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Blogs Attack From Left as Democrats Reach for Center

In the 2004 campaign, liberals used the Web to organize meetings and raise money to power the unexpected rise of former Vermont governor Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries. Dean, a newcomer to national politics who connected with liberals with his antiwar position and declaration to supporters that "you have the power" to change Washington, shattered fundraising records and for months was considered the front-runner in the race for the nomination.

But the Democratic establishment turned on Dean, and his grass-roots operation was not as strong in reality as it appeared on the Internet. Since then, liberal activists have created scores of political blogs and used the Web as an organizing tool and a way to quickly vent frustrations to Democratic leaders in Washington.

The closest historic parallel would be the talk-radio phenomenon of the early 1980s, when conservatives -- like liberals now -- felt powerless and certain they did not have a way to voice their views because the mainstream media and many of their own leaders considered them out of touch. Through talk radio, often aired in rural parts of the country on the AM dial, conservatives pushed the party to the right on social issues and tax cuts.

The question Democrats will debate over the next few years is whether the prevailing views of liberal activists on the war, the role of religion in politics and budget policies will help or hinder efforts to recapture the presidency and Congress.

Even if they disagree with their positions, Democratic candidates recognize from the Dean experience the power of the activists to raise money and infuse a campaign with their energy. On the flip side, the Alito and Kaine episodes serve as a cautionary tales of what can happen to politicians when they spurn the blogs.

"John Kerry is beginning to bring the traditional Democratic leadership in Washington together with the untraditional netroots activists of the country," James Boyce wrote on the Huffington Post. "A man often accused of being the ultimate Washington insider looked outside of the beltway and saw the concern, in fact, the distress among literally millions of online Democrats."

Other Democrats, Boyce wrote, "triangulated, fabricated, postulated and capitulated."

Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.

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