Can the ‘Netroots carry Webb to primary victory?

The Top Story by Chris Graham

 

The Virginia Democratic blogosphere loves Jim Webb – but will that be enough to carry the former Reagan administration official to victory in this month’s Democratic Party Senate primary?

“Most of this is going to depend on electability – whether someone feels that it’s more important to vote for someone who has a better shot against George Allen, or whether they’re going to be voting based on what they think is the best representation of the Democratic Party,” said Adam Sharp, a Harrisonburg Democrat who runs the Virginia Young Democrats blog.

“I think if it comes down to electability, then Jim Webb is going to win. I think if people come out and vote based on who represents the Democratic Party more, Harris Miller might have a better shot,” Sharp told The Augusta Free Press.

The ‘Netroots, as the Internet-based Democratic Party grassroots has become known, seem to be solidly behind Webb, who broke with the Republican Party over the Iraq war – and the pro-Webb bloggers are working hard to sell the point about electability. Webb has consistently run better than Miller in polling against Allen, the GOP incumbent who is a top contender for the 2008 Republican Party presidential nomination – within single digits in one Wall Street Journal/Zogby International poll conducted earlier this year.

“If you’re a Democrat, and you’re going to the polls on June 13th, which hopefully you are, and you’re not thinking about electability, then you really need to consider what you’re doing at the polls,” said Lowell Feld of RaisingKaine.com, who launched a draft-Webb movement last fall.

“It’s realistic that Jim Webb can compete strongly with Allen in all four of the regions of Virginia – Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia. It’s hard to imagine how someone like Harris Miller – no offense to the guy, but even if we stipulate that he’s a nice guy, how does he compete with Allen in Southwest Virginia or a place like Hampton Roads with significant military presence?” Feld told the AFP.

Feld is credited with mobilizing the ‘Netroots in support of Webb – “The ‘Netroots are definitely going for Webb, and I think the largest reason for that is the very popular blog RaisingKaine. Lowell Feld, came out very early for Webb, and was very, very quick to recruit other bloggers to join Webb’s side,” Sharp said.

It would be overstating things, though, to say that the support of left-leaning bloggers will necessarily translate into a resounding primary-day victory for Webb.

“Among the traditional grassroots, I don’t see Webb having that strong of a hold – especially out here in Western Virginia. Miller has done a much better job of targeting local Democratic leaders and talking to them and winning them over,” Sharp said.

“I think it’s going to be close statewide – because of Harris Miller’s name recognition in Northern Virginia, in particular, and what he’s done for the Democratic Party there,” Brian Patton, a Southwest Virginia-based Democrat and blogger, told the AFP.

“A lot of people have asked me who I think is going to win – I still have absolutely no idea. I can’t even guess who we’re going to see winning in the primary,” Charlottesville-based blogger Waldo Jaquith told the AFP.

“Harris Miller’s advantage is that people know his name and know that he’s a Democrat. And anybody who knows even a little bit about Webb knows that he used to be a Republican,” Jaquith said.

“It’s the dynamic of the insider versus the outsider. For Miller, all you need to know about him is that he’s a Democrat. That’s the point that he’s hammering home – I’m a Democrat. Which would normally be a crazy message in a primary, but against Webb and his mixed partisan pedigree is a message worth hammering home,” Jaquith said.

The conventional wisdom, James Madison University political-science professor Bob Roberts told the AFP, would be that this kind of strategy would be expected to be effective.

“What normally happens is that the only people who are going to turn out for the primary are hard and true Democrats – and Miller is much more attuned to those voters in the party, because he’s much more the traditional liberal,” Roberts said.

“For Webb to do well, he’d have to attract moderate Democrats and independents to come out on primary day. That’s highly unlikely,” Roberts said.

“The hope that Webb has is that Democrats believe that he would be the stronger candidate in the general election – and then that Miller is going to be tagged as a liberal liberal liberal liberal. But will primary voters go through that analysis? If they do, Webb might do better than expected. If they don’t, Miller should do fine – since he’s tied much more historically to the Democratic Party,” Roberts said.

 

(Published 06-05-06)

 



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