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Week of 9.5.08

Interview: RedState's Erick Erickson

Erick Erickson is the managing editor of RedState, a widely read right-of-center blog that caters to the conservative online community. In a web-exclusive interview, NOW's David Brancaccio talks to Erickson about how bloggers like him are working hand-in-hand with Republican candidates to get their message out. Is political blogging changing the nature of journalism?

Related Links:

NOW: Blog the Vote?


BRANCACCIO: You know, you come out of this convention looking forward, obviously, the presidential race. But, in America, you have separation of powers, and you have Congress as well. And you start looking at those congressional races, things looking interesting. It's—well, I won't even mention the House of Representatives as a favorite to a conservative right. (LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: I appreciate that—

BRANCACCIO: Erick Erickson, thank you for joining us.

ERICKSON: Thank you. Glad to be here.

BRANCACCIO: So, as you come out of this convention looking forward, obviously, the presidential race.


BRANCACCIO: But you also have congress. I mean, in America congress has some power too.

ERICKSON: Yeah. Just a little bit.

BRANCACCIO: I'm gonna ask you about the Senate in a second. I'll avoid actually asking you about the House of Representatives. You being conservative and everything.

ERICKSON: Yeah, it's not gonna happen for the Republicans this year. Regardless of their spin.

BRANCACCIO: Well. But, in the Senate, it gets very interesting. You read that some optimistic Democrats think that maybe, just maybe, they could pull off enough seats in this November that they would have a filibuster proof majority. Sixty seats. I don't know how they count—Lieberman or not from Connecticut. (LAUGHTER) But let's talk about that. You think there's any shot at 60 for the Democrats?

ERICKSON: There's always a shot. There was a shot at the Republican—for the Republicans six years ago. I don't think it's going to happen, though. It—it's extremely difficult. And it—it does look like more and more people could get to the end of the campaign and say, "You know, gosh, when the Democrats controlled both branches, and then the Republicans, what good? Let—let's go with McCain and—and—and then go with the Democrats." But I—I don't think they'll give them 60 seats. It's gonna be very, very difficult. A lot of the seats they were calling, like Tom Allen in Maine, for example—are—they're shifting back to the Republican way now.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah, Tom Allen is the Democrat running against, really, quite a formidable force, Susan Collins (PH). A moderate Republican up there.

ERICKSON: Yes. Very popular up there.

BRANCACCIO: So for Democrats to get 60 seats—Ms. Collins would have to go.

ERICKSON: She would have to go.

BRANCACCIO: And you don't see that.

ERICKSON: I don't see that happening. Gordon Smith (PH), maybe, in Oregon. Right now he's up on the air with—with ads showing how friendly he is to Barack Obama. He is in danger. But he's had very tight races in the past as well, and was able to hang on.

So I don't see it. And then if you look in Colorado, for example, at Mark Udal's (PH) seat, or—the seat that's being vacated by Hagel (PH), it—it—it looks very much like it could be—shifting towards the Republicans because of the energy issue.

BRANCACCIO: Because of the energy issue? When they're talking about offshore oil drilling that is—an issue that you think is really resonating.

ERICKSON: I think it is very reason—really resonating. If you look at the polling trends in Colorado, for example—Mark Udal is very, very far ahead. Until Ken Salazar (PH), the—the senior senator there, who was soon to be senior senator—decided he was opposed to the shale drilling. And Mark Udal's poll numbers have started going down. And—Bob Schaeffer's (PH) numbers have started going up. Orin Hatch (PH), by the way, is pushing very hard for this race. They think they can win it, the Republicans do.

BRANCACCIO: And they're pouring a lot of money, particularly, into that Colorado race. The Republicans are.

ERICKSON: They are. They are. The Republicans think they've got to lock down Colorado now because it's trending—trending purple. There are a lot of other factors there though that—Tim Gill (PH), the gay rights activist—who made a lot of money online is pouring money into local races there to—try to swing the entire state blue.

BRANCACCIO: To go toward the blue. So the Republicans have noticed this threat and—also making their investments. But then you have South Carolina. Elizabeth Dole. I mean she is a formidable—campaigner. Yet, the Democrat challenger, Kay Hagen (PH)—approximately making a pretty good run there.

ERICKSON: You know, it—it—it's one of those races that the Democrats point to. Sort of like they're—they're pointing to—(UNINTEL) in Georgia against Jim Martin (PH) as someone who's gonna beat—I—I don't see it being possible for the Democrats to pick up those seats.

