Some Candidates Turn To Blogs to Place Ads
Sites are Low-Cost, Reach Thousands
By Brian Faler
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 18, 2004; Page A05
A.B. "Ben" Chandler has sparked a virtual gold rush.
Back in January, during the waning weeks of his special election campaign for the House, the Kentucky Democrat spent $2,000 on ads on 11 blogs.
It was, at the time, a novel idea. Howard Dean, and later most of his Democratic presidential rivals, had developed campaign blogs, or Web logs -- essentially, online journals of their comings and goings. But few, if any, candidates had tried advertising on other people's blogs.
Chandler's campaign picked 11 sites that focused on politics, each of which featured a running commentary on the news of the day. The sites, conventional wisdom said, amounted to little more than obscure soapboxes for amateur pundits -- hardly a good place for candidates to spend scarce campaign dollars. Chandler's campaign manager, Mark Nickolas, had proposed the idea. But he was so unsure it would work, he later said, that he planned to personally reimburse the campaign if it was a bust.
It was not. The candidate recouped his money in online donations the first day of the campaign -- and went on to raise more than $80,000 over the next two weeks. The money came, mostly in small donations -- about 1,700 in all. Few of them, Nickolas said, came from within the Bluegrass State. Chandler quickly plowed the windfall back into more traditional advertising -- television, radio and newspaper spots -- and finished the race on top and with money left in the bank.
Since then, other candidates have come calling, Nickolas said, pumping him for advice on how they might replicate Chandler's success. More than two dozen candidates, meanwhile, have placed orders for similar ads with Henry Copeland, a North Carolina entrepreneur who handled Chandler's ads.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such blogs, each offering its own, usually partisan, take on the nation's politics. But a handful have attracted somewhat sizable followings. On the left, there is, for example, DailyKos.com, TalkingPointsMemo.com and Atrios.blogspot.com. On the right, there are, among others, InstaPundit.com, RightWingNews.com and LittleGreenFootballs.com/weblog/. Experts said the sites are ripe for political advertising because they reach thousands of people who are clearly interested in politics, and whose political leanings can be readily surmised. "This is the campfire that the partisans are gathered around," Copeland said.
Moreover, while the price of the ads has increased with the candidates' demand, ads on blogs still cost only a small fraction of what it would cost to advertise on more prominent Web sites, such as WashingtonPost.com or NYTimes.com.
Most of his clients, Copeland said, are Democrats. Some are unknown, such as Jeff Seemann, 35, a music programmer who is running for the House in Ohio. Others are more established. Reps. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) and Brad Carson (D-Okla.) have bought blog ads. So have Sen. John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and Tony Knowles, the former governor of Alaska who is vying for the Senate.
Bryan Coffman, a Republican who is challenging Chandler in this year's election, has stolen a page from his playbook, placing ads on a handful of conservative blogs. So has former representative John Thune, a Republican who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.).
The ads, not surprisingly, tend to focus less on local issues than on national trends and storylines. There are frequent references to the candidates' favorite bogeymen. Carson, for example, does not actually name his Republican opponent in one of his ads. But, he assures viewers, the candidate is "Jesse Helms and Phil Gramm rolled into one." A Democrat running in Texas says, "I've got the guts to take on Tom DeLay."
Chandler took much the same approach, Nickolas said, selling his little-noticed race as a chance to "send a message to Washington." But he predicted that many of the candidates now advertising on the sites would have much a tougher time raising money. "It's harder now. I mean: You go to a Web site, and now you see lots of ads for campaigns," he said. "They have to stand out, and it's harder to stand out when you're in a crowded room."
Most of the campaign representatives interviewed declined to estimate how much they have raised through their ads. But a few said they have yet to match Chandler's success. A spokesman for Joseph M. Hoeffel III, a Democratic senatorial candidate from Pennsylvania, said his campaign has raised between $8,000 and $10,000. Seemann, the House candidate in Ohio, said he has raised about $9,000 from a single $400 ad he placed.
Still, many of the candidates have learned that associating themselves with a site can be risky. Some pulled their spots from DailyKos.com, after its author made what some considered to be offensive comments on the four American contractors killed in Iraq. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has criticized Carson for promoting that and other sites.
"He wants to paint himself as a conservative Democrat, but he's comfortable promoting inflammatory Web sites that make their living bashing President Bush, conservatives and Republicans," said NRSC spokesman Dan Allen. Carson's spokesman said the candidate has recommended an array of blogs from across the political spectrum.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company