The Digital Insurgency

How liberal bloggers and their readers fueled Paul Hackett’s rise


The liberal blogosphere’s huge potential as a force in electoral politics has been more discussed than realized. Paul Hackett’s stunning effort in Ohio’s 2nd district in August began to change that. From OH-02, which covers only the politics of Ohio’s 2nd CD, to Daily Kos, the top progressive site in America, the blogs were in love with Hackett. More than 50 bloggers urged their readers to give donations—which they did, enthusiastically, mostly in increments of around $50. The total came in at over half a million dollars, more than twice what the DCCC forked over. (In fact, if it weren’t for the buzz about Hackett generated by the blogs, the DCCC probably would have stood this one out, having initially rejected Hackett’s request for money.)

True, other factors played a role in Hackett’s near win.
The Ohio GOP is saddled with an ongoing scandal and the least popular governor in America. Hackett had just returned from a seven-month tour in Iraq, where he had led Marines in combat. He had the kind of rough-hewn charm that plays well in his district: he was disarmingly gruff and straightforward, he swore, he loved guns. He showed Republicans that Democrats weren’t just egg-headed elitists who disdained the Midwest and didn’t understand their commitment to service.

In the end, though, Hackett’s campaign wouldn’t have been nearly as strong without the money and momentum generated by his following of blogs. The bloggers were on the ground; they saw what Hackett had and they exposed him to a nationwide network of supporters. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough. But it showed, more than ever before, just how much influence the liberal blogosphere can wield.

The following is the timeline of a digital insurgency.

March 18 – DavidNYC notes on Daily Kos that Rob Portman is vacating his seat in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional district. Though the district is deep red, he says, “an off-year special election for a seat we have little chance of capturing is the perfect time to get creative and try out new ideas.” The key is to see “local, grassroots/netroots-type Dems get behind a candidate willing to be bold.” Ten days later, Jerome Armstrong of MyDD concurs. Blogosphere interest in the seat begins.

April 1 – The blog Swing State Project follows up on the MyDD post. Paul Hackett is not mentioned as a potential candidate. Swing State Project will eventually play a leading role in raising money and exposure for the Hackett campaign. They follow up on the race occasionally for the rest of the month.

May 27 – Chris Baker, known as Editor at his blog, OH-02, announces that Paul Hackett has started garnering endorsements in the Democratic primary. OH-02 is devoted exclusively to the politics of Ohio’s 2nd congressional district and is the first internet presence to advocate consistently for Hackett.

June 5 – Having been impressed by Hackett in person, Baker encourages his Republican readers to meet the candidate in person. Soon OH-02 will start posting Hackett’s schedule and press releases.

June 8 – Baker reviews the primary debates. Baker’s wife, posting as Mrs. Editor, calls the Democratic candidates “Paul Hackett and the Funky Bunch.” Referring to Hackett, she says, “The man is hot. I mean JFK Jr. cute. Tall and lean with finely weathered bronzed skin and smile you can’t help but smile back at.”

June 14 – Tim Tagaris writes on Swing State Project that he has a soft spot for Democratic challenger Victoria Wulsin. Later in the day he keeps a running update of primary election results. Hackett takes 56% of the votes in a five challenger field. Schmidt takes 28% in a field of 11 Republicans.

June 15 – Baker follows up on Hackett’s victory in the primary with audio of Hackett’s victory speech. A business-oriented blog with Republican sympathies named Bizzy Blog posts post-election interviews with Hackett and Schmidt. Chris Bowers at MyDD lays out Hackett’s position on key issues and urges readers to support his candidacy.

June 24 – A political wildcard, the blog Dean of Cincinnati reveals that Hackett is doing meet and greets of 40-50 people while Schmidt has spent a week in Washington DC meeting with lobbyists and party bigwigs. Schmidt will eventually need a last-minute infusion of $500,000 from the national Republican party to stay afloat.

June 26 – Baker and Democracy for America affiliate Democracy for Greater Cincinnati begin a campaign to get Hackett listed on DFA’s list of endorsed candidates.

June 29 – Eric Minamyer, an Iraq vet who lost in the Republican primary to Jean Schmidt, takes exception to Hackett saying the biggest threat to national security is “the man in the White House” on his blog. He is quickly refuted by Chris Baker of OH-02. This leads to a blogfight between Minamyer, Baker and Bizzy Blog that lasts several days.