Elizabeth Dole is a known commodity. Her favorability rating in North Carolina is very good. So there's a lot of polling out there right now. But you probably remember, as well, that the polling is somewhat skewed right now—based on the partisan perspective in the polling.

Are they over sampling Democrats? Under sampling Republicans? Everyone is guessing that there's going to be a huge Democrat turnout for Barack Obama this year. But they don't really know. And the polls right now are trending, advantage-wise, to the Democrats based on the turnout projections that are being presumed right now.

BRANCACCIO: That's interesting. Almost—as they build in a statistical model for turnout projections, that could actually make it look like the Democrats are stronger than maybe they are.

ERICKSON: I think so. I think so. You—you see that across the country. And now—there's a report out, I believe it came out this past week—while everyone's been up here in—Minnesota, showing that party ID for the Republicans is starting to creep back up. It had been very low. And now starting to trend back up. And so the models are shifting on the polls. I would expect, in the next month or so, to see some of these polls really shifting.

BRANCACCIO: That's when people are asked, "So, are you a proud Democrat? You a proud Republican?"


BRANCACCIO: "Not so proud independent? What are you?" More and more people are—

ERICKSON: More and more people are willing to go back and say Republican. Or at least say independent which, by and large, helps the Republicans right now, I think.

BRANCACCIO: Now, I was checking out your site a couple days ago, Red State. And—somebody, I don't know if it was you, was—boasting about the fact that Obama didn't get much of a bounce from the convention. And then there's some new data out—later this week that suggested, well, maybe there was a bounce.

ERICKSON: Yeah, it—it looks like there was a bounce for Obama. That was not me who wrote that. (LAUGHTER) It—it looks like there has been a bounce. The question now is whether John McCain is also going to get a bounce. And, as well, that the polling that has come out, the trend samples haven't really caught up to the Sar—Sarah Palin news yet. So you may very well start to see Obama start to come back down before the Republican convention is over. And—and see the trend lines go towards McCain once everyone is home from Saint Paul.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah, the news that she was the—choice of John McCain, but also there's been a lot of news about Sarah Palin as the week went on here.

ERICKSON: Yeah, abso—absolutely. Ei—either the—this has been a tremendous week for the party, as a whole. The—the base is very, very excited about Sarah Palin as—as we head out of Saint Paul. Some of the people who were money people tied to the other candidates who expected their guy to become vice president aren't so happy. But they're the only ones I talked to this entire week in Saint Paul who were unhappy.

BRANCACCIO: Well, that's—that's a key thing. You're—you're out there mixing with as many people as you can. And you're hearing a little bit of grumbling about Sarah Palin among people who wanted someone else for vice president.

ERICKSON: Right. Yes. The—that—that's about the only grumbling. The people who were solid money contributors to, for example—a Mitt Romney, a Fred Thompson, or really for Minnesota, and hoped for Tim Poliny (PH), those are the people grumbling.

The—the actually activists out there, the delegates who were on the floor this week in Saint Paul, those are the people who are fired up over Sarah Palin. People who, coming into Saint Paul, weren't that energized about John McCain, are now going out very energized.

BRANCACCIO: You're not hearing concerned express about her experience?

ERICKSON: You—not a lot. Now, the—there are some. It's very interesting listening in—in Saint Paul, this past week. The inside the Beltway Republicans, the—the strategists who've been up there forever, "I'm very concerned about Sarah Palin and her experience."

"Let's just don't talk about it right now." The activists out there are like, "She's been governor. She's balanced budgets. She's raised five kids. She's got a lot of experience. Get out there and sell it." There really continues to be, in both the Democrats and Republican party, I think an inside the Beltway and outside the Beltway mentality. And—and it's really not connecting on Sarah Palin like it sometimes does.

BRANCACCIO: And help me evaluate where you think this John Matain (PH)—help me evaluate where this John McCain ticket is gonna stand, ideologically. Because you have, at the top of the ticket, McCain himself, the senator. He has this reputation for being a maverick.

A moderate on many issues. He's brought along, as a running mate, a fairly inexperienced person. but she's pretty strong hard conservative credentials. Especially on social issues. And on the environment. So if you add them together, where is this ticket?

ERICKSON: You know, it—it—it's a perfect amalgamation of the social and—and fiscal conservatives. The—the club for growth guys—very big social—or fiscal conservatives, they like John McCain all—for the most part. He wasn't their favorite, but he was okay.

And now you've got the social conservatives who really didn't like John McCain all that much are now cheering him on. So he was able to bring the social conservatives on board with his vice presidential pick—in a way he couldn't do himself.

