You've probably seen the Wired article on BlogAds and their role in helping Ben Chandler get elected to Congress by now. It's good coverage of the story and provides a good view from inside the Chandler campaign of the ads' impact. The big question, mentioned in the article, is now that a bunch of other candidates are running blog ads, will anyone come close to replicating Chandler's success with them?
I think it's pretty clear that no one will duplicate the kind of 40-fold immediate return on the investment that Chandler got, mostly because no one will ever duplicate the perfect storm of Chandler's candidacy - special election, winnable race, pickup opportunity on the other guy's turf, easy to see that your contribution really did have an effect, and so on. Fortunately, given the relative inexpense of BlogAds, pretty much any decent candidate can and should be able to recoup his or her investment several times over, though it may take longer to get that kind of return.
I think there's a simple key to making this a viable long-term strategy for candidates, and that's to grow the audience. As I noted before, the total receptive readership for these ads is in the 100,000 to 200,000 range, depending on how much overlap there is among the most popular blogs. That's a pretty shallow well to tap into, and it won't take more than a handful of candidates busking there to dry it out.
The good news, though, is that the size of the audience now is tiny compared to its potential size. Simon Rosenberg notes that nearly 50 million people will vote Democratic in 2004, so there's a huge amount of room to expand. This is where the establishment, by which I mean the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, can return the favor and help the bloggers by working to bring more readers into the fold.
How to do that isn't any great mystery. What I want to see these guys do is to mention blogs - their blogs, other like-minded blogs, whatever - at every opportunity. I want them to put their blog URLs on their letterheads and in their email sigs. They should mention them every time they speak to someone, and make sure every candidate they work with knows them and is strongly encouraged to do the same. While they're at it, start talking to state party organizations and get them to make like the Yellow Dogs, and have them push down to the county level from there. It's just good old-fashioned networking, and it's exactly the sort of thing that a group of paid political consultants/advisors/whatnot ought to excel at.
By raising awareness of their own efforts in cyberspace, they'll naturally help point some new eyeballs at the quadrumvirate of Atrios, Kos, Calpundit, and Josh Marshall, which in turn should help the rest of us downstream from there. A very realistic goal should be to double each one of these guys' daily hit counts by November, and in doing so, they'll have a bigger group of potential responders to those blog ads that we'll never get away from now. It's a clearcut win-win.
I should note that in talking up blogs, it's important to help people realize how they're different from standard online-brochure political sites. Atrios says it well here.
What the Dean campaign tapped into was a bunch of people who wanted to feel personally invested in a campaign, but hadn't found any way to do that. Too many state and local parties are completely ossified and don't return calls by people offering to volunteer, and are often run by people who don't seem to want any new blood interfering with their little fiefdoms. Between impeachment, Florida, and the Bush administration there are a lot of people new people who decided they wanted to become "involved" but didn't know how. The internet allows a small degree of personal involvement by a large number of people, and they're grateful for candidates who let them feel involved.
Look, a lot of the internet "personal involvement" is an illusion - and most people know that. Nobody ever thought Howard Dean read through thousands of comments on his weblog, but it nonetheless allowed them to feel they had a wee personal connection to the campaign, and that's all that mattered. The truth is, I think it's relatively easy for a campaign to tap into that sentiment, though not all campaigns will be comfortable doing that - and nor should they try. Blog readers are not your "typical voter" or your "typical Democrat," and not all campaigns/candidates are necessarily well-suited for trying to tap into that particular vibe. But, some are and with a little creativity and not too much effort they might be able to get the little extra money/attention they need to put them over the line in November.