Republican Dede Scozzafava’s sudden departure from the special election in New York’s 23rd District demonstrates the potential of journalism by conservative activists to impact politics in the new media era.
Scozzafava quit the race Saturday, three days before the Nov. 2 election. She made the decision soon after the Sienna Research Institute released a poll showing her in a distant third behind Democrat Bill Owens and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.
Hoffman and Owens were in a dead heat before Scozzafava withdrew; a new Sienna poll released today puts Hoffman ahead by 5 percent.
“We defeated the Daily Kos candidate,” said Eric Odom of the American Liberty Alliance, one of four blogger-activists on the ground in New York over the past several days as conservative pressure mounted on Scozzafava to withdraw. The other bloggers were Ali Akbar, Stephen Foley and Robert Stacy McCain, a former Washington Times writer.
McCain was in the district first and has been filing reports on his personal blog, as well as at AmSpecBlog and Hot Air’s Green Room. Akbar, Foley and Odom did their reporting for a new site called 73wire, which bills itself as a “collaborative, people-powered news project.
The 73wire trio trekked to the 23rd District, which became vacant when Republican Rep. John McHugh became President Obama’s Army secretary, just days after numerous high-profile blogs “unendorsed” Scozzafava.
Odom, one of the lead organizers of this year’s “tea party” activists, said he and his colleagues raised about $4,000 within about five hours of seeking donations via the e-mail list developed during the tea parties. He said 73wire has had at least 12,000 unique visits a day since its launch.
Odom said it was frustrating that more blogger-activists weren’t in the district to cover the race and fight for Hoffman last week. The election is “our chance as conservatives to hit back” against the Republican establishment that backed the left-leaning Scozzafava over Hoffman, Odom said.
But he said the bloggers who were there played a “significant role” in shifting the dynamics of the race. He noted, for instance, that bloggers exposed the close staff ties, rather than just money, between Scozzafava’s campaign and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Odom took exception to stories that lauded Scozzafava for dropping out once she realized she could not win. He said the NRCC bailed on Scozzafava on Friday and gave her no choice. “She was literally left with nothing. … She didn’t do the right thing; she did the only thing.”
Odom also said the citizen journalists stayed on duty during the weekend while traditional journalists relaxed on what they assumed would be a slow weekend news day. Drudge Report didn’t have the news of Scozzafava’s withdrawal online until hours after the bloggers broke it, he said. “If we weren’t in the district, then that may not have come out when it did.”
Matt Burns, the Scozzafava campaign’s spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment on how conservative bloggers shaped the race.
Odom said more blogger-activists, especially those “who know journalism a lot better than we do,” need to embed in districts of interest to the tea party movement but ignored by the mainstream media. He said they could drive coverage of the races just as they did in New York.
Bloggers weren’t the only factor in the race. The conservative Club For Growth spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks to influence voters in the district, and Hoffman won the backing of big names in conservative circles, most notably Sarah Palin.
Some people also wonder whether the blog-driven activism on Hoffman’s behalf was a good thing. “A majority political party requires a far more diverse coalition than the audience for your average right-wing blogger or talk show host,” The Wall Street Journal editorialized today.
But bloggers on the right definitely have reason to celebrate the turn of events in New York’s 23rd District. Their on-the-ground reporting and coordinated editorial blog swarm against Scozzafava helped inspire an electoral coup.
Hopefully it will convince conservative donors to start funding more new media efforts.
UPDATE: McCain credits other bloggers who had an impact in the New York race and who have fostered the maturity of the conservative blogosphere over the years. They include Erick Erickson at RedState, John Hawkins of Right Wing News, Michelle Malkin, Michael Patrick Leahy of Top Conservatives on Twitter, and Dan Riehl of Riehl World View.
McCain also confesses to being uncomfortable with the “activist” part of the blogger-activist label. As a fellow newsman, I understand his discomfort, and the basic work McCain has done in New York and elsewhere in recent months is Journalism 101. He is interviewing sources, gathering facts and reporting news. But the fact that his excellent reporting is flavored with opinions makes it something other than straight news.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in today’s media environment. Liberal journalists, of which there are many, have laced the news with their opinions for decades and deceived information consumers by preaching objectivity while practicing spin. That makes their journalism a lie.
Ideally, I’d like to see my journalistic brethren consistently rise to the lofty standards we set for ourselves. But because so many of them fail so often, especially in campaign reporting, I’d rather read the solid reporting of a blogger-activist than a phony journalist any day.