Newt, pot lead iFrist in podcasts

Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is foundering.
On the Democratic side, he lags behind several current and former colleagues, as well as retired Gen. Wesley Clark. He cannot compete with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Truth be told, he is less popular than pot.

Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is foundering.

On the Democratic side, he lags behind several current and former colleagues, as well as retired Gen. Wesley Clark. He cannot compete with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Truth be told, he is less popular than pot.

No, these standings are not taken from a poll about the prospective 2008 presidential hopefuls but from the rankings of the most popular political podcasts put out on Apple Computer’s iTunes Music Store.

Despite its hypertrendy moniker, the Senate majority leader’s “iFrist” podcast disappeared from Apple’s list of the top 100 political podcast recordings this week. Then, in a flash, it resurfaced at No. 73 yesterday.

An earlier iteration of Frist’s podcast, simply called “U.S. Senate Majority Leader Podcast,” is higher on the charts — No. 51 at last check — but the much-ballyhooed “iFrist,” which cracked the top 25 last week, is, by comparison, idle.

The daily rankings are based on the number of subscribers, according to Apple spokesman Derick Mains.

Frist is pictured in the iFrist logo wearing a well starched, French-cuffed blue dress shirt, with newspaper in hand and “buds” — the Apple-hip nickname for the earphones that come with the company’s iPod multimedia player — connected to his head. 

But Frist is self-aware enough to show a little humor at his own expense.

“It’s consoling to know that if my podcasts put you to sleep, at least I won’t have to see you snoozing,” he writes on the website of his Volunteer Political Action Committee (VOLPAC), which sponsors the podcasts and a related “iFrist Volunteers” program.

The picture of Frist with his iPod may put congressional aides and observers in stitches, but Frist could end up laughing all the way to the phone bank.

Presidential contenders “are really at this point looking at ways to reach out to new people, grow the size of their list,” said Brent Blackaby, co-founder of Blackrock Associates, a California-based online political consulting firm that lists Clark among its clients. “When the time comes to do something with it, they already have a huge pool of people.”

Clark’s podcast was riding high at No. 10 yesterday morning and has consistently been in the top 10 in recent days. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was No. 3. Gingrich, who many believe harbors 2008 hopes, climbed to No. 20 with his “iNewt” podcast. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is at No. 47. And the collective audio releases of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), including recordings of comedian Tommy Chong, was at No. 32.

For Frist, a heart surgeon by trade, the podcasts are just part of an expanding Internet operation that VOLPAC uses to recruit supporters.

“We offer the forum, and we offer the information on the different campaigns, but it’s up to the people involved to spread the word,” VOLPAC spokeswoman Janey Rudd said.

The senator, a Princeton and Harvard graduate who is said to favor country legends Brooks & Dunn on his own iPod, is no newcomer to high technology.

“He lives on his BlackBerry,” Rudd said.