Where blogs are blogs and politicians are nervous

When the political blogosphere began to blossom, it held the promise of an activist electorate providing unprecedented accountability to our political class. Perhaps nowhere has this promise delivered better than in Minnesota, which has a vast, rich network of political blogs across the entire spectrum. The New York Times takes notice today in a look at how blogs, and one particular blog, has affected the upcoming Senate race:

On a laptop at a kitchen table in this cheery Twin Cities suburb, headlines ripping into Al Franken, the satirist whose campaign for the United States Senate is seen as one of the most competitive in the nation, are written up day after day for “Minnesota Democrats Exposed,” a political blog created by a former Republican Party researcher.

Michael B. Brodkorb, the blog’s creator, is a former Republican Party researcher who has worked on campaigns of some of this state’s top Republicans. His critics say the Web site’s claims, screamed in red uppercase letters, are often breathless, far-fetched, painfully partisan.

But Minnesota Democrats Exposed has dealt several blows to Mr. Franken’s campaign lately: revelations that he owed $25,000 to the State of New York for failing to pay workers’ compensation insurance and that his corporation was in forfeiture in California. Mr. Franken has since paid the debt.

With only weeks until the state Democratic Party’s convention, where Mr. Franken is expected to win the party’s endorsement to run against Senator Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, people here disagree about how much these financial questions will matter to voters in the fall.

What Mr. Franken’s circumstance has proven, though, is that no Minnesota candidate this fall can afford to ignore Mr. Brodkorb, or the rest of the state’s vast universe of Web sites devoted to local politics. Experts here say the abundance of these blogs is a mirror onto this state, its partisan split in recent years and its long tradition of intense political activism (by some measures, voter turnout here was the highest in the nation in 2006). That said, they are anything but Minnesota Nice.

The article features two fellow members of the Northern Alliance Radio Network, Michael and my partner from 1-3 today, Mitch Berg. The NARN is the longest-running terrestrial radio show by bloggers, having been on the air continuously since March 2004. Part of the reason for that success is the local blogging community, which seems to have outstripped most other states in building political influence.

Two of the three writers at Power Line and I also live and write here, but we tend to focus more on national and international issues. The MOB as well as unaffiliated writers on the Left and Right have kept their sights on state government, with tremendous results. Legislators and party leaders know that any under-the-table dealings will eventually surface in the blogs, and then in the media. The bloggers in Minnesota show what an informed and motivated electorate can do in keeping government at least somewhat in check.

Of course, you can join us today and every Saturday on the NARN and see for yourselves.