And—and has balanced out the ticket perfectly. Now whether or not he can build a governing coalition should he get elected is—is another matter. Whether or not Sarah Palin's voice will be influential, and social conservatives will be influential, that's a whole other matter.

But this is a signal, I think, to the social conservatives, that he did hear their concerns. Prior to Saint Paul, there was a lot of—suggest—suggestions, rumors, he would have Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge, a pro-choice vice presidential nominee. That's all gone out the window now.

BRANCACCIO: Now, if you go on to some more liberal oriented news sites and blogs, during this convention week, you're seeing ferocious coverage about did John McCain's team do enough—

ERICKSON: Right. That's—

BRANCACCIO:—vetting. Did they do enough homework no Sarah Palin before making the announcement? What are you hearing from—as you talk to delegates, and so forth, is that a concern that you're also hearing from the Republican side?

ERICKSON: It—it's not a concern I'm hearing from most Republicans. Ev—everyone takes the position, generally, that this guy had to have vetted Sarah Palin. This is the benefit of having the seven houses. He could send her to one of them and no one would know. And that seems to be what happened. (LAUGHTER)

BRANCACCIO: McCain's apparent seven houses in the—

ERICKSON: Right. So—so those supposed seven houses. Yes, all in his wife's name. It—it—it looks to me, and—and from what I—talking to the McCain people, people who understand the vetting process, she was really vetted. Looking at the rapid response they've been able to make in some of these arguments, for example, on Tuesday of the convention there was a rumor that started floating that Sarah Palin had been a member of the Alaska Independence Party in the 90s. A fringe party demanding independence of Alaska.

BRANCACCIO: Yeah, whose founder had said things like, "I'm not an American, I'm an Alaskan." And stuff like that.

ERICKSON: Right. And who—whose secretary of their party said, "Sarah Palin was at our convention in—in 1994."

BRANCACCIO: That's not true?

ERICKSON: Apparently not. The McCain campaign has sent out, immediately, within 30 minutes of the rumor hitting the we—with—hitting websites, had all of her voter registration history from 1982 available. So it looks to me like they did thoroughly vet her. And they are anticipating now the rumors that are coming out. They've—been knocking them down left and right.

BRANCACCIO: That suggests to you that, in fact, there was homework done there.

ERICKSON: Yeah, I think there had to be homework done. You—you just—do—this day and age, you can't really do that. You—you just can't not vet someone.

BRANCACCIO: Now, you were venting online about the rumors that were swirling around Sarah Palin even before the news was announced by the McCain campaign that—Governor Palin's daughter—is with child, who's pregnant. There is—some rumors that—about—Sarah Palin's own baby—that—you were wondering what—the source was.

ERICKSON: Yeah. You know, it—it was very interesting how this came out. It—it started on Daily Coast, the largest of—of the liberal sites. And—the Daily Coast—I—I guess the sourcing of it was—was very vague. But it was look at this picture of Sarah Palin and her daughter.

Here are all these pictures from this year. Sarah Palin does not look pregnant, and her daughter does. Therefore, it must be Sarah Palin's daughter's child that has Down's Syndrome, and not Sarah Palin. And they're just covering up an—an illegitimate pregnancy.

That was not—the case, obviously. But now the news, it did force the McCain campaign to come out and say, "Yes, the daughter is pregnant. We've known about this." And—and the local media in Alaska now, circulating the report saying, "Everyone up here knew about this. There's no way the McCain campaign didn't know about it."

BRANCACCIO: But you seem to be suggesting that maybe Daily Coast was doing the bidding of the Obama campaign? Or is that—

ERICKSON: They're—

BRANCACCIO:—hitting it to strongly.

ERICKSON: Well, that—that's the position I stated. And—and it is a position I don't know for sure. But if you look at some of the—

BRANCACCIO: I love bloggers, by the way. (LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: I—I'm happy to take a stand on this—this moderately, being a lawyer that I am. The—the—the Obama campaign, when it's wanted to get out negative information, or information to cleanse itself of rumors that were started online, has gone to Daily Coast.

The best example is this birth certificate. A rumor started on a Hillary Clinton website that Barack Obama would—had not, in fact, been born in the United States. No one could find his birth certificate. That—that was online. Was suspicious.

So the Barack Obama campaign gave it to the Daily Coast. They didn't give it to any member of the press. They gave it to Coast. And so when this story came up we know Barack Obama himself has said he reads Daily Coast. We know his staff pays attention to it and participates on the site. There were a lot of people saying—maybe someone from the Obama campaign, with or without their blessing, started this rumor to try to deviate from the look at Sarah Palin, she's such a great pick thread.

