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The Say-Town Lowdown

Democraticprimaries in Texas used to be a spectator sport fit for pay-per-view.

Remember when Jim Maddox and Ann Richards duked it out in ’88, with bribery allegations (against Maddox) and drug and alcohol allegations (against Richards) taking center stage? Or when now-fallen-star Dan Morales sent out dossiers accusing Tony Sanchez of being a money launderer for drug lords to newspapers across the state in ’02? Those were the days.

Now it seems that the earliest blood in a Democratic Primary may not be who can dish the dirt the fastest, but who has the biggest “Netroots” cojones.

For anyone who has been taking a siesta since Howard Dean ran for President back in 2004, technology and the internet have brought a new force to bear in Democratic primary circles known as the Netroots — which encompasses everyone from bloggers and blog diarists and commenters to folks who subscribe to emails from national organizations like MoveOn.org.

Getting Netroots support early has been key to candidates in many states for several election cycles now. In 2006, the Texas Netroots proved its worth through its work in contests like the Rodriguez-Cuellar grudge match in Congressional District 28 (prior to re-redistricting) and the Uresti-Madla race around Bexar County.

Now (as evidenced by two straight weeks of mention in this publication — see The Mashup, July 25-31, August 1-7), Democratic primaries are as much about Netroots support as they are anything else — at least at this stage. The dueling exploratory campaigns of San Antonio trial lawyer Mikal Watts and State Representative Rick Noriega are perhaps the first example of a statewide race not only being covered — but propelled — by the Netroots.

A decade ago, a grassroots campaign was Victor Morales driving around Texas in his little pickup. Now, it’s a bunch of internet activists engaged in fairly constant (and, to a great degree, unapologetic) support of their man or woman for a particular office. After all, with more Texans spending more and more time on the internet every day — not to mention getting their political news online — the days of the pickup truck trolling from county to county early on has been replaced with the e-mail forward and the blog post. That’s not to say that the Netroots has taken or will take the place of all of the face-to-face, county-to-county stuff that is part of every Democratic Primary campaign. But, it is clearly the new place for generating buzz early.

And, for the record, I’ve never made any secret about who my choice is, as I’m a supporter of the “Draft Noriega” movement and a part of the Netroots as well at Capitolannex.com. To wit, Rick Noriega this week took a “star turn” at the Yearly Kos Convention in Chicago, an annual gathering of Netroots activists from across the nation. He received the ultimate honor from the über-godfather of the Netroots movement, Markos Zuniga, who wore a Noriega campaign pin during a press conference with the mainstream media and through much of the convention. Why? Because national Netroots support is as of vital importance to a candidate as local Netroots support. National Netroots-backed candidates like Tester in Montana and Lamont in Connecticut are a testament to this. Both lagged behind their challengers in primaries, but came out on top thanks in part to Netroots buzz — and money.

The 2008 U.S. Senate race in Texas will be a true test of the Texas Netroots. A win for the Netroots’ candidate, Noriega, would show that the influence of the Netroots isn’t limited to statewide campaigns in small states like Connecticut or sparsely populated states like Montana, and that the Netroots can make a difference on a statewide level in places as red as a hot chili pepper. •


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