It started as a simple blog post. Sean Braisted, an influential progressive blogger, wrote up an item noting Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Roy Herron (D-Dresden) was recorded voting in favor of a Senate resolution rebuking The Employee Free Choice Act, a Republican-sponsored resolution opposed by labor.
What happened next could be used as a case study in how both to deal and how not to deal with new media in Tennessee.
Some hours after the original posting, a campaign volunteer for Herron, Kathy Chambers, well-known in progressive circles, reached out to bloggers to explain the situation. Chambers told the bloggers that Herron had been distracted and voted in error.
“Shortly before the vote, another senator began talking with Sen. Herron about different legislation. When the vote was suddenly called, Herron mistakenly pushed the 'Aye' button, and before he could push the 'No' button, the voting machine was locked. He immediately went to the clerk to correct his vote. The official record will reflect that he did NOT vote for the resolution,” stated Chambers in an e-mail to bloggers.
Braisted, however, noted in an updated post that Herron was listed as voting for the measure not only on the floor but in an earlier committee meeting as well.
At that point, Herron took matters into his own hands. Herron called Braisted at his home shortly before 7 a.m. the next morning to clear the air.
Herron told Braisted that he had not fully investigated the EFCA before the vote in committee but had subsequently seen the error of his ways. After speaking with friends who schooled him on the ins and outs of the act, Herron said he had not intended to vote for the resolution on the floor. Herron said he was distracted and accidentally voted 'Yay.' Herron had the clerk change the record to reflect him as not voting on the issue.
The fallout from the episode has been almost universally negative for Herron. However, for the political blogosphere it can only be seen as positive. The power of citizen media as a force in Tennessee politics has now been revealed.
A major candidate for the most powerful office in the state saw fit to dispatch an aide to clear up an issue that appeared almost exclusively in the citizen media.
At the time Braisted and others were first contacted, with the exception of the site I edit, NashvillePost.com's political blog Post Politics, Herron's errant vote had appeared nowhere in the mainstream media. Not a mention in print or on the Web except in the citizen online media. Herron's damage control operation, clumsy as it may have been, was designed exclusively for the blogosphere.
If you did not read blogs, this story was invisible to you. The general public had no idea of Herron's vote or Braisted's post. Yet Herron was concerned enough to set the record straight with the blogosphere. Why? Because while it is true that the readers of political blogs do not get the eyeballs that traditional media outlets get, the eyeballs they do get are prized ones.
While many of those who scan through what Braisted, Ilissa Gold, LeftWingCracker and other bloggers have to say on a regular basis are just regular folk, a large proportion of them are thoroughly 'in the game.' They are activists, operatives and influencers. Amongst the crew of active Young Democrats in this town Braisted's blog is required reading. This is not to blow smoke up the man's hindquarters. It is to illustrate a point. It is not just quantity of pageviews that matters in new media but quality of readership.
When Herron took a hit on Braisted's blog, he heard about it. People were talking about the vote in certain circles — the kind of circles that pay attention to gubernatorial primaries 14 months out.
Later on in the process, it might be newspapers and television that make or break the governor's race. But in these earlier days before all activists, operatives and donors have solidified their support behind one of the candidates, a bad mention like this on the wrong blog can hurt.
Herron is a very conservative Democrat. He was a supporter of the guns-in-restaurants bill. His status as a preacher makes him more socially conservative than most. Braisted's highlighting of an anti-labor vote was not something Herron needed broadcast.
The senator certainly handled the episode atrociously, allowing his flack to go to the citizen media with incomplete information, but his instinct to try and head things off at the pass was the correct one.
The power of new media can be exaggerated. It constantly is. But in an early stage of a gubernatorial primary the blogs and the people behind them are players in the game.
Sen. Herron, although now he'd probably wished he hadn't, helped prove that without a shadow of a doubt last week.
Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://postpolitics.net