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Web Activism Defeats Gilchrest and Wynn

Two Maryland Congressmen with more than three decades of combined House experience lost their jobs Tuesday, unable to beat back fierce primary challenges driven by strong ideological coalitions.

In the 1st District, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest was defeated in the GOP contest by state Sen. Andy Harris. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, Harris had 44 percent of the vote compared to 32 percent for Gilchrest and 21 percent for state Sen. E.J. Pipkin. And in the 4th district, Rep. Al Wynn was trounced in the Democratic primary by activist Donna Edwards, who led by 25 points with 76 percent of the vote counted.

The obvious explanation for those losses is that Gilchrest wasn't conservative enough for his district and Wynn wasn't liberal enough for his. In that sense, the results were a simple function of base-voter dissatisfaction.

But the defeat of two entrenched incumbents also serves as a reminder of a growing trend in modern campaigns: The Internet has made it exponentially easier to nationalize races that used to be seen as strictly local affairs. 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.

Edwards' campaign was trumpeted -- and Wynn was pilloried -- throughout the liberal blogosphere on sites like Daily Kos and Act Blue.

Club for Growth and sites like Red State made sure conservatives across the country were familiar with Gilchrest's voting record.

And the money followed. According to CQ MoneyLine, Edwards received twice as much money from California donors as she did from Maryland, and nearly as much from New York as from her home state. On the GOP side, Harris got roughly half of individual contributions from out of state, while Gilchrest got more than 90 percent from Maryland.

That only covers direct donations to the candidates' campaigns. The Sierra Club and used e-mail and the Web to mobilize their national donor bases and help pay for ads backing Edwards, while Club for Growth tapped its wealthy network to hit Gilchrest.

Of course, these were not the first campaigns to be driven by the Internet. The power of the Web helped put Howard Dean's (D) presidential campaign on the map in 2004, and it also drove Ned Lamont's (D) Connecticut Senate bid in 2006 and a host of other candidacies. Tuesday's results were just the latest -- and most local -- evidence that members have to pay close attention to their districts. If dissatisfaction is allowed to build at home, it can go viral.

More on these races:

* Donna Edwards Defeats Rep. Albert Wynn | Q&A, 1 p.m. ET

* On an Icy Day, a Challenger Wins Her Heated Contest

By Ben Pershing  |  February 13, 2008; 8:52 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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now if we can get rid of all the ILLEGAL ALIEN supporting Congressmen coast to coast we won't have to worry about the NO-CHOICE Presidential canidates the new Three Amigos !!

Posted by: smitty | February 13, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

What you are missing here, Mr Pershing, is the huge SEIU ad buy against Al Wynn -- over $400,000 the week prior to the election. This wasn't simply a netroots victory, as there was real grassroots disgust with Wynn (he almost lost to Edwards in 2006) and a huge service union investment in the Donna Edwards campaign as well.

This was a broad and deep anti-corporatist, anti-war, pro-labor, people-powered coalition. Ascribing the victory to the netroots activism leaves out most of the Donna Edwards story.

PS Act Blue is a funds aggregator and doesn't excoriate any Democrat, as people raise money for all Democrats using its tools. The Blues that raised money for Donna Edwards on Act Blue were Blue America and Blue Majority.

Posted by: TeddySanFran | February 13, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

While the body of the story seems reasonable to me, I find the headline a bit innapropriate. "Web Activism" didn't defeat the incumbents. They were defeated by their challengers. Web activism helped push things along but in the end more people in their districts voted against their current representatives.

Isn't that news enough?

Posted by: Paul Dirks | February 13, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

As far as I can tell, both winners are "pro-illegal immigrant". A good philosophy, and one that would see more American's invested in our election process is the "never re-elect anybody" philosophy. A further adjunct to this philosophy that I heartily support is "never allow one party to control both houses of Congress and the White House" at the same time, the arguments in favor of this latter philosophy are readily apparent!

Posted by: Ed Weirdness | February 13, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I was proud to hear that news this morning. I am convinced that all of us need to change government. We do that by voting out ALL incumbents no matter the political persuasion. Congress will not quit its corruption. It is up to us to quit the incumbents and put fresh blood on the hill and make them represent the will of the people. I encourage all people to vote out incumbents.

Posted by: Dano | February 13, 2008 1:02 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: Male Enhancement | March 4, 2008 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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