Local bloggers play political role

Two Republicans and two Democrats are joining to offer online information in the general election

Maryland Votes 2006

August 20, 2006|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

Candidates' forums can be inconvenient -- and lengthy -- to attend, but a politically diverse group of Howard County bloggers is planning an electronic question-and-answer session for the general election that voters can use when and how they please.

Although Republicans David Keelan and Dave Wissing and Democrats Ian Kennedy and Evan Coren do not share the same political philosophy, they all started local blogs based on politics or development, and they eventually connected and decided to collaborate.

They appear to have achieved a level of civility in short supply in Washington or Annapolis these days.

"Ideology aside, we all respect a difference of opinion," Keelan said. "It's a good thing."

Wissing, 31, of Columbia, who calls himself a moderate Republican, does the Hedgehog Report blog.

"I make no bones about where I stand in the political spectrum, but if you've got an opposing point of view, you're welcome to comment," he said.

Said Kennedy said about his fellow bloggers: "We're actually pretty friendly when you leave the politics aside."

Keelan, a conservative Republican running for his party's central committee, thought the group should sponsor a live forum, but the four quickly settled on their favorite medium instead, each producing his own blog.

"I think more people might be able to participate," said Coren, 27, of Columbia, a Democrat who writes Howard County Blog, one of two with the same name. "People are so busy with the rest of their lives, they have a hard time getting out" to an event.

Typing "Howard County Blog" into the Google search engine provides one blog and links to the three others.

Bloggers may represent a small segment of the electorate, but often they are young and could provide younger people an entree to local political issues, advocates such as Coren say.

In Western states, such as Montana and Colorado, blogging is even more popular because of the vast distances, he said.

A USA Today-Claritas national marketing survey done last fall scored Howard County as second in the nation for early adoption of new technology, so it would appear fertile ground for a computer forum, though some are skeptical.

The local bloggers claim from 200 to more than 1,000 hits a day.

"It's growing, but it tends to be restricted to the [political] junkies and the news media" who repeatedly visit the same sites, said Donald F. Norris, public policy professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "This is out there in the ether. If what you want to do is influence the election, a blog is not the way to do it."

Keelan, 41, of Ellicott City, whose writings are on a separate Howard County Blog, said the group plans to compose a list of questions for winners of the Sept. 12 primary, solicit e-mail responses and post them on all four blogs in October. Some Republican primary candidates already contribute to his blog.

Wissing said the blogs have an advantage because they can let readers see everything a candidate says.

"This way, you'll have their unedited answers," Wissing said.

Readers can pick and choose when and what to read and can ask questions or make comments of their own.

"What's going to make this different is that you're going to have four perspectives, conservative to liberal," said Keelan. "We're going to cover a pretty wide perspective. I think it's going to provide the reader with something different."

Coren's blog is more about development, especially his views about plans for urbanizing central Columbia.

The proposed 23-story high-rise, for example, is likely to be too exclusively high-income to fit Columbia's pursuit of diversity, he says.

This year, however, development also is an integral part of the political discussion.

Kennedy, 29, of Columbia, a Democrat, gained notice by helping to lead the grass-roots campaign to save Merriweather Post Pavilion from closing. He began his blog anonymously at first, he said, to see if there was enough interest to sustain it.

"Hopefully, I'm going to try to find something that hasn't been asked yet," Kennedy said. "I'd like to know more than whether the Zoning Board should be the County Council or not."

Wissing, who created the Hedgehog Report blog, knew Keelan from his Republican Club activities and had seen Kennedy's Hayduke Blog site and e-mailed him.

"I thought that's kind of cool -- another Howard County blogger, because I was the only one at the time," Wissing said.

Coren said he met Keelan and Wissing at a candidates forum in Glenwood a few months ago and was a friend of Kennedy, though he didn't know at first that Kennedy was the author of the Hayduke Blog.

Most candidates like the blogger idea, but not outgoing County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat who is running for state Senate this year.

"No, I'd rather show up and confront people face to face," he said. Answering questions electronically is "not my favorite way."

However, Robey said that he often stays up late answering constituents who e-mail him directly.

Republican Del. Gail H. Bates said she welcomes the bloggers idea.

"It's talk radio on computer," she said. "I think any way we can get voters thinking about the issues is a good idea."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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