Christine Stuart photo

Most people think of liberal bloggers as a bunch of 20-somethings living in their mother’s basement and communicating by carrier pigeon because they think their phones are tapped, Tim Tagaris, Internet director for Ned Lamont and Chris Dodd, said. “It’s Americans with computers,” Tagaris said Thursday during a panel discussion on “Campaigning on the Web” at the University of Connecticut Law School.

He said research shows most bloggers are college educated and opinion leaders in social circles. Melissa Ryan of Act Blue, formerly a blogger with CTLocalPolitics.net, said bloggers are ordinary citizens who love politics. She said it’s a misconception that bloggers are only active in a virtual world. In reality bloggers are campaign volunteers, members of their local Democratic Town Committees, and fundraisers, she said.

Diana Cohen, a visiting assistant professor of Government and Law at Lafayette College, said her case study of the Ned Lamont campaign found his decision to value the Internet helped his campaign make face-to-face connections with voters in his race against U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman.

Tagaris, who led Lamont’s online campaign, said the bloggers were also able to impact traditional media on the campaign for forcing them to ask the tough questions, such as “Will you support the Democratic nominee after the primary?” The question ended up being crucial to the momentum of the campaign since Lamont won the party’s nomination by more than 10,000 votes. And even though he failed to win the general election, his campaign will be studied for years to come, Cohen said.

Cohen said she thinks many academics dismiss the power the Internet and bloggers can have on a campaign. Tagaris said an Internet campaign is only successful when it compliments the field operation. He said the Internet drives volunteer turnout. It helps find people to knock on doors, make phone calls, and identify new voters. Tagaris mentioned the family, friends, and neighbor function on the Lamont campaign web site which allowed people to send personal messages to each other and talk about why they supported his campaign. “It trumped a glossy piece of mail any day of the week,” he said.

Empowering individuals to talk to their family and friends about a candidate, off-line, is a very persuasive form of communication, Cohen said.

The panel discussion will continue this afternoon. The last panel which includes Matt Stoller from OpenLeft.com begins at 2:15 p.m.