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Blogs & email impacting local politics in Escondido, CA

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The North County Times is reporting on a local hot-button political issue - where blogs and email outreach have played a central role in galvanizing the community. See Internet takes center stage in fight against hospital district

When it's David against Goliath, every penny counts.

So in the fight over where to locate Palomar Pomerado Health District's new hospital, two grassroots campaigns fighting to keep the facility in downtown Escondido have relied on the Internet and e-mails, rather than telephone banks and fliers, to get their messages out. "(A regular campaign) costs a lot more money. This is pretty inexpensive," said Wally Gutierrez, co-founder of Citizens for a Downtown Hospital. ...

Councilwoman Marie Waldron said she reads the group's e-mails regularly and believes they present new perspectives and raise new issues. When she and councilmen Ed Gallo and Sam Abed voted to pass the resolution opposing the hospital's planned move to the business park, most of the 12 or so speakers at the meeting were wearing tags naming Gutierrez's group.

Is there a trend here? Sure, we think so. Blogs are getting more and more regionalized and localized.

Taking a local grassroots campaign to the World Wide Web is a natural outgrowth of the role blogs played in mobilizing voters on the political left and right for the 2004 presidential election, according to Kari Chisholm, an Oregon-based political consultant who develops Internet strategies for clients.

On a local level, he said, the online diaries serve to detail issues often overlooked in the media and provide a sounding board for people who care deeply about an issue and wonder whether anyone else in the community shares their opinions.

"A blog can serve as that organizing role for people who do care about the issue but otherwise would never meet," Chisholm said.

But the fact that they appeal to deep political convictions and are so easy to start can also limit their effectiveness, according to Thad Kousser, an assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego.

"They haven't been a good way of organizing people that aren't interested in the issue already," Kousser said. "You're not going to get 1 million people to gather at the Lincoln Memorial (with a blog or Web site), but you can get 20 people to show up at a City Council meeting."

And that's just the point. In an age when it's nearly impossible to get anyone to show up at a local government hearing, getting 20 people to show up is a huge win. Escondido isn't the beginning, and it sure ain't the end.

Be sure to check out CitizensForADowntownHospital.com.