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Bloggers find new clout in state politics.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

They've helped expose a national political scheme. They've launched snarky debates about Lane County political races. And they've provided Oregon's political insiders dozens of outlets to spread gossip, opinions and news about the candidates, the ballot measures and the big money behind them.

Local and regional Web log contributors, or bloggers, are doing for Oregon politics in this election what their nationally focused counterparts did for the presidential election in 2004, when ABC News dubbed bloggers the "People of the Year."

"I think they're definitely starting to come into their own in this election," said Ted Piccolo, who runs the popular conservative-leaning NW Republican blog.

Campaigns this year have continued to keep the loyalty of their faithful and win the support of the doubtful through traditional methods of buying advertising and trying to influence news coverage.

But they've also found in Oregon-centric blogs a new outlet for these forms of "paid" and "earned" media.

The Democrat-friendly blog BlueOregon has been running ads from candidates and interest groups, including links critical of Republicans such as Eugene Senate candidate Jim Torrey. It has served as an outlet for campaigns to put out news tidbits, such as last week's post by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer questioning gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton's claims of playing a leadership role in the push to lower the voting age in Oregon.

Kari Chisholm, a BlueOregon co-founder and the president of the Portland-based Internet consulting company Mandate Media, said he and other tech-savvy activists made a point in 2005 of ramping up the local, regional and state-level political blogs to mirror what had already evolved at the national level.

The power of blogs nationally had been evident in the demise of former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. In 2002, he said, "we wouldn't have had all these problems" if the rest of the nation embraced segregationist presidential candidate Strom Thurmond in 1948. The comments were reported by the media, and then the story seemed to die. But blogs picked it up and created a drumbeat that the national media eventually noticed.

Chisholm said blogs such as his, along with NW Republican and others, have worked in a similar way, in that they don't have the same reach to the broad general public as do mainstream media - TV, radio and newspapers - but their politically connected readers are often worth reaching.

He said BlueOregon is getting between 3,000 and 4,000 readers a day as Tuesday's election approaches. That makes it the top-read Oregon political blog - yet its audience is less than that of many small-town weekly newspapers and accounts for just a small fraction of the state's 3.5 million residents.

"Its greatest influence is influencing the influencers," Chisholm said. "It's talking to media, it's talking to donors, it's talking to volunteers."

Blogs such as Chisholm's have been a place where Democratic activists have been able to find out where and how they can help their party's candidates. A place to get the latest scoop on legislative races across the state. A place where participants have voted on which legislative races should gain the funds that a member of Congress has offered to contribute. And where those willing to get up from their computers can go to make phone calls or go door-knocking on behalf of candidates.

Other blogs, such as Eugene Rant, are more like cyberspace water coolers, where the like-minded can highlight the local Republican candidates they support, poke fun at the Democrats they don't - and banter with those who challenge their views or facts.

Bob Mulroy, a Eugene resident, is one of three contributors who keep Eugene Rant going with a few weekly updates.

Mulroy said he's not out to change the world, but to contribute to Lane County's political debate and fly the virtual flag of conservatism in left-leaning Eugene - via the Internet.

"Maybe we can help get somebody elected or change somebody's mind from time to time," he said. "The most important thing we do is to let people know that it's not necessary to agree with everybody."

Another Eugene blogger, Hart Williams, has a decidedly more ambitious goal for his "boregasm" blog.

Williams has written a 30-part (so far) series on the secretive network of contributors to conservative causes led by New York real estate investor and libertarian activist Howard Rich.

Among those to plow through Williams' posts, under such headings as "Unlimited Terms of Endearment or, A Ball of Snakes" and "By Their Pigs Ye Shall Know Them," were producers of the PBS news/documentary program "NOW."

In September, it aired a program on Rich's ballot measures in several states. On the program's Web site it credited Williams for bringing the topic to the producers' attention. The episode on Rich's attempts to push a limited-government agenda through state initiatives "was inspired by a compelling blog series written by Hart Williams," NOW's Web site read.

The Eugene blogger's research `revealed some extraordinary truths about efforts to take the `local' out of local ballot initiatives and create them from afar,' the Web site continued.

Williams describes his blogging on Rich and his political ambitions as drawing both on his research and writing background and his political activism. He's written three books and numerous freelance newspaper articles. Although he's now registered independent, Williams for years was active with the Democratic Party, serving as a delegate to the party's national convention in 2000 and a legislative candidate in 2004.

He figures his blogging has resulted in about 100,000 words, and also produced about 120,000 hits, thousands of them from journalists around the country. And while most of Williams' input has been in the form of his own writing and online document researching, that's led reporters to push the story further, with interviews and additional investigating that requires in-person research.

The undertaking, which he continues to pursue, has at times been obsessive, Williams conceded. He recalled the time he woke his wife to announce that he'd located the Web page that explained where one of Rich's organizations in Nebraska had gotten its money. Williams' wife didn't share his enthusiasm at the time, which was about 4 a.m.

He said being credited for his work by a national news/documentary show was gratifying, but not the real reward.

"The reward is that it was effective," Williams said. "It was one of these weird places where journalism and citizenship overlap."

While Williams said his digging into the political pursuits of Howard Rich was ideal because it wasn't a partisan undertaking, many more bloggers take an unapologetically party-line approach.

The blog Loaded Orygun puts more of an emphasis on breaking news and pushing stories with a pro-Democratic or anti-Republican bent. Before reporters from Oregon's bigger daily newspapers began looking into Saxton's background as a farm owner - including whether he had employed illegal immigrants - questions were being raised at Loaded Orygun. And after news stories started appearing in the paper, the same blog continued to dig, coming up with documents from Polk County that suggested the migrant housing on the property wasn't given government approval for use as a dwelling.

Mark Bunster, one of the two Portland-based bloggers who run Loaded Orygun, acknowledges a political bias that guides the blog to pursue stories that cast Republicans in a negative light. But by providing facts along with a point of view, he said, such stories eventually should wind up in mainstream news coverage.

Although Bunster, who writes under the pseudonym "Torrid Joe," is a Portland Fire Bureau employee with no journalistic training, he said, political blogging has been an outlet for the emerging phenomenon of citizen journalism.

"Any citizen can do it," he said. "That's what we've tried to show."

BLOG ON Here are a few Oregon blogs that focus on politics. They have links to other political blogs. NW Republican: nwrepublican.blogspot.com (Oregon and Washington politics - pro-Republican) BlueOregon: blueoregon.com (Oregon, pro-Democrat) Eugene Rant: eugeneunderground.blogspot.com (Eugene/Lane County, pro-Republican) Boregasm: hartwilliams.com/blog/blogger.html (All about Howard Rich's limited-government initiatives) Loaded Orygun: loadedorygun.blogspot.com (Oregon, pro-Democrat)

BLOG POLITICS Bloggers have developed their own vocabulary and techniques for gaming the system, often for political gain. Some examples and definitions: Blog swarming: When several blogs pick up on a topic or event - most often a controversial one. Examples: Ron Saxton's connections to employing migrant workers; an article questioning whether Gov. Ted Kulongoski helped cover up sex abuse in Neil Goldschmidt's past. Google-bombing: The practice by numerous like-minded blogs of linking to the same article - usually a politically damaging one - in a way that places it near the top when the results of a Google search are listed. Troll: Someone whose entries in a blog's exchanges are meant to contradict or insult the postings of others. An example would be for a liberal to bash the ideas of conservatives on a Republican-leaning blog.
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Title Annotation:Politics
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 5, 2006
Words:1485
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