Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel say they are happy to sharecredit for the Democrats’ electoral success, but not everyone in theparty is feeling as generous. Progressive bloggers, who often promoteand criticize the Democratic Party with equal vigor, want their props. MyDD blogger Chris Bowers concluded that netroots activists werecrucial to victory–long before the votes were counted. Last month, hewrote that”most, if not all, of the significant improvements Democrats have madefrom 2004 to 2006 were generated primarily within the netroots and theprogressive movement.” Yet the election results suggest the netroots’scorecard is decidedly mixed.

The blogs’ most famous candidate and top fundraising beneficiary, NedLamont, lost his bid to unseat Senator Joe Lieberman. One of thecampaign’s senior advisors, former Clinton White House counsel LannyDavis, said the victory “proved the blogosphere is all wind and verylittle sail.” Bloggers tell a different story: the unusual, three-way raceshould not be judged strictly by who won but also by its success inhelping “make Iraq the center of this electoral season,” as JoelSilberman wrote on FireDogLake. If Lamont’s loss is counted as a symbolic effort thatbeat expectations, his performance fits a pattern. Many of thenetroots’ most popular House candidates beat expectations this week,but ultimately lost.

While there is no single, authoritative list of netroots candidates, ActBlue.com, a Democraticfundraising clearinghouse, lists the candidates nominated by top blogsand ranks them by total donors. Looking at their top 20 DemocraticHouse candidates, so far ten have lost, three have won and the otherseven are in races that are still too close too call at the time ofwriting. The netroots’ lost races include national names, such as FBIwhistleblower Coleen Rowley in Minnesota and New York’s Eric Massa, thepopular former aide to Gen. Wesley Clark. Winners include attorneyPaul Hodes in New Hampshire and two veterans, Joe Sestak inPennsylvania and Tim Walz in Minnesota. (Bloggers also providedcritical early support to long-shot Senate challengers Jon Tester andJim Webb, who were locked in races that were also still too close tocall on Wednesday morning.)

Yet regardless of the remaining results and recounts, the fact is thenetroots’ favorite candidates did not perform as well as the Democratstargeted by party leaders. And they were never supposed to. Many ofthe bloggers’ picks were aggressive Democrats in long-shot districtswho were neglected by the Beltway establishment. There is no doubtthat bloggers leveraged money and political buzz to make races morecompetitive and put Republicans on the defensive, but it was simply notthe decisive factor in the elections

John Aravosis writes AmericaBlog, which raised over $100,000 from about1,900 activists this cycle, but on election night he resisted attemptsto measure the netroots’ impact. “It’s too hard to define who didwhat. We could have defined quite easily that John Kerry lost it forus if he had not shut up after two days, but to know whether blogs [hada bigger effect than] unions is like saying was Rahm Emanuel moreeffective than Howard Dean? I don’t know,” he told The Nation. That sentiment is probably shared by many netroots activists, who aremore focused on the Democratic victory than parceling out credit.

The more interesting question, Aravosis argues, is how will the blogsadapt to working with “Democrats who actually have power.” In theshort term, he hopes to hammer home the message that the electionproves Americans think conservatism is “inherently wrong,” rallysupport for voting rights reform, and support the House Democrats’ newagenda. Other bloggers are more interested in crafting the agenda:Arianna Huffington’s top blog on election night chastised HowardDean for backtracking so far on Iraq in a CNN interview that he soundedlike he was pitching “the president’s plan.”

Mr. Davis, a self-described “liberal Democrat” who repeatedly tangledwith bloggers during his work on behalf of Joe Lieberman, said onelection night that the blogosphere must evolve in order to have abroader impact. “If the blogosphere is to have an impact on changingthe country as opposed to talking to each other, the Lamont campaign isa lesson in exactly what not to do. They came out of a primary and theycontinued to wage a primary,” he said, “but they weren’t talking tounaffiliated voters and moderate Republicans.” Davis told TheNation he has a new proposal that the blogosphere establishvoluntary rules for “fairness, accuracy and accountability,” requiringwriters and commentors to provide their real names, phone numbers andaddresses, and forbidding anonymous comments offering misleading orpersonal attacks. He argues that Democrats cannot change the minds ofpeople voting against their “economic self-interest” by offering “wordsof hate” or “anonymous attacks.”

Benjamin Rahn, President of ActBlue.com, believes online activists havealready cleared that hurdle, because they are part of the offlinepolitical dialogue across the country. “In many ways the netroots arejust the most visible part of the nationwide grassroots movement. Theconversations happening online, in the blogosphere, and by e-mail fromfriend to friend to friend, are also happening in bars and coffee shopsand PTA meetings. We just don’t happen to mike them and put the audioonline for everyone to hear,” he explained via e-mail. “And the peoplewho used ActBlue to fundraise are also the people who made phone callswith MoveOn’s call to change, and waved signs at street corners today,and helped out at polling places. And those are the people who aregoing to wake up tomorrow and say “Damn, that felt good. Let’s do itagain.”