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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

2006 Pennsylvania Senate Primary: Internet-fueled challenge

Posted by Bob Brigham

This morning's Philadelphia Inquirer:

If Chuck Pennacchio's candidacy was judged by conventional campaign standards, he would stand little chance in the 2006 U.S. Senate race.

The Democratic establishment bypassed the Philadelphia professor earlier this month to line up behind state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. Pennacchio has never run for statewide office. And he has pledged to reject money from special interests in favor of small individual donations.

All of that could have buried Pennacchio from the start just a few years ago, but not necessarily these days when Web logs, or blogs, can lift an obscure candidate into the realm of contender.

Pennacchio and his small, Web-savvy staff have been leaving footprints across dozens of blogs during the last month, hoping their Internet presence - combined with traditional campaigning - builds a loyal grassroots following to rival Casey's stranglehold on the establishment.

"Wherever you look - we'll be there. Like a bad pop-up ad for the University of Phoenix," Pennacchio's 28-year-old blogging guru, Tim Tagaris, wrote on one Web site, referencing that school's Internet saturation.

Blogging guru, eh?

Pennacchio's Internet approach is a smart way to jump-start an outsider's campaign, such as Howard Dean did in the 2004 presidential race, said Daniel M. Shea, director of Allegheny College's Center for Political Participation.

The ol' Howard Dean comparision, I hope Tim is prepared to deal with front-runner's syndrome...

Pennacchio, who hopes to raise $3 million for the primary, has asked his supporters to start their own blogs. He spent $5,000 on his first ad buy. But that kind of money wouldn't buy a few seconds on TV or radio, so he blanketed 18 national and local blogs. Pennacchio held his first conference call in late February. But instead of gathering print and broadcast media, he discussed his campaign with 10 Pennsylvania and New Jersey bloggers, including a 16-year-old.

"They are opinion leaders and they need to be respected," Pennacchio said.

How else would SheaBrianna Christilaw, 24, a Pittsburgh student and author of the blog Urban Democracy, have gotten involved in his campaign this early? She's organizing a Friday reception during his first swing through Western Pennsylvania.

Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, a writer for Young Philly Politics, said Pennacchio appeared to be benefiting not so much from anti-Casey sentiment - "I think a lot of people were very happy with him running" - but anger stemming from efforts by Democratic leaders to clear the primary field.

"It is this presumption from the state party that they know best," Urevick-Ackelsberg, 23, said. "People want to feel more like they can have a say."

Pennacchio has "a lot of potential," Urevick-Ackelsberg said, but a far way to go.

"It would be the upset of all upsets."

More from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, scheduled to appear tonight at a Center City fund-raiser, said the party would do "anything we can" to defeat Republican Sen. Rick Santorum next year.

The expected clash between Santorum and the consensus Democratic candidate, State Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., already is intensifying. Dean's GOP counterpart, Ken Mehlman, last week said reelecting Santorum was his party's top priority. [...]

Casey faces an Internet-fueled challenge for the nomination from Chuck Pennacchio, a University of the Arts professor.

"realm of contender"
"loyal grassroots following"
"Internet saturation"
"smart way to jump-start an outsider's campaign"
"blanketed 18 national and local blogs"
"the upset of all upsets"
"Internet-fueled challenge"

It looks like Tim has been busy when he isn't blogging for Swing State Project.

Posted at 07:25 PM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - Senate, Netroots, Pennsylvania | Technorati