The appearance of web sites and blogs devoted to the ousting of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, as early as four years ago may have been the proverbial canary in the mine.
Pombo lost his seat Tuesday to Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton, a feat political analysts considered unlikely in the Republican district until a few months ago.
Scott Restivo, who lived in San Ramon until a recent move to Benicia, started VotePomboOut.Org in 2002 when Democrat Elaine Shaw challenged Pombo.
But he is far from alone.
“The bloggers helped organize and coalesce people behind the scenes,” Restivo says. “It wasn’t just people griping. It was all about getting information out. We were a virtual watering hole, a place where we could sit around and plan the next activity.”
The sites offered multiple viewpoints on the candidates and the campaign. Their organizers also possessed large e-mail lists and they blasted their recipients with the latest developments CD11 and news of the campaigns.
It’s a relatively cheap and regulation-free means of getting out the word. The Federal Election Commission has determined that such citizen-operated sites and blogs are not required to file as campaign committees, which would almost certaintly stifle the Internet marketplace of ideas.
Restivo started his site after redistricting in 2001 shifted him from Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s district into Republica Pombo’s.
But his site, and others, began to see heavy traffic after Pombo began moving aggressively on his conservative agenda as chairman of the House Resources Committee in 2003.
“When Jerry said he would run in 2004, that really started moving people and we started to see more traffic and the appearance of more sites,” Restivo says. “But my take on it is that Pombo did it to himself. Pombo was generating a lot of heat and people wanted to know, ‘How do we get rid of him?’ ”
The blogs and web sites were sparks, Restivo says.
But it was McNerney and the anti-Pombo campaign on the ground, Restivo said, that fueled the fire.
“You can have all the sparks you want but without the kindling and firewood, you can’t do anything,” Restivo says.
Restivo wrote an e-mail summarizing how he saw the bloggers’ role in the campaign:
The most important point is that none of us did this for fame or glory or because we were paid operatives or anything like that, such as Pombo imagines.
We did this as ordinary citizens who saw something was wrong and wanted to change it. Jerry included. I think that in itself is quite remarkable.
Somehow, Pombo and crew always seemed to ascribe ulterior motives to us, but it was much simpler than that. We went to bat for what we believed in, and are now happy to return to “ordinary” life.