How the Web pushes politics further left, further right

In Maryland, online activists fuel a win for conservative Republicans and for liberal Democrats.

Published February 13, 2008 6:19PM (EST)

Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas is quite happy over the defeat last night of Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn in Maryland's primary election. Wynn, who has represented the state's 4th Congressional District since 1992 and supported the war in Iraq, has long been a target of the Kos wing of the Democratic Party. He was defeated in a landslide -- 60 percent to 36 percent* -- by Donna Edwards, an attorney whose campaign was championed by Kos, and many other political bloggers.

Meanwhile, the right-wing blog Red State and the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group, are excited over the defeat of Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress. The righty groups had favored Maryland state Sen. Andrew Harris, who is staunchly pro-war and anti-tax; he beat Gilchrest by 10 points, 43 percent to 33 percent.

These were just primary elections, but each of these districts is solidly partisan, so winners in the primaries tend to win in the general.

Thus if you're keeping score at home, here's what happened in Maryland last night: The state's House delegation moved further left and further right. It flew away from the center, and joined activists on either side. Thank you, Web.

In an incisive post on the Washington Post's Capital Briefing blog, Ben Pershing writes that the races prove, once again, the disruptive power of the Internet, its capacity to discombobulate politics as usual.

"The Internet has made it exponentially easier to nationalize races that used to be seen as strictly local affairs," Pershing writes. "Not long ago, a Democrat in California didn't know or care who represented Prince George's County in the House, nor did a Texas Republican pay much attention to the Congressman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Now they do know and they do care, because the Web makes it much easier for them to do so."

No doubt that's true. Pershing says that the Democrat Edwards got most of her money from donors in California and New York. The Republican Harris got half his money from out of state, while his opponent got 90 percent of his funds locally.

Moulitsas holds up Edwards' win as a warning to other Democrats who might be thinking of straying from the party line. "Our caucus is once again on notice," he writes. "If they continue to serve corporate interests rather than their constituents, if they insist on remaining aloof to the nation's popular sentiment, they'll get booted in a Democratic primary like Joe Lieberman in 2006 and Al Wynn in 2008."

No doubt Moulitsas is on to something. The trouble is, as the results prove, conservatives can do the same thing. A right-leaning Democrat was replaced by a left-leaning one, and a liberal Republican was replaced by a conservative one.

Is that really a win for online activists -- or is it, instead, a stalemate?

*An earlier version mistakenly put Wynn's result at the mathematically impossible 46 percent, rather than 36 percent. Back to top.

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

MORE FROM Farhad Manjoo

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2008 Elections