Bloggers prefer Shadegg or Boehner

Growing opposition to Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.) among conservative bloggers threatens to generate political momentum against his campaign to permanently replace Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as House majority leader, according to those who have studied the growing influence of alternative media in politics.

A growing number of influential conservative bloggers are throwing their support behind Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), who is also running for majority leader, while Blunt is drawing negative reviews. Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the third candidate in the race, is receiving a better reaction from conservative bloggers than Blunt. But Boehner has garnered fewer accolades in the conservative blogosphere than Shadegg.

Conservative bloggers growing criticism of Blunt has gained attention since Thursday when the three candidates held separate conference calls with groups of bloggers.

“It’s fair to say that the bloggers on the conference call had a more positive reaction to Shadegg and Boehner than to Blunt,” said blogger NZ Bear, the founder of The Truth Laid Bear, who organized the conference calls with Shadegg and Boehner. He added that he’s seen a handful of bloggers endorse Shadegg and does not know of any supporting Blunt or Boehner.

“I don’t think it’s a secret or controversial statement of the three candidates Blunt seems most connected to the old guard and arguably seems the least committed, the least interested in significant reform and shaking things up,” said NZ Bear, who said he does not plan to endorse any of the candidates. He said his site receives an average of 7,000 daily visits.

“I can’t find a blogger that’s for Blunt,” said Mike Krempasky, who participated in the calls with the three candidates.

Krempasky, the co-founder of RedState.com, which he said had 1.8 million unique visits during October, at the height of the controversy over former Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, has endorsed Shadegg.

“Blunt would have us think this is over, he told us that on the call,” said Krempasky. “Whether or not blogger or interest can change the outcome of race we don’t know. What we do know is that Republicans have a pretty good idea how important this medium is to their long-term success.”

The Mark Levin Blog on National Review Online defended Blunt, giving an indication of the ferocity of the conservatives’ onslaught: “Why all the piling on? I agree that Blunt doesn’t bring much to the table. Fair enough. But why turn him into a sleazeball?”

Jessica Boulanger, a spokeswoman for Blunt, said that her boss is receptive to what conservative bloggers have to say about the future of the Republican Party.

“He recognizes that bloggers are very opinionated and colorful and spirited groups,” she said. “He looks forward to working with conservative bloggers in the future to direct their firepower on the Democrats.”

Republicans on the Hill have indeed recognized the ability of conservative bloggers to communicate directly with the party base.  Senate Republican leadership aides set up exclusive briefings for conservative bloggers during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

Academics who study technology say that conservative bloggers’ lack of support for Blunt is likely to have a political effect.

“I think that it has the [potential] to have a real political impact,” said Henry Farrell, an assistant professor at the Center for International Science and Technology at George Washington University, who is considered an expert on blogs.

Farrell said that blogs are not a mass medium but they have the ability to influence elite groups such as journalists, conservative activists, and congressional staffers who read them. Farrell said that bloggers helped establish a series of negative impressions about Miers and that Republican leaders have since become “more proactive” in maintaining ties with them.

While conservative bloggers’ reaction to Blunt, Shadegg and Boehner has drawn little notice in the mainstream media, it poses a threat for Blunt and opportunity for Shadegg and Boehner because of the profile of these online personalities among the conservative base, Republican congressional staff, and conservative grassroots activists and leaders.

Associate Professor David Grier, another scholar at George Washington University who specializes in technology, said that conservative bloggers have influence because they are perceived by members of the conservative base as insiders who know more about the internal workings of the Republican party.

Bloggers on both ends of the political spectrum have demonstrated an ability to have significant political impact in recent years.

Conservative bloggers as well as conservative activists used the Internet and e-mail to help generate strong opposition among the Republican base to Miers in the fall of last year. The momentum that developed against Miers ultimately forced her to withdraw consideration.

Five years ago, bloggers drew attention to controversial comments then Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) made at a birthday celebration honoring the late Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), sparking a media storm that forced Lott to resign his position in the Republican leadership.

And the rapid and unexpected rise of former Democratic Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary was largely fueled by the support of liberal bloggers and online activists. Though Dean’s presidential candidacy collapsed after his rivals questioned his electability in a general election match-up, Dean retained enough support among the liberal base to later become chairman of the Democratic National Committee.