July 7 – State of the Union, the blog of the Ohio Republican Party, reveals that the DNC won’t commit to backing Hackett. On the same day, Hackett and Schmidt face off in a debate. Daily Kos has an operative there who says “Paul won and won good.” Dean of Cincinnati feels so strongly that Hackett wins the debate that it leads with a post titled “Schmidt Must Debate Again… Or Concede Defeat.”

July 8 – Baker posts audio of the debate. Mrs. Editor reports that many in the crowd were wowed by Hackett; reactions included “He’s a looker” and “cutie patootie.”

July 12 – Nearly one month after Hackett wins the Democratic primary, and three weeks from election day, the DCCC puts a notice on its blog asking readers to contribute to Hackett’s campaign. They write: “I first want to thank Ann Driscoll of Mydd.com for alerting me (indirectly) to this Congressional race. Without her tireless efforts to promote Paul Hackett’s vitally important campaign, I wouldn’t be writing this article today.”

July 13 – Beltway Blogroll, the blog of the National Journal, posts an article about the amount of blog interest in the Hackett campaign. They list MyDD, OH-02, Ohio Watch, Lorax Political and others as the interested parties. On OH-02 a playfully indignant Baker writes, “Who’s had your back? Who’s been there from Day One?”

Daily Kos runs a post entitled “What a Difference a Day Makes.” It details the activities of the candidates on October 25, 2004. Paul Hackett was en route from Ramadi to Fallujah, where he would eventually lead a battalion of Marines that controlled what went in and out of the city. Jean Schmidt, serving as a state congresswoman, enjoyed an upscale dinner and a luxury box at a Bengals game, all paid for by a corporation backing Ohio State Senate Bill 250. Schmidt would go on to co-sponsor the bill and fail to report the all-expenses-paid trip. The post is eventually made into a Hackett campaign commercial.

July 18 – Dembloggers posts video of a Hackett ad that Republicans claim creates a false impression of support from George W. Bush. On the same day, Baker posts an email he has received from the Democratic Party that helpfully informs him: on “August 2 there will be a special election to fill a vacant seat in Congress representing the 2nd Congressional district in Southern Ohio.”

July 19 – Blog for America, the blog of Democracy for America, announces DFA’s endorsement of Hackett. The timing coincides with National Blogosphere Day, which blogs across the internet celebrate by urging donations to Hackett’s campaign. In eight hours, Paul Hackett’s ActBlue page pulls in $55,000.

July 20 – Grow Ohio reports that the blogs brought in $80,000 in a single day. Swing State Project reports Hackett currently tops Schmidt in Cash on Hand. Hackett’s money comes from a network of individuals from around the country, each averaging around $50 a donation. According to the FEC reports analyzed by the blogs, Schmidt’s money has come from PACs in average donations of $1,785. Grow Ohio, Swing State Project and OH-02 offer daily information on get-out-the-vote campaigns around the district.

July 22 – Baker puts up a post entitled “Best Campaign Ever,” announcing that voters can attended a campaign event where they go shooting with the avidly pro-gun Hackett and two other Ohio representatives. Tim Tagaris arrives in the district. For the rest of the campaign he will post daily summaries of the action at Grow Ohio and Swing State Project.

July 24 – Eric Minamyer, the Iraq vet who tried for the Republican nomination, questions in his blog whether Hackett ever saw combat or led other Marines, as his campaign ads claim. Tim Tagaris, writing in Daily Kos, calls it the beginning of the Hackett swiftboating. Eric Minamyer is vilified by progressive blogs. On his own website, a commenter says “As a vet, you embarrass and offend me.”

July 25 – Jim McNeill posts on American Prospect Online and calls Hackett “The Model Candidate.” He criticizes the DCCC for having to be prodded into action. On the same day, James Wolcott, contributing editor at Vanity Fair, posts a link to Hackett fundraising sites on his blog. Chris Baker posts with disgust about Eric Minamyer questioning Hackett’s service. According to blogpulse.com Baker’s post becomes the third most linked of the day, across the entire internet. OH-02, a blog covering 100 miles of Southwestern Ohio, becomes one of the top 25 most-read blogs of the day.

