September 15, 2007

Primary Misstep: How Laffey's Supporters Made the Worst Out of Whatever Influence Anchor Rising Enabled

Justin Katz

I'll confess: I'm as curious as anybody about commentary related to myself and things in which I'm involved, which is why I found myself standing in the Middletown Barnes & Noble in my dirty carpentry garb a couple of hours ago flipping to the index of Steve Laffey's just-released book, Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign) (see ad at left). And sure enough, Anchor Rising appears several times. (Although none of the contributors are mentioned by name, some commenters are.)

The most extended mention (p. 117) raises some interesting questions, which I may ask (and answer, of course) at greater length, perhaps in a Projo column:

But in the Union's smallest state, where all politics is local, it's a slightly different story. To be sure, the blogs in Rhode Island played a major role in this campaign, just not the role they thought.

... Every once in a blue moon, one of these blogs posts a scoop, but the true role fo the Rhode Island blogs is to serve as an outlet for political aggression, especially in the winter months when the weather puts a damper on door-to-door campaigning.

But unlike knocking on doors, the blog wars between the Laffey and Chafee camps was not really about the votes. After all, it was a relatively small group of insiders and politicos who followed the daily posts and comments. No, blogging was a New Age form of psychological warfare and, as a fringe benefit, an immensely enjoyable form of entertainment. See, the key to winning the blog wars came down to two things: organization and a robust sense of humor. ...

As far as organization went, nothing topped our finely tuned blogging machine in the form of "blog alerts." Every time a post went up on one of the blogs relating to the race, a local Laffey lover took it upon himself to send an e-mail around to a group of trusted supporters with instructions to inundate the blogosphere with the Laffey message. Ranging from levels 1 through 5, a typical e-mail went like this: "Blog Alert Level 5: Chafee is voting against Alito. Go to town!" or "Blog Alert Level 5: On Anchor Rising, there is a post basically condemning the Chafee personal attack ads"...

Laffey goes on to describe the commenter nickname themes that many of you will recall not-so-fondly.

The alert system and the themes both point to the reason that I think the Laffey campaign's handling of blogs wound up hurting more than it helped. The stridency and general tone (which came across more as heavily insulting than light-hearted) turned some potentially avid supporters into, at best, reluctant supporters who could stand the other candidate even less, and anybody who had any leanings toward Chafee for reasons of comparable electability was magnificently confirmed in those leanings.

As I've said previously, I don't think Anchor Rising, or blogs generally, played a big role in the last election in this state. For his part, Laffey gives the impression that blogs' "major role" was mainly to enable his supporters to blow off steam. I can only hope, for multiple reasons, that his assessment is different next time around.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Hey Justin - I thought the nickname themes were hilarious!

I disagree with you (and Laffey) that Anchor Rising played only a minor role in the election. Many journalists (particularly those of the lazy variety) look to blogs for analysis and then synthesize, parse, and rephrase for more general publication.

A careful reading of many '06 news stories post-AR blog discussion will unearth similar general themes and, sometimes, the exact wordings used by commentators (Not posters!!! We remember your distinction, my friend)

Fred Sanford's commentary, in particular, often found its way into the realm of general publications.

I think you are mistaking "stridency and general tone" for passion, an emotion that the Chafee interns and hired guns clearly lacked.

If I had to give out an award for '06 nastiness on the blog, Anthony would be the clear winner. And he was a Chafee guy, with state-of-the-art blinders probably issued by the former horseshoer himself.

If you found the '06 Senate race blogging so distasteful, Justin, then take down the category. After all, this is '07 last time I looked.

I'll bet you won't, though. You guys want hits on the site (understandably)and the '06 battles probably remain an excellent draw - particularly now that Laffey's book is out.

Justin, enjoy the attention and the readership it will surely add. Your blog is first-rate and most readers visiting you for the Laffey/Chafee drama will expore the site and become regulars.

Keep up the great work!!

Posted by: bountyhunter at September 15, 2007 8:13 PM

I'm sure you did find the nicknames hilarious, Bountyhunter. I specifically meant how the joke "came across" to those outside of the clique, and you're "the most intellectual and one of the most dedicated of the blogging clan" (p. 121).

