McCain reaches out to non-con­ser­va­tive blogs

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Stephen Di­nan

Sen. John McCain’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign is try­ing to tap a new au­di­ence of po­ten­tial vot­ers by tak­ing his cam­paign mes­sage straight to lib­eral and non­po­lit­i­cal is­sues­based blogs, which reach mil­lions of read­ers but don’t of­ten delve into con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics.

The strat­egy was in full swing May 15 when Mr. McCain in­vited non-con­ser­va­tive blog­gers to join his reg­u­lar blog­ger con­fer­ence call, just hours af­ter he de­liv­ered a ma­jor speech pre­view­ing his war strat­egy and other pri­or­i­ties for a first pres­i­den­tial term.

It al­ready has started a war

among lib­eral blog­gers over how to re­act to Mr. McCain’s over­ture.

In an­swer­ing the first ques­tion on the call, Mr. McCain said his likely Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Sen. Barack Obama, lacks the judg­ment to be com­man­der in chief, which set him up for a bruis­ing from the read­ers at Talk­ingPointsMemo.com, a lib­eral-lean­ing site that joined in the call.

Blog­ger Greg Sar­gent said it amounted to “what may be [Mr. McCain’s] most di­rect at­tack yet on Barack Obama’s na­tional se­cu­rity cre­den­tials.” But com­menters were split: Some took aim at Mr. McCain, some said they were thank­ful for the intelligence on “what the en­emy is plan­ning,” and oth­ers lashed out at Mr. Sar­gent, say­ing he should have been harsher in eval­u­at­ing Mr. McCain’s at­tack.

“This IS a Demo­cratic blog, and as such, it would seem to me that there SHOULD be SOME bias with re­gards to how YOU re- port of McCain’s crazi­ness, as op­posed to treat­ing his rant­ing and at­tacks with a sort of dig­nity they and he DO NOT de­serve,” wrote one em­pha­sis-abun­dant reader.

Mr. McCain’s cam­paign said the Web out­reach is a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion of an at­tempt to reach vot­ers be­yond his base. It also builds on his suc­cess­ful use of con­fer­ence calls with con­ser­va­tive blog­gers dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­mary, which blunted many of the harsh­est crit­i­cisms of the sen­a­tor.

“The plan is to take the work we’ve al­ready built on with con­ser­va­tive blog­gers and to open up a di­a­logue with non-con­ser­va­tive blog­gers and even non­po­lit­i­cal blog­gers,” said Pa­trick Hynes, Mr. McCain’s point man for blog out­reach.

“We hope to be the most ac­ces­si­ble and trans­par­ent cam­paign in his­tory, to take ad­van­tage of what we think is one of the cam­paign’s strong­est as­sets, which is Sen­a­tor McCain him­self, and frankly to em­power vot­ers who are also blog­gers to get the an­swers they need to de­cide who to vote for.”

A call two weeks ago fo­cused on Mr. McCain’s health care plans. Top McCain ad­vis­ers talked with health- care-spe­cific blog­gers and sites that cater to moth­ers, a de­mo­graphic that the cam­paign fig­ured would be in­ter­ested in health care is­sues. The cam­paign also de­ployed ad­viser Carly Fio­r­ina, for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Hewlett-Packard, to talk with ma­jor health site We­bMD’s re­porter.

Democrats have had suc­cess with on­line fundrais­ing, but con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral blog­gers said Mr. McCain’s out­reach to them puts the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee far ahead of his Demo­cratic coun­ter­parts in get­ting out in­for­ma­tion.

David All, a blog­ger who also runs Slatecard.com, a site that chan­nels on­line con­tri­bu­tions to Repub­li­can can­di­dates, said reach­ing blog­gers is not about mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but about reach­ing opin­ion lead­ers who are likely to help shape oth­ers’ opin­ions. By tak­ing that be­yond the po­lit­i­cal and into the pol­icy ar­eas, Mr. McCain is tap­ping a wide-open mar­ket.

“They are the ex­perts in un­der­stand­ing health care pol­icy, and they are the ones who will get be­yond the first two bul­let points of a health care de­bate,” Mr. All said. “Ev­ery­one who’s read­ing the health care blogs, the first sen­tence they’re go­ing to see is some­thing to the ef­fect of, look, I don’t agree with ev­ery­thing in this plan, but I just got off the phone with John McCain, and now here are my more-in­formed thoughts on the plan.”

Those who fol­low blog­ging said the McCain cam­paign will have to pick and choose whom to in­vite to con­fer­ence calls, ar­gu­ing that some sites won’t treat Mr. McCain fairly.

“I don’t think the peo­ple at Dai­lyKos are go­ing to treat John McCain mer­ci­fully, but I think the fact that peo­ple get their ques­tion heard makes them dial it back a bit,” said Soren Day­ton, a blog­ger who worked briefly for the McCain cam­paign and now works at a pub­lic af­fairs com­pany, New Me­dia Strate­gies.

Go­ing for­ward, Mr. Hynes said, the cam­paign would like to have Mr. McCain talk to sports blog­gers, too, as a way to “hu­man­ize John McCain as some­thing other than a car­bon­copy politi­cian run­ning for of­fice, de­liv­er­ing talk­ing points.”

On the May 15 call, Mr. McCain fielded seven ques­tions, in­clud­ing three from non-con­ser­va­tive blog­gers: Kate Shep­pard, po­lit­i­cal re- porter for en­vi­ron­men­tal Web site Grist.org; Joanne Bam­berger of P u n d i t M o m (http://pun­dit­mom1.blogspot.com); and Erin Kotecki Vest, who blogs at catchall site BlogHer.com as well as lib­eral sites Huff­in­g­ton­Post.com and MOMocrats.com.

“I give them an A for ef­fort,” Ms. Vest said in a phone in­ter­view af­ter the con­fer­ence call.

She asked Mr. McCain whether the vi­sion he laid out of U.S. troops suc­ceed­ing in Iraq by 2013 didn’t amount to the sort of timetable he has crit­i­cized when Democrats pro­pose a spe­cific date for with­drawal.

Mr. McCain shot right back: “Ei­ther you didn’t read or didn’t un­der­stand my speech. One of the two.”

Ms. Vest said she “read it and un­der­stood it just fine, and I don’t un­der­stand how 2013 isn’t a date.”

She said she doesn’t ex­pect blog­gers to be as nice as some of the tra­di­tional me­dia have been in ask­ing him ques­tions, and was thank­ful for the chance.

“The fact that I could ask my ques­tion and have it smacked down is farther than a lot of peo­ple could get,” she said.

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