BRANCACCIO: Now, for the record, Barack Obama—

ERICKSON: Yeah, he denies it.

BRANCACCIO: He denies that. In fact, he said he's gonna fire anybody on his staff that would ever get involved in this kind of stuff.

ERICKSON: Right. So it—it's—it's just—it's been interesting to see the interaction there with the campaign. The—the—the Obama campaign versus the McCain campaign, actually, online has had an interesting dynamic. The—to my knowledge—John McCain has not really engaged himself on blogs as much as Barack Obama.

In fact, during the—the course of the primary campaign, most bloggers on the right and left were hostile to John McCain because of campaign finance reform. Obama, on the other hand, has kind of held them at arm's length, but he's also been willing to submit posts to these sites.

BRANCACCIO: Do you think—Senator McCain is getting religion when it comes to getting more involved with—the online world?

ERICKSON: If he's not, his staff is. Now, McCain himself, I think, has said, in the past, he doesn't really use a computer. Lots of his staff does use computers. And, I've gotta tell you, I wake up at 7:00 in the morning, or 6:00 in the morning and I'll already have 20 or 30 e-mails from different people connected to the McCain campaign saying, "They're attacking us on this, and this is wrong. Can you get this information out?" They're very engaged now.

BRANCACCIO: So do you try to help?

ERICKSON: I try as best I can to help all—assuming I agree with the issue, there have been a few occasions where I've gotten information that's, like, I think you guys are wrong too. I'm not going to help you.

BRANCACCIO: Does it cheer you up or does it bug you that sometimes people confuse what you do with being more of a traditional journalist?

ERICKSON: You—you know, I go back and forth on that. I—I don't pretend to be a journalist. You—most of what I write is—is are my thoughts. All—occasionally I will try to get out there and—and find news and report news, and I have in the past.

But—it is not my job to be a journalist. I—I try to have some level of ethics involved in what I do. I don't want to just go out and make something up and run with it. I know that's kind of the view online. But I guess the difference, though, between, say, the New York Times and the red state is if there's a fact that comes up that's wrong on red state, I post it in the post the same day. The New York Times, it's gonna be on page A15 and eight point type on the last page, regardless of where it appeared on the newspaper.

BRANCACCIO: So, in a sense, you think, almost, in a way, you're more accountable when it comes to facts.

ERICKSON: To some degree I think I am. The danger—that you have in blogs, as well as, I think, the regular media, is that there can be a herd mentality. It—it becomes more dangerous, I think, online, because there is more of a permanent record these days online.

People—everyone Googles. My mother Googles. She—she uses the word. She knows this stuff. And it stays online in—in—a repository. Whether it's fact or fiction. And so it becomes much more difficult to regulate the truth than, I guess, it does in the media. But if you talk to a lot of Republicans that—who have been on the floor in Saint Paul this week, they say there's a real bias in the mainstream media. And—and the internet—can compensate for that bias.

BRANCACCIO: 2008. Do you think it's your year, from the red state perspective? (LAUGHTER) Do you wish you were doing this—with the same vigor, maybe, eight years ago?

ERICKSON: You know, it—it would have been interesting to be around eight years ago. I left my law practice in 2005 and started doing this full time. And—and we—we've kind of—we're at a point where the Republicans, I think, are desperate enough—they realize they have to do something.

Before 2006, it was very difficult for me to call a senator's office and get a senator on the phone. After 2006, senators call Red State asking—asking to get online with us. A couple weeks ago I was sitting around in my home office working.

And the phone rings, unlisted number, and I pick it up and it's Bob Corker (PH), senator from Tennessee. Demanding that I at least hear him out on the—compromise energy legislation that—that the—I guess it was the gang of ten and now the gang of 16 are pushing in congress. And would have never happened before 2006. And now it happens on a routine basis. The—the Republicans realize that the left is dominant online right now, and they need to get that way as well.

BRANCACCIO: So it's either you're getting more powerful, with more readers. (LAUGHTER) Or the Republicans are getting more desperate. Or maybe it's a combination of the both.

ERICKSON: I think it's probably a combination of two. You—you know, conservatives don't really like to embrace change. This is a change the conservatives are going to have to embrace.

BRANCACCIO: Well, Erick Erickson,, thank you very much.

ERICKSON: You're welcome. I enjoyed it. Thank you.