As I've mentioned before, I'm appearing on a panel Thursday morning for the Lexington Forum to discuss the presidential primaries. Scheduled to join me on this panel are Scott Jennings, a former assistant to the President and deputy director of political affairs under Karl Rove, and Ryan Alessi, political reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader and key contributor to that paper's political blog, Pol Watchers.
I expect there will be some good-natured political back and forth since Scott is clearly a smart and aggressive Republican with Kentucky roots, and I'm a whiny elitist from the People's Republic of Massachusetts. I'll give my quick assessment of what's going to happen in Kentucky (Senator Clinton is the heavy favorite in the primary) and how I think each candidate could win. In short, I think Senator Clinton needs to stay on the attack and insist she can win a brutal general election, while Senator Obama needs to start talking about change again and how he is the only candidate who can bring it. Senator McCain must make sure the public (and the media) focuses on personalities, and not the "most important problems" facing Americans, according to Gallup - the economy, the war in Iraq, fuel prices, health care, or unemployment. Right now, Americans think Democrats are better suited to handle all those problems.
But I also hope to convey the critical role that social media has played in this year's primary. I think Micah Sifry is spot on - without the Internet, Senator Clinton would have already sewn up the Democratic nomination. Social media tools have helped Senator Obama raise literally hundreds of millions of dollars, and they have helped his campaign organize, especially in the caucus states. These efforts will have a positive effect for Democrats down the ticket should Sen. Obama get the nomination. I also noticed that Senator Clinton has used the 'net to raise a big chunk of change immediately following her win in Pennsylvania.
Despite my friend David All's best efforts through Slatecard, the GOP remains far behind the Democrats in online organizing and fundraising. (Don't worry, David - you'll probably be all caught up within a single election cycle.)
Social media has also been a huge factor in candidate's missteps. For example, three of the most-viewed videos on YouTube have been Reverend Jeremiah Wright's rants, Senator Clinton's verbal foibles about sniper fire in Bosnia, and Senator McCain's comments about being in Iraq for 100 years.
The thing that's been absent from the talking head-speak about the primaries and the role social media has played, however, is the idea that we're dealing with well-defined communities with fairly specific discussions, and we can glean a lot of intelligence from those discussions. So I pulled together some "community clouds" like the ones I did for Virtual Vantage Points but for Kentucky-based political bloggers. It's a mashed-up RSS feed of bloggers in two distinct communities - namely Kentucky conservatives and Kentucky liberals - run through a text cloud generator. Here's what the top Kentucky conservative bloggers are talking about as of Wednesday afternoon:
And here's what Kentucky's top liberal bloggers are talking about on Wednesday:
So this tells me a couple of things. First, the "local" political bloggers are excited about the presidential primary, and Senator Obama has the lion's share of the attention - he's being mentioned more than either of the other candidates by both conservatives and liberals. Democrats are talking a bit about health care - namely items like breast cancer - while the Republicans are taking a little about taxes and they're beating up on Kentucky's new Democratic Governor, Steve Beshear.
But the dominant figure in Kentucky politics remains - just as it was immediately after Governor Beshear was sworn into office - Senator Mitch McConnell. He's without a doubt the state's most powerful and prominent politician, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.