Today was an awesome day. As usual, I made the trip out to Bucks County, a suburban area of Philadelphia in Southeast Pennsylvania, to volunteer my time for PA-08 Democratic nominee Patrick Murphy. This race is going to go right down to the wire, as a new internal poll shows Patrick now within 5 points of the incumbent, freshman GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick. However, it was a little different this time – instead of riding the R7 out to the campaign’s Levittown office, I got a ride there from the guys who are filming Crashing The States, a project that will, in its finished form, be a documentary about the netroots-endorsed candidates and netroots allies. The crew – all 3 of them – are pictured above; from left to right, you have AJ, one of the cameramen and the only non-blogger, Dante Atkins (aka hekebolos), and Gary Abramson (aka Reality Bites Back).
The CTS crew (as I’ll abbreviate Crashing The States throughout this entry) pulled in front of my dorm building shortly after 12:30, if I recall correctly. I’ll admit that I was a bit anxious to meet them; because they are traveling across the country to see netroots candidates of all stripes, I was interested in hearing what they had to say about their experiences to date. Admittedly, PA-08 was early on their list of stops; to date, CTS has covered NC-08 Democratic candidate Larry Kissell, VA-Sen Democratic nominee Jim Webb, and PA-07 Democratic candidate Joe Sestak. After introducing myself to the crew, I was handed a mic to clip onto my shirt while AJ got a camera set up. It was kind of cool to be filmed, in a way – I don’t consider myself any more significant than the thousands of political bloggers throughout the blogosphere. I hopped in the back seat, where Dante was seated, laptop out, satellite Internet connection ready to go. AJ hopped in, and Gary started out towards Patrick’s headquarters with the help of a GPS system. Within the first minute, it was telling us to drive through a fenced-off area.
After getting the basic details out of the way – such as where my blogger ID is derived from (hint: it’s part decade-old RTS game, part David Blaine TV special) – I asked Dante how the beginning of their nation-spanning sojourn had been. So far, I get the impression that it’s been going very well. Clearly, it seems like the best experience to date was when they visited the Webb campaign…something that was covered slightly less due to the incompetence of our congresspeople’s schedulers in Washington, D.C. CTS missed a Webb visit to a torpedo factory, along with the much-publicized rally with Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). They ended up interviewing Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and, perhaps more surprisingly, Senator John Kerry (D-MA). When speaking with Kerry, Dante told me, the senator told CTS that he was well aware that many of us were highly displeased with him. It didn’t deter him, though – he knows that we’re a part of the game. I expressed dismay about how many elected Democratic officials posted ‘hit-and-run’ diaries, and even those who did interacted, such as Kerry has, often don’t respond to questions; instead, they say ‘Thanks for your support’, ‘Keep up the good work’, or other equally vacuous statements. Most of the time, though, politicians don’t actually type their own blog posts; a communications staffer is usually responsible, which is why there’s not much response when we ask questions. The one exception, Dante noted, was Representative Brad Miller (D-NC); we also hypothesized that IN-06 Democratic candidate Barry Welsh does as well.
One of the first questions I fielded dealt with my history within the blogosphere. It’s not as long or as glorious as the path traveled by others, but it’s worth chatting about – we all ended up here in a different way. I started getting involved in the blogosphere more than 2 years ago at The Left Coaster, a blog started by Daily Kos front-page alumnus Steve Soto. After a while I eventually migrated over to Daily Kos by the end of the 2004 summer, and I was a lurker for the most part. I began posting a few stories, but after getting very little response, I became discouraged and stopped writing, choosing to instead comment in whatever threads struck me as…well, worth commenting on. I started hosting the open threads for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report when the latter show began in October 2005. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until around April or May of this year that I became a serious writer – not just one who would rant about something or simply throw up a link to a news story and analyze it without much detail. Since then, I feel like I’ve developed as a blogger, and it’s been much more fascinating to be an active participant of the blogosphere.
One of the questions I was asked by AJ was what I was ‘best known for’ in the blogosphere. I have no idea the perceptions others have of myself are, but I posited (probably reasonably) that it was my series of ground reports from the Connecticut Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, along with the liveblogging of the victory party for Ned Lamont, that made me a little more known than I had been. I expressed, though, that the blogging really isn’t all about simply writing about what’s popular at the time. I readily admitted that I had been discouraged in my earlier days on Daily Kos, when it seemed like a cult of personality existed around certain members to the point that it was difficult to break onto the recommended list (which, to a degree, it still is). But I’ve found that I have found success through writing about topics that may not necessarily generate as much enthusiasm as the hot topics of the day – such as poverty or the Prudhoe Bay oil field shutdown – if you can analyze a topic in a thoughtful manner and inform others about them as well.
