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Bloggers Gain Attention In 2004 Election

Blaming bloggers for chattering about the exit polls misses the real point of the Web journals, said Weeks, who chose not to post polling data. "It has made the media so transparent," he said in a phone interview. "The Web is the way everybody processes information now. It's given the average person the same type of access to information that you used to have to be a reporter sitting in a newsroom to get."

Describing himself as a libertarian conservative "political junkie," Weeks said he blogged from the GOP celebration until 4:30 a.m. -- "It was just me and a guy passed out in a chair at the end'' -- because he considers elections "the Super Bowl" of politics.

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"Delaware doesn't have much in the way of media outlets," he said. "So I think our small community of bloggers provides a real service."

Blogs, of course, were not the only political sites drawing big audiences. The official Bush and Kerry campaign sites drew double their usual traffic Tuesday: 480,000 people went to www.johnkerry.com, and 382,000 stopped by www.georgewbush.com; each drew more than 2 million visitors last month, according to ComScore.

Traditional news outlets, along with partisan groups and pundits, also published computer-generated electoral maps that let people click on particular states and see at a glance how each swing state might affect the outcome. The red-and-blue-coded maps started out with advance polling data, but real vote results reshaped the maps as the night wore on.

Niche blogs with names like ElectionHell.com also popped up to chronicle the polling and precinct problems predicted by observers, but the glitches mostly turned out to be minor.

Also popular were humorous hangouts such as ComedyCentral.com, which published a blog featuring such gimmicks as a mock newspaper with the headline, "Dewey Defeats Bush."

Exit polls, meanwhile, were not the only ones that got traction on the Net.

On its welcome screen, America Online Inc. touted what it billed as "AOL exit poll results" for most of election night. The link led to an online survey inviting AOL members to fill out a form on how they had voted and why. More than half a million people obliged; Bush had claimed 56 percent of AOL's "vote" by 10 p.m. Kerry's big win, meanwhile, came in another unscientific poll taken at GlobalVote2004.org, which was created to let non-Americans have their say on the White House race. Kerry took 77 percent of that pseudo-vote from 191 countries.

The growing audience for blogs was a regular theme throughout the 2004 election, as blogs took credit for fact-checking claims from both candidates and those made in stories published by TV networks and newspapers. The Power Line blog, for instance, was among the first to challenge the authenticity of documents used to support the "60 Minutes" story attacking President Bush's Air National Guard service.

Blogs were entertaining and lively, too, reflecting the range of emotion that gripped the country.

Typical was this Election Day post from cartoonist Tom Tomorrow on ThisModernWorld.com: "I woke up this morning at 3 a.m. and thought, 'This is either Christmas morning or the day of a close friend's funeral.' I've been awake since then, and I'm still not sure which."

Leslie Walker's e-mail address is walkerl@washpost.com.

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