I do shake my head at the impression that people apparently have of Anchor Rising contributors (and me in particular). The idea that we're sufficiently organized and calculating to make readership-driven decisions about whether to leave up a category is bewildering. If I were the only one empowered to create categories, the year-specific ones probably wouldn't exist, and if I had a little more time on my hands, they most likely would have collapsed into other categories by now.

As for election and book–related traffic, I don't follow our traffic at this level of detail with any deliberateness, but I haven't seen any indication that either has been "an excellent draw," although that may change with the book's release. (And Mr. Laffey was good enough to spell out the URL several times.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 15, 2007 8:35 PM

As a Cranstonian, Laffey was a lousy mayor. He gets an A for talk and a D- for action. Other than the crossing guards, his "solving" the fiscal crisis consisted of raising taxes over 20%. Hell, nitwits like Grace Diaz and Pat Crowley could have done that!
Nonetheless, with state taxes about as high as they can go (highest sales tax, 2nd highest income and cigarette taxes, 5th highest gas taxes, etc.) he is really the only shot we have in 2010. His talk alone will be worth it-imagine the leeches camping out on th state.
That union backed wimp Mayor in Warwick? Don't make me laugh. we all need to unite for Laffey.

Posted by: Mike at September 15, 2007 9:00 PM

I must agree with Bountyhunter (that door-kicking brute with the soul of an editor.) I came upon AR just before the Laffey race and stayed on as a regular (lurker) due to the outstanding content posted daily. The recent coverage of the teacher strikes coupled with Justin's foray into his local political arena certainly fortified my decision to stay on as a reader.

And like Bountyhunter, I had a great time tweaking the Chafee drones (Flip, Chip, Biff and Schadenfreude, or whatever their names were.)

Anchor Rising is the best blog in RI, and perhaps the best in the Northeast. I'm not just saying this because Justin banned me during Laffey/Chafee and then graciously allowed me back on after I explained my point of view in greater detail. After reading this blog every day for well over a year, I honestly believe it.

Justin, Andrew, Marc, Donald and Mac - keep up the great work - and here's to seeing your traffic go through the roof!

Posted by: oz at September 15, 2007 9:27 PM

I admit to having voted for Chafee because I thought he had a better shot to hold the seat.

I still believe that Laffey would have been badly beaten in the general, although I recognize that he would have made for a much more interesting candidate than Linc did.

And, after listening to those gasbags over the last few days in the Petraeus hearings, don't you think that Laffey would have found the Senate a very frustrating place?

Here's what I think Laffey needs to do in order to run for Governor; ease up on the egomania and start talking about ides.

Let's face it - Laffey's personality turns a lot of people off. The remedy for that is to shift the focus off of his personality and onto concrete proposals of things that he would do if he became Gov.

There's already a model for this; it's Newt Gingrich's "winning the future" web site.

Posted by: brassband at September 15, 2007 9:56 PM


Your blog was on fire this time last year. I personally did battle with several individuals over the course of the senate campaign who were morons then and probably remain morons now. That was half the fun. Anonymous flaming at its bloggy best, all for a good cause.

But if you actually think that the handful of people who populate this blog (on either side of any debate), or any other for that matter matters then you need to take a look in the mirror.

Don't get me wrong. What you provide (a forum for reasonable people to express their views) is the best use of the web. For this you get an A. But when it comes to moving the needle… well I just don’t think Anchor Rising is an actual agent of change. Anchor Rising is nice. But what Rhode Island needs is leadership, strong leadership.

All the good intentions, anecdotal blather, finger pointing, and even the exposure of the crimes and misdemeanors of many of the people who are actually elected to public office in this state makes us all well informed. But at the end of the day can we see anything getting better? NOT! Our state is a disgrace. Montalbano>Celona>Harwood>Lyons>DiPrete>Cianci>Roger Williams Hospital>Beacon Mutual>Tobacco $$$>$700 Million Deficit>Highest Taxes on the planet>etc., etc.

