results in 2004, even after his campaign melted down, was receiving nothing but bad press and was dark virtually everywhere outside of Wisconsin, Howard Dena still received between 5-15% of the vote in nearly every primary state, and between 15-25% in nearly every caucus state. Was this residual Dean support demonstrative of a newly emerging voting block within Democratic primaries? Have we seen it continue to grow in places like CA-11, NH-01, RI-02, CA-36, MD-04, IL-06, MA-Gov, IL-Gov, and CT-Sen since that time? I would love to see a study on how Dean and Kucinich voters from 2004 participated in 2006 Democratic primaries. I suspect that something is beginning to really emerge that goes beyond just activism and online buzz.
If Obama runs, it will be interesting to see if he could consolidate the African-American primary vote the way Jesse Jackson did. Are African-Americans still a solid voting block in Democratic primaries given the right candidate?
As far as the southern and rural white voting block that helped Gore so much in 1988 and Clinton so much in 1992, I have to wonder how much power it has left within national Democratic primaries. In 2004, according to exit polls, Edwards only scored clear victories over Kerry among southern whites in South Carolina and Georgia. Kerry actually trounced Edwards among white voters in the border states of Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. If a candidate like Kerry can beat a candidate like Edwards among white Democrats in border states, I have to believe that the long-term shift of southern and rural whites to the Republican party has so depleted that demographic within the Democratic primary process that it can no longer workably serve as the basis support for any Democrat's Presidential campaign. That is not to say that these voters are not important. It is just to say that their influence within the Democratic Party has declined dramatically as the result of so many defections to the GOP.
3. What will be the negative impact of the blogosphere? I mean this question in two separate ways. First, just how nasty will the infighting be online during the primaries? Second, will the netroots be able to sink one or more candidacies in 2008?
To deal with the first question, I would like to bring people back to the Ohio Senate primary circa late January, 2006 and the IL-06 primary in March. Both race, for only a Senate race and a House race, were two of the nastiest I have ever seen. If we end up being that nasty during small primaries like that, I fear for the Democratic Party and the netroots during Presidential primaries in 2008. Feelings will run much deeper, and it could be a very, very ugly scene online (this also related to the first question in this post).
To deal with the second question, for my money is is arguably far more important to see what sort of impact we can have upon the Republican nomination in 2008. Simply put, we have to take McCain and Giuliani down, and significantly tarnish their images among Democrats and Independents. Giuliani should be a relatively easy target considering the help we will receive from the right-wing base. McCain, as Matt has pointed out, will be a far more difficult nut to crack. If we can succeed in taking out McCain and Giuliani, it would virtually make the Democratic primary the general election. It is in this way that we can virtually win the 2008 election in 2007.
On the Democratic side, the generally low opinion of Hillary Clinton among regular blog readers begs another question: will the biggest impact of the netroots on 2008 be in how they drag Hillary Clinton down, rather than in how they build a different candidate up? Hillary Clinton's favorablity among regular blog readers in the BlogPac netroots survey should be very worrying to any member of her 2008 campaign team. It is also worth asking that if the netroots and the progressive movement serves as a millstone on Hillary Clinton's efforts, and if she wins the nomination anyway, how damaging will this be both to her general election chances and to the influence of the netroots within the Democratic Party? Both questions are worth considering.