Party Central 

Berkeley blogger Markos Moulitsas wants nothing less than to reinvent party politics.

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Physically, Moulitsas lives in a small cottage in Berkeley with his wife, their toddler son, a multitude of Apple computer products, guitars, wonkish books, and a bike he never has time to ride. In every other respect, he exists on his blog, which he uses to record his thoughts on the state of the nation and to converse with an army of readers who look to him for political insight.

The 33-year-old Moulitsas can be an incisive and sometimes biting critic of his own party, but he also has a vision for how to rebuild it. If you want a nation of progressives to hammer out the sort of unified party message that wins elections, he says, there's only one way to do it: You have to let them talk to one another. A lot. No holds barred.

Since so many progressive voters are now willing to get active in revolutionary new ways, Moulitsas believes the Democratic Party needs to become more revolutionary itself. Moulitsas calls himself a "Reform Democrat," who is proud of his blue beliefs but convinced that after three consecutive electoral defeats the party is in dire need of an adrenaline shot and a message that works. One way that he believes this should happen is by Democrats fielding and funding candidates for every possible race.

But in light of the Kos Dozen's win-loss record, Moulitsas has had to defend the wisdom of giving seed money to dark-horse challengers in a nation with an almost total reelection rate for incumbents. It has created some tension between him and the Democratic establishment; Moulitsas engaged in a well-publicized shouting match this fall with the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the Boston convention. The DCCC protests that it has only so much money to go around; Moulitsas alleges that the Democrats are putting their money only on safe bets, leaving everyone else to fail.

Some conservative blogs also had a field day with the Kos Dozen's failure rate, saying that Moulitsas may have learned how to raise money, but not how to pick candidates worthy of being supported with it. "That's $547,157.97 of donated money, squandered on the basis of mass trust placed in Moulitsas by his readers," scolded Josh Trevino, one of the founders of Republican blog "The missing element in the Kos Dozen was sound, basic political judgment, informing the decisions of who to fund, and in whom donors could place their trust. ... Mastery of the mechanisms of netroots mobilization is a different thing from mastery of the methods."

Moulitsas counters that each Democratic challenger in a previously uncontested district paves the way for future races. Sooner or later, he says, a challenger will unexpectedly win a seat. And even if they don't, he is willing to wage a war of attrition in which challengers tax the incumbents' war chests and tie up their time.

Take the races in which Daily Kos candidates came closest to winning -- four of them would have won had thirty thousand votes swung the other way, he says. Moulitsas likes to use the example of Richard Morrison's race in Texas against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who hadn't even opened a campaign office since he won his first term twenty years ago, and generally spent election season fund-raising for more-endangered Republicans. "We pinned him down in Texas in his district for the last two months of the campaign," Moulitsas says. "He had to spend $2 million of his money on himself instead of elsewhere. When we endorsed Richard Morrison, he didn't have a dime. He had nothing, he was a joke of a candidate, and he was able to take the money we were able to raise and really build a credible campaign that kept DeLay at 55 percent of the vote. The most powerful Republican in the country, second only to George Bush, easily the most powerful Republican legislator -- and he could only garner 55 percent of the vote in his own district!"

Daily Kos reader Brody Burks became convinced that the race was important to him because he shared Morrison's party ideology. "I gave to Richard Morrison until it hurt," the 23-year-old trademark analyst writes. "At one point, my fiancée admonished me to stop sending him money and pay my own bills." The thing is, Burks isn't anywhere near Texas; he lives in Washington, DC. And while out-of-state donations are nothing new to the political process, in the past they've mostly been the tool of giant corporations and political action committees, not individual small donors. Kos donors often tagged an extra penny onto their contributions -- say, $25.01 -- to let campaigns know it came from a blog. "For many years, the conventional wisdom was, 'All politics is local,'" Burks writes. "That's still true, but now even local politics is national."

A Daily Kos candidate came even closer to victory in Colorado's fourth district House race, where former state Senator Stan Matsunaka was recruited to run against incumbent Marilyn Musgrave. Daily Kos readers contributed $44,000 of Matsunaka's $600,000 budget, and with the help of a pointed TV ad that portrayed Musgrave picking children's pockets on the playground and a soldier in Iraq, the race became much tighter than expected. Musgrave had to spend $3 million to defend her job, and the National Republican Congressional Committee supplied another $2 million. In the end, Musgrave won with only 52 percent of the vote.

"Suddenly you had $5 million that could have been spent in a lot of other competitive districts that were spent to defend somebody who should have been an easy victory, somebody who was about to run unopposed," Moulitsas says. "They had to spend $5 million to basically pull her ass out of the fire. That, to me, is victory. With $50,000 of my community's money we tied up $5 million of Republican money." To Moulitsas, the point isn't that the Kos Dozen lost -- the point is that they ran at all.

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