Here’s my best advice to you. Run for the US Senate or Mayor of Cranston for that matter. Win the election. Govern with passion and do the right thing. Change the way things work in Rhode Island. Make a difference for the better.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 15, 2007 11:07 PM


A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

Posted by: michael at September 16, 2007 1:18 AM

Was this post really worth a Level 5, people? Just kidding.

I don't necessarily think that blogs (AR included) played a decisive or very important role in the 2006 primary. However, I think you underestimate their role (whether or not it is a role that you want it to assume). As a true blogger (in the good sense of the word), Justin seems to put the main focus on creating a quality site that keeps people coming back for more, not on generating web traffic, selling ad space, or getting specific political messages (propaganda) out, as some other blogs do.

The blogs did (and still do) play an important role -- they help shape the perception of those who read them (as with talk radio, only a small percentage of listeners call in ... on blogs, only a small percentage of readers actually comment). Even more, since they introduce ideas to a broader audience, the effect is mulitipled when those people tell their friends, etc. Basically, they help "plant," for lack of a better word, ideas or themes into the heads of journalists and radio personalities who read them, who will then follow up on those conversations in the "old" media, which still has a following in this state, especially with old folks (who tend to vote in large numbers).

How much do you want to bet that there will be s story about Chafee's disaffiliation from the GOP within the next few days, as a result of what someone at the Projo or WPRO reads on here? If a lot of people start talking about the same thing, it creates "buzz." Buzz equals attention. It can either be spontaneous, or it can be coordinated for maximum effect (I've always been a fan of "planned spontaneity"). It's an information age version of supply side economics, i.e. supply creates its own demand.

PS I liked the nicknames for their "obviousness," as my good friend Fred knows. The concept was not just to get ideas across, but also to have fun while doing it.

Posted by: Will at September 16, 2007 2:09 AM

Agree that blogs in general play minimal roles in moving numbers within elections.
The true strength of Anchor Rising is the intelligent analysis/commentary of its' contributors and the brilliance of people like 'Tim' who comment on that analysis. lol
Keep up the great work guys!
Anchor Rising is the best around and without peer in Rhode Island.

Posted by: Tim at September 16, 2007 7:46 AM

You nailed it, Justin - I thought at the beginning of the primary season that either Laffey would take it or Chafee would end up running as an independent. But Laffey and his peeps completely overplayed their hand. They've got no one to blame but themselves for his defeat.

Posted by: rhody at September 16, 2007 11:07 AM

I'm with Joe Mahn.

Posted by: Chuck at September 16, 2007 11:12 AM

I'm with Joe Mahn.

Posted by: Chuck at September 16, 2007 11:12 AM

Justin, I agree with oz about outstanding commentary on AR. That is what keeps me reading. But I wouldn't take youself or your blog too seriously. A very small representation of the voting public appears on RI's big-two (AR and RI Future). Commenters are generally political junkies whose minds are very unlikely to be changed by another commenter's statements. On the other hand, the blogs are a very good place to wage political warfare of a psychological nature. It is why we had so much fun lambasting the poor excuses the Chafee die-hards came up with for supporting him. In the end, it was a lot of $%^*-busting and a lot of fun.

I haven't seen nearly the level of commenter activity on Anchor Rising since the Laffey-Chafee race. Few issues have even inspired me to comment myself. To me, that speaks more to the influence of Laffey's challenge to the political status-quo than to the influence and blog.

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at September 16, 2007 12:23 PM

sorry... didn't catch that last phrase..
should be: to the influence of any blog.

Posted by: Stretch Cunningham at September 16, 2007 12:26 PM


A journey to the bathroom in the middle of the night starts with one step. What exactly are you saying?


Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 16, 2007 1:43 PM


How exactly did you come to the conflicted conclusions you inarticulately expressed in your recent post?

The list of Laffey’s real accomplishments for the City of Cranston are very well documented here, as well as in the PROJO and even in the smaller weeklies, at the Bond Rating Agencies, and on local TV and Talk Radio. I can’t remember a single speech or statement from Laffey or his team of workers, volunteers or supporters that asked anyone to like him. He asked for people to vote for him so he could win the election and turn the City upside down. He did that in the face of much opposition and with a Democrat majority City Council.

