The internet is a purely democratic medium, and no power structure has changed more significantly at its hands than the frustratingly undemocratic business of American politics. Today, politics is more than just speeches at the Rotary Club and backyard barbeques — it’s also YouTube videos and daily blogs. America’s political landscape is no longer the sole creation of crafty consultants and million-dollar lobbyists. The internet has changed the equation.
Earlier this month, the fruits of that change were on full display in Chicago for the second-
annual YearlyKos convention. The convention brings together political activists, consultants, journalists, and bloggers for a week of political discussions. From roundtable groups on various public policies to a forum featuring Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and others, YearlyKos is a mecca for online political organizers.
At this year’s convention, Texas politics was the epicenter of the national discussion, with two Texas candidates at the forefront: Democrat Dan Grant, a candidate for the Tenth Congressional District, and Houston State Representative Lt. Col Rick Noriega, a candidate exploring a race against Junior U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-San Antonio). Both attended Chicago to turn their campaigns into national events, and the two men were successful at bringing some long-awaited national attention to Texas.
“In 2006 I was primarily focused on getting John Tester elected in Montana,” said Markos Moulitsas, founder of DailyKos, a progressive political blog that boasts over a million visitors a day. “This year, I am going to do everything I can to elect Rick Noriega in Texas.”
It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say that Moulitsas’s ringing endorsement is the political equivalent of a Bill Gates letter of recommendation. His site — Daily Kos — worked with other leading progressive sites such as MyDD.com and the Swing State Project to raise more than $1.5 million for 17 candidates in the 2006 election cycle.
The 2006 elections were the tipping point for successful online political organization. The people-powered movement was able to propel its own brand of candidates to high political offices. Their successes include U.S. Senators Jon Tester (Montana) and Jim Webb (Virginia). Many at the convention are hoping to send a third people-powered candidate to the U.S. Senate — Rick Noriega.
Immediately after the convention, an article in the Washington Post conveyed the level of support Noriega developed in Chicago, saying that “many at the YearlyKos convention cared more about Democrat Rick Noriega than Sen. Barack Obama. They hoped Mr. Noriega will unseat Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican … ”
Cornyn’s low approval ratings — which have stagnated around 31 percent according to the latest polls — have given Democrats across the country hope for an upset. Nationally, another Democrat in the U.S. Senate would mean wonders for the agenda of the Democratic Party, but if it’s possible, the implications of a Cornyn defeat are even more meaningful here in Texas.
A Republican statewide loss could create coattails for Congressional candidates or even usher in a Democratic majority in the state legislature. One candidate that benefits from Noriega’s national attention is Dan Grant. Grant is running in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from northern Austin along U.S. Highway 290 all the way into northwest Houston. Grant is emphasizing a strong foreign-policy background and the opportunity for a “fresh start” for the people in the district — a message which, he hopes, will help him build a formidable challenge to incumbent Republican Congressman Mike McCaul.
In 2006, McCaul received 55 percent of the vote even though the Democratic challenger, Ted Ankrum, spent only $65,000. To date, Grant has already raised more than Ankrum did in 2006, well over 15 months before the election. The increased awareness and financial support the national netroots can provide could easily be the tipping point in Grant’s race — a sure reason why he visited YearlyKos.
“`He was` one of the most interesting people I met at YearlyKos” said Matt Yglesias from the Atlantic Online. “Dan has the kind of meaningful, detailed knowledge of U.S. Middle East policy issues — not just the right stance on the war, but real understanding of and engagement with what’s happening. He also has a good politician’s voice, and can very earnestly say things like ‘the mortar shells didn’t really care whether or not I was wearing a uniform when they blew up my office.’”
Only time will tell if the attention Grant and Noriega received in Chicago will translate to victory in the voting booths. Both Grant and Noriega face well-funded primary opponents before they can look to defeating Republican incumbents in November. One thing is for certain, though: The influence of the people-powered internet will certainly help level the playing field for both Texas candidates. And a little democracy for Democracy’s sake can be a very good thing. •