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Richardson Speaks to the Base

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has spent the entire campaign trying to find ways to stand out in a Democratic presidential field crowded with better-known and better financed candidates.

Over the last several months, the campaign has settled on a Richardson's proposal to remove all American troops from Iraq as the best way to differentiate himself from Sens. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.), Barack Obama (Ill.) as well as former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.). -- all three of whom would leave some residual troops in the country.

In debates, speeches and on the stump, Richardson has highlighted his Iraq withdrawal plan in hope of getting a spark in the liberal base, which strongly opposes the war and makes up a significant chunk of voters in early primary and caucus states as well.

Now Richardson is taking that message to the airwaves -- with a twist Here's the ad, which is set to begin running tomorrow in New Hampshire -- where The Fix is ensconsed for the next several days.

The three voices in the ad -- Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers and Christine Siun O'Connell -- are all prominent members of the so-called "netroots", the loose coalition of bloggers and online activists that has rapidly emerged as a new (and vocal) constituency within the Democratic party over the last several years.

By putting these three individuals in an ad focused on his Iraq proposal, Richardson is hoping to generate buzz among activists, who pay close attention to the personalities of the netroots, not just in New Hampshire but nationwide. The netroots have proven to be a cash cow for candidates they unite behind, and Richardson -- like anyone in the field not named Clinton or Obama -- can use the money. But, more than money, Richardson's ad is a wink of sorts to the netroots; "I'm one of you," Richardson is subtly saying.

This is not the first time that a major figure in the netroots has been featured in advertising in a contested election. Last cycle, Ned Lamont used Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos blog, in an ad during Lamont's successful Democratic primary challenge to Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. (Lieberman went on to run and win re-election as an independent.) The spot showed Moulitsas peering through a window behind Lamont before coming in to the house and offering his support. Unlike Richardson's ad, Moulitsas and his affiliation were not mentioned in the ad.

Did it work? It's impossible to quantify the effect of a single ad on a campaign but Lamont's decision to cross the blogosphere/campaign line was an intriguing one in a race where most of the voters were activist Democrats -- many of whom considered themselves member of the netroots.

Richardson's audience is far broader -- Democrats as well as Independents can vote in a party primary in New Hampshire -- and so he runs the risk of having his message lost on viewers who don't see Stoller, Bowers and O'Connell as serious messengers on the war or simply don't know who they are.

That said, Richardson is an underdog in the race and has to take chances if he wants to topple the big boys (and girl). Running an inside-the-box campaign ensures defeat for Richardson. These sorts of unorthodox moves might not get him where he needs to be either, but at least they show his campaign is thinking creatively.

By Chris Cillizza  |  September 25, 2007; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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