In his efforts to ingratiate himself among Virginia voters, Terry McAuliffe is finding a positive reception among a somewhat unlikely constituency: the state's progressive netroots.
Days after officially launching his campaign to become governor of the commonwealth, McAuliffe has made noticeable strides in drawing local bloggers to his cause. His efforts have helped endear his candidacy to some of the more passionate and naturally skeptical primary voters. On a broader level, however, they have helped scrub away the critique that the former DNC chair was a carpetbagger whose political ambitions were built on a well-oiled fundraising apparatus.
"[T]here's more to this guy than meets the eye," Chris Graham of the progressive August Free Press wrote last week, "because this guy clearly knows what he's talking about, and I'm saying that as someone whose job for the past 14 years has been knowing Virginia politics inside and out."
"Earlier this evening, I attended a town hall meeting with Terry McAuliffe here in Bristol, wrote the New Dominion Projects' Neal Osborne, who, it should be noted, would go on to endorse McAuliffe's primary opponent, Rep. Brian Moran. "I have to say I was very impressed with him (of course, I went in with nearly zero expectations). If nothing else, Terry McAuliffe is super-energetic, as I'm sure anyone who watched MSNBC over the last twelve months knows."
"Last night, I attended a dinner with Terry McAuliffe to hear more about his campaign," read an entry on the blog NotLarrySabato. "Almost three hours later, I came away very impressed. The other two candidates for Governor have made a HUGE strategic error in questioning Terry's Virginia credentials. The bar is so low for Terry on knowing local issues that he could have jumped it with some minor prep work. Instead he crushed that argument by being totally prepared to answer every issue that was discussed."
That McAuliffe is turning heads among Virginia's progressive bloggers is both something of a surprise and a not-inconsequential development in the 2009 race. The state's blogging community played a major role in helping propel Jim Webb to his current Senate seat, though the closure of the progressive hub Raising Kane could mitigate its collective influence.
On the surface, McAuliffe doesn't appear to be the type of candidate around which the netroots would organize. Campaigning, at times sharply, against Barack Obama and having roots in the big-money quarters of politics are traits anathema to many progressives. The current good reviews could end up being a mere short-term flirtation.
But the charismatic Clinton confidant has worked to win local bloggers over. Keeping the issues primarily local, his campaign has hosted a conference call, a group dinner, phone calls and one-on-one meetings with members of that community. Blog ads are set to go up soon as well. And the gubernatorial contest has just begun.
"He has been impressive since he has started running," said NotLarrySabato author Ben Tribbett, who is staying neutral in the primary. "I think he has taken the different candidates to another level, on fundraising and message."
"I think he is making a very credible effort to reach out to bloggers," said Rick Howell, the author of the blog Rick Howell Speaks. "I know that the other two candidates have been in the race for some time and I don't think they have done blogger conference calls, at least not ones I've been invited to... I don't think that this is enough, but I think it helps. He has identified this modern new trend in politics with the Internet -- fundraising and quick communications -- and I don't think it is a coincidence that he is suddenly in the newspapers more."
Not everyone, of course, is ready to jump head first on board the McAuliffe bandwagon. One local blogger, who asked not to be identified, said the former DNC chair's grasp of the Virginian issues was commendable, but his solution to the problems -- "usually throwing more money at them" -- was not. Another local blogger recently rapped McAuliffe for not being progressive enough in his renewable energy proposal.
Neutral observers, meanwhile, see in McAuliffe's blog outreach not a shared ethos between the former DNC chair and Virginia's bloggers, but rather another well considered step in a campaign that is both meticulous and overpowering in its approach.
"So far, they are doing all of the smart groundwork sort of stuff," said Craig Brians, a political science professor at Virginia Tech. "They are laying that groundwork and trying to raise the barriers to entry for other people by doing the mass media buys and endearing [Terry] to people who naturally wouldn't tend towards him. They are giving the blogging community something that is fairly sacred in politics: personal attention."