Blogs play critical role in campaigns

Online pamphleteers galvanize volunteers, play instant fact-checkers for politicians.

In the right corner are the Free Republic's self-described "FReepers." On the left, the legions of Kos. At stake are the hearts and minds of millions of American voters.

Free Republic and the DailyKos are two of the ideologically driven Web logs, or blogs, that collectively have captured hundreds of thousands of readers, helped shape and speed the presidential campaign's dialog, and have contributed substantially to the powerful grassroots mobilization that many analysts say could tip the balance in Tuesday's election.

The political season has seen the Net come into its own as a medium of polemic, propaganda and bitterly accurate opposition fact-checking. Blogs and other politically themed Web sites are serving much the same role as that filled by the independent pamphleteers and political presses of earlier days, with a reach as powerful as it is sometimes narrow.

"It's very easy both to overestimate and underestimate them," said Sreenath Sreenivasan, a Columbia University journalism professor who has focused on new media issues. "If you dismiss them as not important, you underestimate the...kind of influencers that read them. If you overestimate them, you forget that sometimes the people who are reading them are seeking the kind of news they want to hear."

Political Blogroll

Web logs dissect the political news from right to left.

On the right:
Free Republic
Little Green Footballs
Power Line

On the left:
Michael Moore

Electoral vote watchers: (leans left)
Electoral Projection (leans right)
Princeton University's Sam Wang

Certainly the blogs have been a critical part of a campaign that has relied in unprecedented fashion on the Internet as a tool of information gathering and communication.

The political campaigns themselves have used their Web sites to raise millions of dollars in small grassroots contributions. They're using e-mail and Web tools to coordinate phone banks of volunteers in widely dispersed areas, all focusing on whichever states or cities look most important based on the latest polls.

Independent groups such as America Coming Together, the Club for Growth, and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have raised millions of dollars online to run campaign ads and send volunteers by the thousands into hotly contested districts.

Obsessed election-watchers are looking deeper than the national polls reported in every day's headlines to examine the running dynamics of state polls and electoral votes on sites like, which has challenged CNN as Google's most popular poll-watching tool.

But it is on the quick-shifting pages of the political blogs that

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