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NRSC Angering Online Base

NRSC Angering Online Base

By Kyle Trygstad - May 27, 2009

At a time when a majority of Americans are going online for political news and interaction, Democrats are reaching out to the netroots community while Republicans are burning bridges.

Democrats have found it advantageous to form relationships with the blogosphere -- where political commentary and activism is never at a loss. Sites such as ActBlue, DailyKos and MyDD muscled their way into relevance by helping Democrats win back power in Congress; and substantial netroots support led to Ned Lamont's defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee even recently hired Arjun Jaikumar -- a Daily Kos blogger who goes by the name of Brownsox -- to serve as blog and netroots outreach manager. DSCC communications director Eric Schultz said Jaikumar will "help strengthen our relationships with the ever-expanding netroots community."

As Republicans aim for a return to power, though, the party's relationship with the conservative blogosphere has become contentious. The National Republican Senatorial Committee's decision to endorse Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate 15 months before the GOP primary election -- with a conservative, Latino challenger also in the race -- caused a wave of unrest among conservative bloggers and activists.

Running against Crist is Marco Rubio, a 37-year-old state representative who recently served a term as State House speaker. NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas), though, endorsed Crist just minutes after he announced his candidacy. Days earlier, Cornyn said it was unlikely the NRSC would endorse anyone in Florida's GOP primary, even if the moderate Crist decided to enter the race.

In a phone interview, RedState.com managing editor Erick Erickson said he and other conservatives are upset at both the timing of the endorsement and the message it sends to conservatives and minority voters.

At the same time, however, the GOP has also been criticized for not expanding the party's tent to include more moderate voices such as Crist. Indeed, the NRSC appears to be emulating the Democrats' 2006 playbook, led by Sen. Charles Schumer and then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, when they recruited candidates not based on ideological litmus tests but by finding those best suited to run - and win - in their respective districts and states. That strategy helped Democrats recapture the House for the first time in 12 years.

"The NRSC has been clear about the fact that we need candidates who fit their states, which is why we evaluate each of the 2010 races on a state by state basis," NRSC Press Secretary Amber Wilkerson told RealClearPolitics. "Governor Crist is a proven leader and the best candidate to retain the seat in Florida, which is why the NRSC is fully supporting his candidacy."

But Conservatives are not convinced this is the best route to a big tent -- shunning a conservative candidate who they believe could just as easily win in a general election.

"The NRSC has decided that in the battle between the base of the party and the moderates, they will set their course with the moderates and draw in new people, and ignore the base of the party," said Erickson. "It sends a signal to the GOP base that their leaders think they are expendable."

Republicans are down to 40 Senate seats now, and the NRSC is attempting to keep that number from getting much lower after the 2010 midterm elections. President Obama won Florida by 3 points last year, and Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-Fla.) decision to retire made his seat even more vulnerable to a Democratic pick-up.

"Several of the people in the Senate leadership have told me that they are just redoing what Schumer did to win seats," said Erickson. "Well that makes no sense with Charlie Crist because we know people more conservative than him can win statewide -- Jeb Bush is an example."

Erickson has now called for a fundraising boycott of the NRSC and started a Facebook group called "Not One Penny to the National Republican Senatorial Committee," which currently has more than 1,400 members. At the same time, the DSCC and Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) -- who hired MyDD's Todd Beeton to work on her campaign -- have reached out to the liberal online community.

Erickson believes Democrats do a far better job already at online outreach than the NRSC, who -- after the Crist endorsement and defection of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) -- now face a portion of the GOP base unsure of the organization's ability to lead.

"You've got to be totally removed from reality to not foresee the problem," Erickson said. "So I question the competence of the NRSC."

Kyle Trygstad is a Washington correspondent for RealClearPolitics. Email him at: kyle@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleTrygstad.

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