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Netroots' Impact Beyond Wins & Losses

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Democrats are still discussing who deserves credit for this week's massive victory - Dean or Emanuel, Pelosi or Murtha, old school strategists or new school bloggers - but obviously there's no single group that decided the elections. Many blogs are rightfully touting their winning candidates, like Senators-elect Webb and Tester, while other observers have noted that many netroots candidates still lost, unfortunately including Ned Lamont. The nonpartisan National Journal reports the netroots have a good winning record now, the New Republic offers conflicting
views, and over at The Nation, I wrote a blog post on election night about the scorecard of the top 20 netroots House candidates ranked by ActBlue. Yet the impact of bloggers and netroots activists goes way beyond wins and losses. As many people have emphasized this week, we should not focus on that metric and miss the bigger picture -- I completely agree.

The netroots were far more influential this cycle than 2004, and bloggers provided crucial, early support to candidates who are now headed to Congress. One of the best examples is Virgina, where bloggers like RaisingKaine's Lowell Feld literally recruited Jim Webb into the race, then beat an establishment Democratic candidate in the primary. (They even did it without television ads, as Kos likes to emphasize.) Sen. George Allen began the general election as a supposedly unbeatable incumbent and presidential favorite, which seemed to inoculate him from candidate scrutiny. So when much of the Virginia and national media failed to question Allen's despicable record on race, (with the exception of Ryan Lizza), blogger Mike Stark confronted Allen directly about his use of racial epithets, which Allen denied -- the story broke a month later. The Allen campaign later assaulted Stark for asking questions at a public event. This was a courageous example of blog activism prioritizing substantive issues and changing the direction of a statewide campaign. It definitely helped Webb win, but even if he had not, it is the kind of netroots impact that's hard to measure but hugely helpful to the Democratic Party.

Yet the loss of Ned Lamont and other great Democratic candidates still stings. It seems like the post-mortem on that historic race will continue, as it should. Like many other people, I criticized Lieberman and rooted for Lamont because the race offered a choice about the kind of Democratic Party and the kind of politics we want in this country. As bloggers have emphasized, his candidacy was crucial because it made Iraq the "center of this electoral season," confronting Lieberman on the the most important issue this year. I wish Lamont won, but I'm glad he ran.

Meet the Press can celebrate McCain and Lieberman's pro-war bipartisanship this weekend, but the public wants a bipartisan change in Iraq, which neither Lieberman nor McCain can provide. We didn't help the troops by compromising with Rumsfeld, we got him fired. Going forward, Democratic leaders, activists and bloggers can start leading this country out of the mess that conservative Republicans created -- and the public so forcefully rejected this week. If it works, everyone can share credit for that, too.