Were you not here during that time?

Weird as it might seem I agree with your conclusion 100%.


Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 16, 2007 1:58 PM

Blogs are a relatively new means of communication. Talk radio is easy, therefore the platform there must be simple to understand and pander to other forces such as ratings and advertising, and the whims of the talk show host. Blogs take effort on the participants part. Just signing on shows an interest in the world around us, not just pushing a button for some background noise. Writing commentary to agree, disagree, belittle, ridicule or just vent also takes some work, and more important, thought. It is thinking people who will direct the future. If that is 1%, the rest will follow. Blogs are the springboard into a new understanding of the way things work, not just gut reactions and cheap talk.

Conservatives dominate talk radio not because they are intellectually superior to liberals, rather they, in my opinion, are not afraid to think on subjects rather than react to their feelings and offer commentary that isn't worth much of anything.

Liberal blogs have their place as well. Knowlege is power, and the written word is more powerful than any talk.

Blogs make people think. Writing is hard, talk is cheap. I think that nothing but good can come from all of this, the first steps toward a better understanding of our government, corruption, success, and way of life has begun.

Thankfully it's not 1000 steps to the bathroom, I've got to go.

Posted by: michael at September 16, 2007 2:27 PM

I admit, there are times when I miss the Chafee/Laffey race!

I have to disagree with bountyhunter's assertion, though. I wasn't nasty at all. I rarely (if ever) engaged in the name-calling of other people posting even though it was obvious that they were manipulating the blog.

As for the Laffey side, I'd say that Fred Sanford and Will communicated Laffey's positions the best--which wasn't always an easy thing to do as Laffey had to re-tool himself from a conservative supporter of George W. to an independent populist critical of the Bush administration as the President's number dropped.

In many ways, Chafee had it easier. His message was the equivalent of "Sure, I'm to the left of the average Republican, but I can hold the Senate".

One thing that I do find strange is the "anonymous" part. Does anyone really think that e-mails and postings on the Internet are truly anonymous unless they're on a proxy server?

Posted by: Anthony at September 17, 2007 4:26 PM


Maybe I just don’t get it. Blogs are new? Talk radio is easy? What are you trying to say?

Blogs are like any other medium of communication. Some are widely read and influential, while others are not widely read and therefore not so influential. Writing and talking are also forms of communication that can be done well or poorly.

If you are saying that writing is somehow intrinsically superior to the spoken word then I would say that you are mistaken. Both means of communication, when done well, can have great influence on the reader or the hearer.


Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 17, 2007 11:18 PM


Manipulating the blog?

... Oh, when you express your opinion its somehow valid, but when those you oppose express theirs its "manipulating the blog."

Now I see it all clearly. You‘re a forked tounged hypocrit.

Thanks for being so honest about it.

Joe "Mr. Sensitive" Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at September 17, 2007 11:30 PM

The "handful of people" who populate this blog are just the beginning. They do matter.

Mine was a simple, old as Confuscious observation. In my opinion, blogs such as this are making thinking people think harder. The talk radio reference was just my own boredom with that medium speaking.

Posted by: michael at September 18, 2007 12:14 AM


Oh come on. Laffey and supporters have admitted to a strategy of alerts to manipulate conversation. More than once, during that period, we caught people posting under multiple names so as to manipulate the conversation. That's a different type of behavior than merely expressing one's opinion.

Leveraging that obtuseness into a personal attack provides a good example of what was so repellent about the manipulation's execution. Knock it off.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 18, 2007 6:01 AM

Justin said it best.

I'd make an exception applying the tag to Will. His participation appeared to be genuine.

I also agree with Justin on his point that it probably did Laffey more harm than good.

I paid more atttention to the Senate race then I otherwise would have paid. When the race started, I was largely indifferent to it, but as time went on, I would go out of my way to bring up the race to friends and relatives who weren't planning on voting.

It's a little like Ladainian Tomlinson insulting the Patriots. Insults are one of the best way to motivate and galvanize your opposition and like the restaurant business, word of mouth can have a strong effect in a small market.

Posted by: Anthony at September 18, 2007 10:39 AM
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