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Their clout rising, blogs are courted by Washington's elite

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Beltway politicos, famously slow to adopt technology, are wooing blogs - all but Trent Lott.

"Bloggers claim I was their first pelt, and I believe that. I'll never read a blog," says the former Senate majority leader, who forfeited that title after bloggers Joshua Micah Marshall and Glenn Reynolds picked up a racially charged remark, drawing the attention of mainstream media (MSM) and his Senate colleagues.

Blogs (short for web logs) are websites that can be as basic as an online diary, or as fully fledged as a political community. And when the latter variety seizes upon a topic - creating a blog swarm - the results can be overwhelming.

From former CBS anchor Dan Rather, stung by blog exposure over his use of forged documents, to the negative buzz about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, political blogs aren't just reacting to the news: they're making it.

That's why politicians are eager to co-opt them - or, at least, engage them.

Last week, House Republicans convened the first ever "Capitol Hill Blog Row." In a small committee room in the Capitol, a dozen bloggers, selected by an informal poll of GOP staff, were provided soft drinks, a high-speed Net connection, and access to top Republican figures for half a day. Issues discussed ranged from how to cut government spending to the future of the GOP.

As a follow-up, Speaker Hastert is launching his own blog. "Blogging is the new talk radio," says Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean. "People listen to talk radio because the mainstream media is too liberal for them. It makes sense for the Speaker to get the Republican message out to them."

Blogs still rank well behind traditional television, radio, and newspaper outlets as a source of news, but they are gaining ground rapidly. The liberal blog Daily Kos attracted nearly 4.8 million visitors this July, compared with 3.4 million in January, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

"The number of people who engage in political discussion or get political news from all online sources, including blogs, is skyrocketing and currently numbers over 75 million Americans," write journalists David Kline and Dan Burstein in their new book, "Blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business, and culture."

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