Patrick Ruffini

The Democratic race has gotten a whole lot less interesting in the last few days. Obama has stalled, and the wave of publicity that kept Edwards in the game after a disappointing start has receded. Hillary is looking a lot more like the prohibitive frontrunner.

At the same time, the Republican race is more dynamic than ever, with four candidates with legitimate (and roughly equal) shots of getting the nomination.

Jerome Armstrong gives voice to the nutroots' frustration. He correctly perceives Barack Obama as an image candidate who talks the talk but won't really engage the "movement." Edwards, putatively the neroots frontrunner and riding on the wings of Joe Trippi, godfather to the online left, is stuck in the teens.

This is a teachable moment, and a significant one at that. Netroots power is at a high ebb. They are so much bigger than they were in 2003 when they propelled Dean to the top of the polls.

And where is their main candidate? Stuck a distant third in the polls, in Web traffic, and in online fundraising, getting about the support one would expect from a golden boy from the last Presidential ticket.

If the netroots is all it's cracked up to be, shouldn't Edwards be far ahead in the online metrics and be more competitive in the polls? Instead, Obama is ahead on those metrics, and he's the one who HASN'T engaged the movement.

The netroots footprint on this primary is limited in scope and well defined. Lo and behold, they aren't the largest constituency in the Democratic Party. They aren't even the largest constituency online.

See, Barack Obama has mobilized people, even if he hasn't mobilized the netroots. He's brought in students, African Americans, and apparently, young females. These are groups that are relatively apolitical. That's why when you loosen the likely voter screen just a little, Obama does a lot better.

But for all that they celebrate bringing new people into the process, the fact remains that Obama's voters are not the netroots. Demographically, the netroots are older (45 is the median), whiter, and more academic. They are fairly conventional liberals and "supervoters" -- turning up in every general and most primaries. Obama's voters are not. Not only is Obama not talking to the netroots; like Hillary, he has made a calculation that he does not need the netroots.

The core reason for Jerome's alienation is that the netroots are losing a battle for relevance to a bunch of Obama-supporting, Facebook-addled college kids. When the second quarter closes, it will probably be announced that Obama has raised at least $15 million online, three times what Dean did at this point last cycle, and about twice Edwards' total. Obama has done it with some netroots support, but the not inconsiderable difference between him and Edwards is due to a cult of personality that matters far more than anyone's support on the blogs.

For people like Kos and Jerome to be big, the space they're operating in must be claustrophobic. But this race features larger than life personalities in Hillary and Obama, and the netroots kingmakers just can't keep up. The smallness of the 2003-04 race, with its seven dwarves, none of whom could crack 15%, is what made that year such a fertile environment for the netroots.

Paradoxically, I wonder if this won't be a better year for the rightroots after all, and for the same reason that 2003 was good for the netroots. People don't much like the candidates and are generally pissed off. With the candidates so evenly bunched, won't the small edge that the rightroots can provide matter more? The netroots may be larger in absolute terms, but their task -- toppling Hillary -- is many, many, many times larger.

Jerome's exasperation shows they may not be up to it. 


Patrick Ruffini

Patrick Ruffini is an online strategist dedicated to helping Republicans and conservatives achieve dominance in a networked era. He has seen American politics from every vantagepoint — as a campaign staffer, activist, and analyst.