NEW HAVEN -- As Connecticut Democrats head to the polls today for a closely contested Senate primary, many will be voting for a political novice, a cable TV businessman who was an unfamiliar name just three months ago.
But Ned Lamont, a millionaire with little political experience, catapulted from anonymity to become a front-running Senate candidate with the help of a new political phenomenon: bloggers. Political analysts say that the network of Internet commentators -- some from as far away as California -- channeled voter anger against veteran incumbent Senator Joseph I. Lieberman and his support for the Iraq war into a huge boost for Lamont, drawing national attention to the race.
Lamont's strong challenge underscores the blogosphere's emergence as a new political power base, observers say. Already, high-profile presidential contenders are moving to appeal to the so-called ``net-roots": Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, hired a ``blog adviser" to aid her reelection efforts in November, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican recently followed suit.
A national bloggers' convention in Las Vegas in June that attracted Democratic heavyweights such as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson featured a $50,000 party thrown by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner for net-roots activists.
``There's a whole culture being created that we don't know enough about, that's going to determine who's going to win this election on Tuesday and have a tremendous impact on politics in times to come," said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic consultant.
But one political consultant noted that Democrats, already split on the Iraq war, are watching the Connecticut race carefully. What they see, he added, might not make them comfortable with the way the blogosphere has influenced the primary campaign -- and amplified the public's antiwar sentiments.
``I don't expect war fever to dissipate in the Democratic Party," said Roger Stone, a Republican political consultant. ``This is an ominous sign . . . for Democrats who have supported the war."
In Connecticut, an army of national and local websites have worked to raise name recognition for Lamont -- writing about his antiwar platform, criticizing Lieberman, and recruiting volunteers online.
Nationally known liberal websites such as DailyKos and MoveOn.org provide links for readers to donate money to Lamont's campaign.
The pro-Lamont blogs have also kept up constant attacks on Lieberman. One blog, ConnecticutBlog, described the senator as ``desperate, dishonest, pathetic." The bloggers pick apart news coverage of the race and tend to excoriate statements from Lieberman supporters.
In a more notorious incident, a blogger who occasionally travels with the Lamont campaign posted a doctored photo of Bill Clinton with Lieberman; the senator is dressed as a grinning, bug-eyed minstrel in blackface. Lieberman was irate and Lamont's campaign asked for the photo to be removed -- but not before Lieberman's campaign seized on it as a symbol of Lamont's cozy relationship with caustic liberal websites.
``I think blogs have been very influential in smearing Joe Lieberman and distorting his record," said Dan Gerstein, a strategist working with the Lieberman campaign. ``The Lamont campaign has been incredibly disingenuous about the role that blog supporters have played."
But Liz Dupont-Diehl , Lamont's spokeswoman, said she considered bloggers to be journalists, albeit nonobjective ones, and the campaign treats them like the traditional press.
Nevertheless, political strategists say that the influence of bloggers has captured Democrats' attention, and party candidates will be keeping a close eye on the blogosphere heading into the fall election season.
``I think those who don't pay attention to [blogs] do so at their own peril," said Jack Corrigan, a Boston-based consultant. ``Not everyone understands it, but most campaigns are trying to pay attention to it."
Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, founder of the influential progressive blog DailyKos, said national Democrats were aware of the power of blogs well before the Connecticut race heated up. Like other bloggers who support Lamont, Moulitsas insisted that Lamont's strong showing stems from voter discontent with Lieberman in Connecticut, not from commentary on the Internet.
Blogs ``are fairly irrelevant when it comes to generating discontent," said Moulitsas, who appeared in a Lamont campaign ad. ``We can't generate discontent. We can amplify it."
At a gathering of Connecticut bloggers at Sullivan's, a Chapel Street bar on Saturday, the Lamont supporters ranged from middle-aged family men to law students.
Sitting at sidewalk tables, more than a dozen bloggers greeted each other with hearty hugs and warm handshakes. While some nursed pints of beer, others huddled over the glowing screens of laptop computers.
Kelly Monaghan, who goes by BranfordBoy on his blog, agreed with Moulitsas that ``Blogs can't get something to happen that's not ready to happen. They can help it along."
``This idea that Lamont is a creature of the blogs is nonsense," he said. ``This dissatisfaction with Lieberman was present throughout the state."
Bob Adams, 47, of Milford, the man behind ConnecticutBlog, said he considers himself a journalist, albeit one with a point of view.
``I'm the liberal equivalent of a Fox News journalist," said Adams, referring to Fox News's reputation as sympathetic to conservatives. ``If they can have their say on Fox News and call it journalism, then ConnecticutBlog can put his words on a blog without any impunity."
``I'm really concerned about what kind of a country I'm going to leave my children," said blogger Jeff Talbot, 44, of Vernon, who goes by the online moniker Dad. ``I'm helping my kids understand a little bit more about how things happen," he said.
(Correction: Because of an editing error, a story in yesterday's Nation pages about the role of blogs in the Senate election in Connecticut used an incorrect name for the blog run by Bob Adams of Milford. It is Connecticut Bob.)