The historic selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate is igniting grassroots support. According to McCain political director Mike DuHaime, interest in volunteering for the McCain campaign more than quadrupled the weekend after Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was announced as John McCain’s running mate. What is more, within hours of Palin’s selection, the McCain campaign raked in more than $7 million.
But while this increase in fundraising and grassroots excitement has been widely reported, little has been written about the dramatic positive impact the Palin pick has had on conservative blogosphere, or “rightroots”, which prior to the Palin pick had been woefully anemic, but has since become invigorated.
At sites like Townhall.com, page view traffic is on an upswing since the Palin pick. Judging by the increased number of page views (which for many sites has more than doubled) and comments across the blogosphere, the Palin pick hasn’t just been good for the country or John McCain – it’s been good for business, too!
But will this online excitement translate into online campaign success for McCain? Just after the GOP convention in Minnesota, I spoke to a group of online activists attending the RightOnline Training Seminar in Teaneck, New Jersey. A souvenir from the GOP convention was still in my jacket pocket, so in a moment of spontaneous inspiration I held up my new campaign pin which read: “Hottest VP from the Coldest State”. The audience went wild with applause. Clearly, this group was enthused. And if this group of conservative online activists is any indication, the Palin pick may help close the online energy-gap as McCain’s team faces down Obama’s online juggernaut.
So why has Sarah Palin been able to excite online conservatives? For one thing, the dichotomy between conservative activists and conservative bloggers is disappearing. As RNC spokeswoman Liz Mair told me: “Like many voters, conservatives reading and contributing to blogs and online media believe we need to shake things up in Washington, cut wasteful spending and work to ensure America’s energy independence." Simply put, internet literacy and sophistication has evolved to a point that when you excite conservatives you will automatically see an up-tick in online activity. And the powerful combination of Palin’s conservative ideas, outsider credentials, youthful energy and natural charisma has conspired to make her a tremendously exciting pick for conservatives.
In the past, candidates ranging from Howard Dean to Ron Paul to Barack Obama have generated online interest – not merely because they had the best tech geeks to build the best websites (though this no doubt helps) – but because they tapped-into the passions of supporters who were then empowered to use the internet to express that enthusiasm. In fact, Dean and Paul are both essentially self-confessed Luddites. Their appeal was in their ideas and personalities, not their tactics. The same is true of Sarah Palin.
Granted, having a spiffy new website with all the bells and whistles helps, but no amount of gadgetry will make a boring candidate exciting. And if a candidate is exciting enough, the activists will do the work for you. This was the case for Sarah Palin; she had nothing to do with the “Draft Sarah Palin” that helped launch her candidacy.
And this is where the story really gets interesting. It is possible that, without the blogosphere, Sarah Palin may not have even been picked at all In February of 2007 – just two months after Palin took office, a Colorado college student (who now serves as my intern) named Adam Brickley started a website and a Facebook site) to “Draft Sarah Palin.” Initially, the goal was to get Palin to run for president (which may someday happen), but once McCain won the nomination, Brickley and his fellow Palin-boosters turned their efforts toward “Draft Sarah Palin for VP.”
Cynics might be quick to dismiss the significance of Brickley’s website, but when Sarah and Todd Palin personally phoned to thank him for his “tenacity,” it became clear that his little website had helped make history. Slate Magazine’s Timothy Noah noted, “According to both the Aug. 29 Anchorage Daily News and the June 13 Colorado Springs Gazette, Sarah Palin became John McCain’s vice presidential candidate largely through the machinations of someone even younger and less experienced than herself.” (When he appeared on The Colbert Report a few days later, the teaser read: "Adam Brickley explains how he influenced the direction of American politics from his mom's house.")
But conservative bloggers did more than just advocate for Palin. While many “mainstream” conservative journalists appeared ready to accept – or even in some cases advocate – for a Lieberman or Ridge veep pick – conservative bloggers at sites ranging from Townhall to National Review Online – quickly warned this would be unacceptable. On Fox News and Townhall.com, I warned McCain that a pro-choice pick would be disasterous. Eventually, other conservative bloggers joined in, as well. It’s hard to tell if this had any impact, or not, but the fact remains that the loudest voices in opposition to a liberal veep pick came from conservative bloggers.
Conservative bloggers have also played a vital role since the Palin pick. Almost immediately after her announcement, scurrilous rumors about Sarah Palin’s personal life began to spread on the liberal blog DailyKos. The establishment media joined in with their own sexist attacks, and began attacking her for accepting this position, which would cause her to be away from her family. Conservative bloggers were right there to respond and to point out the media hypocrisy. One post I authored was titled: “Who’s watching Norah O’Donnell’s children?” The point, of course, was media hypocrisy -- where reporters are criticizing Palin for doing essentially the same thing they, themselves -- as career women -- have decided is best for their families. Another post I authored, along the same lines, about CNN’s Campbell Brown’s anti-Palin comments, has received hundreds of comments to date.
Clearly, the Palin pick has been a boon to conservative bloggers, but it has been a mutually beneficial relationship. No doubt, John McCain is fighting an uphill battle against Obama's online supporters, but Sarah Palin's pick has given online conservatives a boost in the arm that a week ago would have been unthinkable.