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Inside Politics

The rise of the online citizen


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George Washington University Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet:  Study of Political Influentials Onlineexternal link

Carlos Watson

PALO ALTO, California (CNN) -- This week in The Inside Edge, discover the Democrats' new secret weapon, learn why the presidential election may be heading in a different direction than polls may suggest, tune in to a future foreign policy hotspot and look for the return of the GOP's 007.

Blogs: Democrats' answer to talk radio

For years, conservatives have successfully used talk radio to excite their base, raise new issues, target opponents and raise money. After years in the wilderness, liberals may have finally found an answer. Not the new liberal talk radio network, but blogs -- formally known as web logs. The online discussion groups have become the liberal version of conservative talk radio.

The Democratic presidential primary took Internet blogs from a politico-techie niche to powerful political status. Today, liberals are regularly using blogs like Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo and others to motivate their base, raise political issues and ultimately, help determine races.

Most political reporters now read blogs - just as they listen to conservative talk radio - so news coverage is also shaped by the online chatter. That's not to say that there aren't any conservative blogs. Of course there are -- such as Zogby Blog and -- just like there are some liberal radio shows.

But as a recent George Washington University study of the Internet notes, Democrats outnumber Republicans almost 2 to 1 (49% to 27%), among the nation's 15 million to 20 million who the study dubs "Online Political Citizens."

So if you haven't already started reading blogs, you should certainly begin doing so. They will shape not only this year's presidential race, but congressional and state races as well. Blogs are a real force; they're not just for geeks any more.

Dewey vs. Truman, Part II

This year's general election polls may be as unreliable as any since 1948 when the Chicago Tribune reported (inaccurately) "Dewey beats Truman."

Why, you ask? Because not only may the race be close, but also because the GOP is running, arguably, the most aggressive voter registration drive in modern times.

Having identified areas most likely to vote Republican, organizers are focusing their efforts at churches, sporting events like NASCAR races and grocery stores in those areas.

The goal: to register 3 million new voters by the November election out of a pool of some 52 million unregistered, voting-age Americans.

If the GOP meets its goal, it could shift the outcome in potentially close states like Colorado, Georgia and Pennsylvania. Since pollsters usually interview only current and past voters, they may miss these new voters. So Arizona may look close, but in reality the GOP may have a comfortable lead. Or Democrats may think they have "taken back" Missouri, only to find out that Republicans have squeaked by.

Currently there is no discussion of a similar Democratic voter registration effort.

Therefore, if Republicans succeed in registering the new voters and turning them out, they may enjoy a crucial edge. For the first time in more than 50 years, the general election polls may not tell the whole story, and in key states, they could be flat out wrong. Will we one day remember the headline "Kerry beats Bush" with a smile? Don't laugh. It could happen -- again.

Not India but China

Outsourcing is an incredibly complicated and frankly, still-evolving area of study. But if you really want to understand more about the outsourcing of American jobs (using a simplistic framework to be sure), it may make more sense to focus on China as opposed to, or at least along with, India, the current focus of attention on the issue.

Indeed, while many companies have moved engineering, call centers and other operations to India in search of cheaper labor, three to four times that many jobs have moved to China in the last 15 years as both American and Chinese companies look to that huge labor pool to produce toys, shoes and other goods for export to America and the world.

Like India, China has the allure of cheaper labor, but it also has begun to use its monetary policy to try to stimulate additional outsourcing and keep already outsourced jobs in China. Put another way, by keeping the yuan (their currency) at an "unnaturally" low rate to the dollar, Chinese goods are that much cheaper for American companies and consumers to buy.

So, for example, a dollar may be able to buy five umbrellas instead of three when exchanged for a weaker yuan, and as a result American consumers and companies might buy more Chinese umbrellas then they otherwise would, and hence more jobs making umbrellas stay in China rather than the United States or elsewhere.

This seemingly effective use of monetary policy by a second- or third-world nation marks perhaps an even more important event in the international battle over globalization and outsourcing.

Indeed, as the outsourcing debate continues, the next president may have to move beyond talk of job retraining programs and closing tax loopholes to prevent jobs from flowing overseas. He may also have to offer a more effective currency strategy in a world in which some second- and third-world countries have figured out how to aggressively manage their currencies without becoming another inflation-wracked Argentina.

The jury's still out on whether China's monetary policy will work over the long term. There's certainly more to the outsourcing debate than anyone could fairly review here, including the benefits of trade. But, make no mistake, in the very near term, expect the outsourcing debate and the presidential debate to return to China with new and potentially even more complicated issues on the table.

'The Year of Diversity'

Remember 1992, The Year of the Woman? That was the year five women were elected to the U.S. Senate following Anita Hill's testimony, thereby almost quadrupling the Senate's elected female membership at the time. Well, believe it or not, 2004 could be shaping up to be the Year of Diversity.

You may recall that we spotlighted Barack Obama last week, a well-regarded state senator, University of Chicago law professor and the first African-American to be elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. It turns out that we called that one right - he won this week to become the official Democratic nominee and current odds-on favorite to win the open Senate seat from Illinois.

In addition to Obama, 2004 may see a Native American and a Latino join the Senate as well. In Colorado, 49-year-old former state cabinet secretary and current state Attorney General Ken Salazar is now the odds on favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and perhaps win the seat currently held by retiring Republican Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. And in Oklahoma, former Rhodes Scholar and current U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, an enrolled member of the Cherokee tribe, is leading in the polls to become the Democratic nominee, and in fact, is currently ahead of the leading Republican challengers in some polls.

All of these elections are a long way off and a lot can happen. But with a closely divided Senate (essentially split 51-49), if these three win, in each case it would turn a current Republican seat into a Democratic seat. Thus, The Year of Diversity could also be the year that Democrats win back the Senate.

The GOP's canary in a coal mine

You like politics some, but you're not a junkie. You'd love to have a cheat sheet to figure out who is up and who is down. And you know that the polls can only tell you so much, especially this year. What can you do to really figure out which way the wind is blowing? Well, I'll tell you what I'm doing. I'm keeping my eye on the former Secretary of State James Baker.

If President Bush's re-election campaign is in trouble as summer approaches, don't be surprised to see the longtime Bush family friend and trouble-shooter jump into the campaign fray.

In 1992, the Bush family felt that he took over the first President Bush's reelection campaign too late to save (he took over in the fall instead of the summer). They did not make the same mistake of procrastinating in 2000 when the Florida fiasco erupted. Instead, the morning after the disputed election, Baker was dispatched to Florida to help make sure that candidate George W. Bush prevailed.

This time around, in 2004, Karen Hughes and other Bush confidantes have been brought back to help the president find his way to victory again. But as spring fades to summer, if the polls (especially the internal Republican polls) are shaky and the ship is still not clearly on course, expect to feel, if you don't always see, the steadying hand of Baker. He may be this campaign's ultimate "canary in the coal mine."

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