July 26 – Hullabaloo and The Left Coaster jump on the blogwagon and urge readers to support Hackett. The Left Coaster notes, “Thanks to the netroots, Paul Hackett has actually been able to beat Schmidt (R-Corrupt Chickenhawk) in fundraising.” Grow Ohio posts a video of Hackett thanking the Netroots. CNN’s Inside the Blogs highlights Grow Ohio and Swing State Project and notes the money and momentum they’ve generated.

July 27 – Paul Hackett’s ActBlue page receives almost 1,000 donations totaling over $50,000 in a 24 hour period. Eric Minamyer answers his own questions about Hackett’s service, saying that Hackett has verified that he was in combat and led Marines.

July 28 – Hackett is the topic of the top three diaries at Daily Kos. Texan bloggers Burnt Orange Report, Off the Kuff, PinkDome, and Greg’s Opinion name Paul Hackett an Honorary Texan and establish an ActBlue page for him. They raise $2,285 in the five days before election day. After the Ohio RNC sends Hackett a letter demanding he stop using the ad that makes it look like the President supports him and vice versa, Atrios names them the “Wankers of the Day.” Atrios’ ActBlue page eventually brings in $40,694 for Hackett.

July 29 – Crooks and Liars posts blogpulse.com to measure the size of the blogswarm. The results:

6/14-6/20: 31 posts from progressive blogs, 19 from conservative

6/21-6/27: 6 progressive, 0 from conservative

6/28-7/4: 27 progressive, 2 conservative

7/5-7/11: 16 progressive, 14 conservative

7/12-7/18: 40 progressive, 7 conservative

7/19-7/25: 151 progressive, 11 conservative

July 26: 77 progressive, 2 conservative

July 27: 72 progressive, 4 conservative

July 28: 108 progressive, 3 conservative

July 29: 93 progressive, 5 conservative

July 31 – Jean Schmidt’s involvement with Tom Noe, the man at the center of Ohio’s statewide coin scandal, has been questioned for weeks. In a one day period it is covered by Americablog, American Street, Annatopia, Atrios, Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, The Left Coaster, Seeing the Forrest, Huffington Post, Left in the West, Majikthise, MyDD, Norwegianity, OH-02, Political Forecast, Sisyphus Shrugged, Stirling Newberry, Swing State Project, The Broad View, The News Blog, and The Stakeholder.

Aug 1 – People Have the Power, Grow Ohio, MyDD, Swing State Project, and OH-02 all have bloggers at ground zero for the last two days of the Hackett campaign.

Aug 2 – On Election Day the Schmidt campaign tries to claim that Hackett would not be the first Iraq vet to serve in Congress. They point to Rep. Kirk (R-IL). The blog Annatopia investigates and exposes the lie, discovering that Kirk had served a support role stateside in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and actually disavowed the Schmidt campaign’s claims.

The conservative blog Red State points to two key things in the race: “1) online donations for Hackett have been extraordinary – somewhere north of 400K in short order, and 2) the absolute “bleh” that Schmidt inspires in her voters.” MyDD points out that the district’s last representative, Republican Rob Portman, took 74% in 2004. Several blogs provide live updates of election results. Hackett loses 52-48. The closeness of the race is herald as a victory for Hackett by the blogs, the press, the Democratic Party and the candidate himself.

Aug 5 – The Netroots win Bill Schneider’s Political Play of the Week on CNN.

Aug 15 – MSNBC posts a lessons-learned report on the blogs of the Hackett campaign. The director of a conservative anti-tax group admits the right can learn a lot from the bloggers’ performance. Beltway Blogroll highlights the difference in philosophy between the progressive netroots and the Democratic Party establishment.

Aug 22 – Michael Crowley, who had written an article about Hackett for The New Republic, posts on Talking Points Memo that the Hackett-for-Senate speculation is heating up. Members of the Daily Kos community openly cheer for Hackett to run.

Aug 26 – Grow Ohio posts a map of Paul Hackett’s online contributors. In the month of July, they raised $442,248. According to John Lapp, DCCC executive director, the DCCC put in $300,000 over the course of the whole race.