Is Kos Really the Kingmaker?

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On the eve of the Connecticut primary, the man the media has deemed kingmaker would rather be home, playing piano. "I just got a new one," says Markos Moulitsas, founder of the website Daily Kos and one of the most prominent voices of the online left. On a beautiful Bay Area afternoon, the heat waves of the Northeast and the heated debate of the Ned Lamont-Joe Lieberman Senate primary are far away — and Moulitsas would like to keep it that way. He says he's only talked to one other reporter and isn't planning on talking to any more: "I'm going media dark. People are getting the story wrong and I don't want to fuel that."

He's talking about the kingmaker line, and he rolls his eyes when I even refer to that narrative. Almost all the national coverage of the race has focused on how the liberal blogosphere has propelled Lamont — a skinny billionaire whose talking points consist of being anti- war and not Joe Lieberman — to his lead over Joe Lieberman. "Do you know how insulting it is, to the people that are working hard out there to win the election, to come in and say, some guy in Berkeley is the reason why Joe Lieberman's going to lose?"

So Lieberman's going to lose? Moulitsas backpedals. In recent days, Moulitsas has spent whatever time he has left over from denying that bloggers are responsible for Lamont's victory to denying that there will necessarily be a victory at all. "My mind says it's going to be a 4-6 point night either way," he says. "My heart says Lamont is going to win pretty solidly." Later, he scales down his prediction even further: "I'm not completely convinced Lamont's going to win tomorrow."

I tell him that in politics, this is known as "playing the expectations game." It's an especially savvy spin to make right now, considering how the Lamont campaign has recently had to contend with an over-enthusiastic blogger's controversial photoshop comment on the race. In the wake of that flare-up, Lamont insisted that "I don't know anything about the blogs." Some found that disingenuous. But Moulitsas backs him up. "He doesn't read the blogs. I know that for a fact. In fact, I'm always distrustful of candidates who do read blogs, because if they're reading blogs, they're not doing what it they need to do to win the election." He pauses. "Their staff, they should be reading blogs."

Moulitsas has said that if Lieberman does prevail, he will support him as the party's nominee. But for many liberals watching the race, a primary victory by Lieberman is not the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that bloggers' zeal to promote an anti-war Democrat has put the entire state of Connecticut at risk. What if Lieberman — who has not exactly shown himself to be a selfless promoter of party values — loses the primary but wins the general election as an independent? It's not difficult to imagine Joementum taking him even further to the right — after all, that's where his primary support has come from. Sure, Bill Clinton campaigned for him, but Lieberman's also been endorsed by Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

Moulitsas grimaces. The idea that a progressive should vote for Lieberman in order to prevent his abandonment of the party "suggests that Lieberman can hold the people of Connecticut hostage by being a petty a------." Lieberman "didn't have to run as a Democrat. He chose to run in this primary... And the rules are that if you run in the primary and you lose, you lose." He acknowledges that no matter what happens, the "gasbags" in DC will figure out a way to denigrate bloggers. "If Lamont wins, we're extremist radicals dooming the Democratic Party by pushing it to the left. If Lamont loses, then we're ineffectual, irrelevant and stupid."

Of course, he keeps insisting that the real story here isn't bloggers or even Ned Lamont. "If Lamont wins tomorrow and Lieberman is out of the race," he says, "I'll celebrate for about 15 minutes, but it's just another battle in the war." And the war is about reigniting the progressive movement — a goal he says would be best achieved with local liberal radio talk shows, not blogs.

"I can't let people believe that all we need to move the progressive movement forward is a strong liberal blogosphere — if people believe that, we're doomed."