Speaking of learning from the other side, Patrick Ruffini writes in response to the same Washington Post story linked previously and adds some interesting insight into the effectiveness of 527 groups and blogs:
Case in point: The Media Fund spent $135 million on TV ads, but never got a dime of earned media beyond the perfunctory process stories. Why? Not because they couldn't "coordinate" with the Kerry campaign -- the excuse Tad Devine and Harold Ickes would have you believe. But because they were cookie cutter and focus-grouped-to-death on outsourcing and prescription drugs and they weren't interesting. And if you're working outside the Presidential campaign and you're trying to get attention, you have to be more interesting and more outrageous than the candidate. The Democratic 527s were neither.
In the smaller ambit of blogs -- smaller just for now -- there was quite a bit of debate on which side had done a better side mobilizing blogs. Pre-GOP convention and pre-Rathergate, this debate was focused primarily on money. These discussions tended to overlook the blogosphere's potential importance in driving stories and changing the campaign environment in which money was spent. A week later Rathergate hit. It changed the way people think, and it turned out to be orders of magnitude more important than all the money contributed through blogs this cycle. Important voices like Power Line, Captain Ed, Blogs for Bush and Red State were able to jolt the MSM from its rotational axis not because they were better funded, but because they were more interesting.
Patrick's point about independent expenditure groups (527s like MoveOn, Media Fund, etc.) is spot on. They work best, I think, when they push the borders of political dialogue in ways that the official campaigns cannot. The Swift Boat Veterans were a prime example of this. The Bush campaign would have been ripped to shreds if they had pushed the crap the Swifties did (as it is they still got some heat because everyone knew that the Swifties were working with approval from the GOP even if no one could prove it.) I might disagree with Patrick that none of the Democratic 527s pushed the outrageous envelope. But they certainly didn't do it to the extent that the Republican groups did.
His point about blogs being used to push stories into the mainstream media is also correct, though I think he doesn't give due credit to the coordination with the other wings of the Republican machine that makes that possible. Left wing blogs simply don't have an equivalent to FOX nor are they likely to any time soon.
But, just as important is the fact that the Democratic party has not yet fully recognized the utility of left wing blogs like the Republican party has. The GOP pays attention to the chatter on the right side of the blogosphere and when something interesting pops up they figure out how to use it to their advantage. The Democratic party, on the other hand, appears to run away from any kind of association with the more colorful elements of the lefty blogosphere. There are plenty of examples of important stories breaking in Democratic friendly blogs, but rarely do you see the party pushing those stories into the mainstream.
Its this form of Democratic elitism that hurts the party the most.