Iowa Grows Crop of Political Blogs
By Jose Antonio Vargas
DES MOINES -- Iowa, like other Midwestern states, is getting wired.
Last year, Verizon Wireless spent nearly $42 million to improve its digital network in the Hawkeye State. Other companies, big and small, have also invested in wiring the state for online access, and free wireless connections have become a norm at local coffee-shops.
"Usage is higher for young people," says Steve Hildebrand, the veteran strategist who ran Al Gore's Iowa operation in 2000 and who now advises Sen. Barack Obama, "but certainly everyone -- young and old, in the city and rural areas -- is on there."
And with the new ease of connection, a small but influential home-grown Iowa blogosphere has blossomed. At the Mars Cafe, where the lattes and pastries come with a complimentary Wi-Fi connection, 22-year-old rising local blog star Chris Woods sat down with The Trail to assess the state of political blogging in the Hawkeye State.
"For the most part, the blogging community is small," says Woods, who blogs at Bleeding Heartland. "But Iowa's blogging community reaches the core activists, the core voters and caucus-goers, who come online and talk politics."
Three years ago, when insurgent Democrat Howard Dean was dubbed the Internet candidate, folks here could only name one well-known blogger: John Deeth.
But three years is a lifetime in online political space, and now Deeth is writing for Iowa Independent, the most read blog in the state.
Iowa Independent, a group blog written by many of the leading lights of the state's growing blogosphere, draws more than 10,000 unique viewers a week, according to the site. It's a reported blog that's deliberately non-partisan. This weekend's top stories include a posting on Republican Rep. Ron Paul ("The Ron Paul Question: Will Enthusiasm Translate To Support?") and on turn-out for the Democratic candidates ("Western Iowa Could Decide Democratic Caucuses). In the latter, Douglas Burns, a veteran reporter-turned-blogger, writes:
The intense push in western Iowa, particularly among Democrats, is result of the disproportionate influence we wield in Iowa caucuses. In short, western Iowa will determine the Democratic finish here -- and most likely the next president of the United States.
Dien Judge, another Iowa Independent blogger -- and also the son of the Patty Judge, the state's lieutenant governor -- says he is routinely contacted by the presidential campaigns. "They know that in a race this close, especially the Democratic race, anything and everything, including the blogs, are important," says Dien, 34.
Most blogs are inevitably more opinion-driven. Though two conservative blogs stand out -- The Real Sporer and Conservative Cyclones -- the state's more prominent blogs lean left. There's Century of the Common Iowan, written by Patrick Stansberry, a 44-year-old teacher, and Iowa True Blue, where Gordon Fischer, a lawyer and former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, blogs about his support for Sen. Barack Obama, whom he's advising.
And, of course Bleeding Heartland, run by Woods, a senior at Drake University, just a few blocks from the Mars Cafe. Woods sometimes blogs while at Mars, posting items in the down-time between his four classes at Drake.
"Our blogs in Iowa are nothing like Daily Kos or MyDD," says Woods of the popular liberal blogs. "But our blogging community is getting stronger, no doubt."
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