In association with the CT-Sen race, I noted that I believed the next step that bloggers would take more often was the role of a citizen journalist. I believe that the national blogs were helpful in raising Lamont’s profile, but, truth be told, blogs like Daily Kos and MyDD covering the race wouldn’t have won it. It was the local blogs in Connecticut – ones like My Left Nutmeg, CT Bob, Spazeboy, and Connecticut Blog that were ultimately the most responsible for helping to push Lamont towards victory. The Kiss Float, the endless videos recording Lieberman’s every action – this is what drove Lieberman’s negatives up and made Lamont a viable alternative. It’s why I’ve been so diligent in writing my ground reports, whether it be for CT-Sen or for PA-08 – I feel that those in the blogosphere often have a broad overview of the race, but they don’t know the nitty-gritty details of what is going on. That’s why the rise of citizen journalists in the blogosphere is important – they bring details from the source about the races that you won’t get anywhere else.
As we pulled off of I-95 and began approaching Murphy headquarters, we briefly discussed the PA-08 race. Mike Fitzpatrick, Patrick’s opponent, is a lifelong politician who has served roughly 15 years in public office. He’s a local guy, someone who has deep ties to the community, but he’s out of step on the social issues, along with the general trends within the district – John Kerry won this district in 2004, and with Ed Rendell and Bob Casey heading the ticket in Pennsylvania this year, it’s almost expected that Democrats will dominate the southeast PA suburbs, which is where the elections in this state are won. I spoke about what my canvassing has been about to date, and I did include a little bit of criticism about the campaign – namely, that it seems like our ground operation is largely centered around Patrick and his impressive biography, when I believe that as the election pulls closer, we need to start talking about the issues that people care about – Iraq, the economy, health care, and so forth. Nevertheless, as we pulled into the parking lot, I said that we needed to put boots on the ground. We can sit behind our computers and blog all we want, I told Dante (and the camera), but there’s only so much that will do. In the end, getting out, volunteering our time, and hitting the streets is what will win this election for us.
When I stepped in, the CTS guys informed me that they’d like to film me getting my canvassing materials and heading out to the turf I was supposed to cover. At this time, we thought that Patrick wasn’t going to be around – he was supposed to be involved in private events all day, and he wouldn’t be available to CTS for a segment they’d like to do. In the end, though, Patrick emerged from his office at the campaign headquarters and greeted all of us, saying that he’d be available to chat with them for a few minutes. Dante was wonderfully surprised, and the cameras were unloaded from the car. Patrick gave them 5 minutes, but it was definitely more than enough material. He doesn’t forget who his friends are, and he made it clear that without the netroots, he wouldn’t be where he was today. In fact, he believes that if he wins the PA-08 seat, it will be because of all the help – monetary and otherwise – that he has received from us. It’s clear that Patrick is in touch with the blogosphere; his campaign posts at MyDD, he has attended Drinking Liberally here, he has been in contact with the excellent bloggers located in Philadelphia, and Patrick himself is a fond reader of the blogs, something that his wife attested to. After the interview finished, he shook all of our hands as he readied himself for whatever was next on his schedule. Before he departed, we got a quick picture with the candidate, with yours truly on the left and Gary on the right.
As I was running late, I had to get out canvassing. I quickly mic’d myself up again as CTS filmed myself getting my canvassing materials and being driven off to my turf. We discussed much more than I am able to immediately recollect here, but the CTS guys filmed a lot of material, and Dante informed me that they’d digitize some of the video and upload it for others to see. Hopefully, I didn’t make myself sound too foolish, and I may come off as a bit enthusiastic, but it was great to be a little part of this monumental project. Crashing The States is a monumental achievement for citizen journalism by bloggers, and I’m humbled that I could be a small part of it. If you’d like to read Dante’s recollection of the Philly-area events, you can read his Daily Kos diary on the past few days’ happenings.
Part II, which will appear tomorrow, will be my ground report for today’s canvassing in PA-08. I hope you’ll be back to read it.