Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mitt Romney meets Tennessee bloggers

Interesting piece from the Boston GLOBE. Read the whole thing.

This article points up the importance of the blogosphere as a huge, "self-directed focus group", and obviates the need to have a more balanced venue for important community conversations, like Meet.The.Bloggers, and not a gaggle of partisan blog-hacks, all currying favor "Over cold cuts, cookies, and soft drinks," ostensibly blogging for baloney. The Republicans need to reexamine what happened here in Ohio last time around, where Democrats who were open to participating in the community dialogue carried the day, while Republicans shied away from anything spontaneous they could not control themselves, and got whacked. MTB is a good way for all of them to reconnect. Here's more of the article:

Members of the mainstream press weren't invited.

But influential Nashville-area bloggers Bill Hobbs and Nathan Moore were, and both penned accounts Romney must have liked. Hobbs likened the governor to Ronald Reagan. Moore called Romney impressive and declared him "a formidable candidate for the 2008 nomination."

That Hobbs and Moore were asked to the private gathering illustrates a growing effort by Romney and his political team to cultivate a relationship with the conservative blogosphere as he prepares to enter the Republican primary, which is already being shaped as never before by countless bloggers, pundits, and other online opinion-makers.

"Particularly in a primary kind of setting," Romney explained in an interview last week with the conservative magazine Human Events, "you want to be very closely connected to the online world, to the blog world, and make sure your perspectives are being understood, and that the misperceptions, which inevitably creep up, are being nipped in the bud."

Though pro-Romney bloggers around the country have been dutifully defending him for months, the governor is increasingly taking steps to manage his own message. The importance Romney is placing on developing a rapport with bloggers reflects not only the pivotal role the Internet now plays in American politics, observers say, but also a recognition by Republicans that they have not been as aggressive as Democrats in using the web to gather support and money.

Perhaps the clearest indication of Romney's belief in the influence of online information is his hiring of Stephen Smith, 24, formerly the web guru for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, to run his online communications operation. Before Frist abandoned his presidential plans last month, Smith helped him record podcasts and keep in touch with bloggers.

"Steve is going to serve as the conduit both from the bloggers and online community to the campaign, as well as from the campaign to the bloggers and online community," a Romney communications adviser said last week. "He's building bandwidth between the two."

Smith's hiring is an acknowledgment of the viral power of web media: how they can instantly drive news stories and sustain them for days on end, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because Romney has not officially announced that he will seek the presidency.

"It's a very unique audience, and that uniqueness requires a unique understanding of the audience and the mediums involved," the adviser said.

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