Republicans Battle the Blogs

It used to be that you had to be The New York Times to raise the ire of the Republican National Committee, or radio icon Rush Limbaugh to get the Democrats chomping at the bit.

Now add blogs to the list of political actors worthy of official condemnation from the political powers that be.

The RNC sent an e-mail to supporters and members of the media today criticizing Markos Moulitsas, founder of the popular liberal Web log Daily Kos, for what it calls "hate-filled" rhetoric on the Web site.

It's not the first time they've singled him out, but it does put bloggers -- formerly on the fringes of politics -- front and center along with the most important traditional political activists.

Political watchers see it as recognition by organizations like the RNC that blogs are here to stay.

"It means that they know who the new power brokers in politics are," said Julie Germany, the deputy director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University.

Blogs as political power brokers? Germany says that bloggers have helped level the playing field by taking power away from the proverbial smoke-filled rooms that used to determine the course of party politics.

"Some of that power has transitioned to everyone else," she said.

And that power, whoever holds it, draws the attention of the opposite party, as Moulitsas has drawn the attention of Republicans. The RNC's "research briefing," as it is called, was titled "Who Is Markos Moulitsas Zuniga?"

The RNC "wants to let folks know about who he is," said Danny Diaz, an RNC official.

"He's closely involved with Democrat strategy," Diaz said. "He's shaping a lot of the party's message, and some of their tactics."

The Democratic National Committee disputes the characterization of their relationship with Moulitsas.

"He's not a consultant, there's no formal relationship," said one DNC official.

"The blogging community works independently of us," the official said.

But that the RNC even cares what gets said on a Web site, even a well trafficked one like Daily Kos, shows an evolution in the power of blogs.

"The day that blogs identified that the documents aired by Dan Rather were fraudulent, I think the blog and Internet world legitimized itself," Diaz said.

Since then, Moulitsas, through his Web site, has helped to raise money for Democrats in races around the country. A convention of liberal bloggers and activists called Yearly Kos was held in Las Vegas earlier this year and drew Democratic heavyweights, such as the Democratic leader in the Senate and several Democratic governors.

Though Moulitsas told ABC News' "Nightline" he did not organize the Yearly Kos, the organizers used his name to draw attention and support.

Most recently, Moulitsas and his blog were credited with helping political novice Ned Lamont defeat Joe Lieberman -- an 18-year veteran of the Senate and his party's nominee for vice president in 2000 -- in their Connecticut primary.

In his interview with "Nightline," Moulitsas said the role of blogs is to create excitement about candidates, which leads to increased activism and increased fundraising ability.

"The fact is that there's hundreds of thousands of incredibly motivated, active political partisans working on the blogs," Moulitsas said in July. "These people generate buzz, it generates local activism."

"One of the side effects of buzz is money," he said.

That blogs and the Internet have gained so much power does not surprise Julie Germany of George Washington University. In 2004, Howard Dean raised more money for his bid to become the Democratic presidential nominee on the Internet than had been raised in any election before. His Internet success was attributed to the liberal activist group moveon.org rather than an individual blog or blogger.

Now, political power on the Internet has spread to even more individuals. And with bloggers' ability to raise money comes power and recognition from more traditional political players.

"This is something that for the past couple of years we've suspected would come," she said.

Now that the RNC is singling out Daily Kos for scrutiny, the rest of mainstream politics seems to realize the power of the blogs too.

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