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Originally published Thursday, October 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Liberal blogs across nation see Darcy Burner as "family"

One aspect of Democrat Darcy Burner's rematch against U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert is under the radar for many 8th Congressional District voters: While her campaign talks up her blue-collar roots and family life, online activists from all over the country see her as one of their own.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Darcy Burner

DEMOCRAT

Age: 37

Family: Married, 5-year-old son

Residence: Carnation

Education: B.A. in computer science and economics from Harvard University, 1996

Political/job experience: Program manager and group program manager, Microsoft, 2000-06; also worked at Asymetrix Learning Systems in Bellevue, Centerline Software and Lotus Development; ran for Congress, 2006.

Web site: www.darcyburner.com

To understand the relationship between Democratic congressional candidate Darcy Burner and the liberal online community known as "netroots," consider the reaction when her Carnation-area house burned down July 1.

Dozens of local and national blogs posted her story. Within 24 hours, they had raised $85,000 for her campaign. By the end of the week, people had given $150,000, raising her total in small, online donations to about $400,000.

As they raised money, bloggers called her "family." One comments thread became a discussion about her pajamas — a gray T-shirt that said "</war>", which is computer code for "end war."

"The fact that this was the shirt that Darcy was wearing at 7 a.m. when she and her family fled their burning house, tells us in the netroots all we need to know about Darcy Burner," local blogger David Goldstein wrote.

The purveyor of the shirts, radicalrags.com, reported a huge spike in sales the first week in July.

The outpouring reveals an aspect of Burner's rematch against U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert that is under the radar for many 8th Congressional District voters: While her campaign talks up her blue-collar roots and family life, online activists from all over the country see her as one of their own.

Her immense popularity among the netroots — an informal, progressive group of bloggers — has boosted her campaign and helped her raise more than $2.3 million, topping Reichert, the Republican incumbent.

But Burner's critics, including the Reichert campaign, are using those ties against her. They argue that she can't represent the interests of the 8th District when some of her biggest supporters are liberal bloggers who never have set foot in Seattle's eastern suburbs.

"Darcy Burner is pretty open about the fact that she wants to go to Congress to represent the netroots," said Reichert's campaign manager, Mike Shields. "That is her constituency, and that is who she's raised money from, and so that's who she'll do the bidding of."

Burner says her netroots supporters aren't really any more liberal than voters in the 8th District. And she says they give her more independence: She doesn't have to rely on politicians, corporate lobbyists or even the Democratic Party to fund her campaign.

She has had some big-name fundraisers, including one with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. But the median contribution to her campaign is $50.

Credibility threshold

When Burner first ran against Reichert in 2006, she had to prove she was a credible candidate. The former Microsoft manager had never run for office and had a thin public-service record.

Local bloggers noticed her first, and that caught the eye of national blogs. Together they launched Burner out of obscurity by raising thousands of dollars for her campaign and writing about her.

Soon, she crossed what she called a "threshold of credibility" and won support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As she gained on Reichert in fundraising and support, more traditional media started paying attention, too.

In this year's rematch, she collects as much money from political fundraising committees like EMILY's List and big business donors like Microsoft as she does from the online world that got her started. But she still enjoys devoted support online.

Between her high-tech business background and her ideology, Burner became, as the national blog Daily Kos called her, "a netroots hero."

"I can't speak to why exactly Darcy Burner caught their attention, but she certainly has been one of the featured candidates on some of the key blogs nationally," said David Domke, a professor of political communication at the University of Washington.

Howie Klein, a Los Angeles blogger and former record executive, said Burner's business savvy and technology experience make her "very, very attractive to what I would call progressive-type activists." He said he felt a "kinship" with her.

She's genuine and "a full-throated progressive," said Raven Brooks, the acting executive director of Netroots Nation, which helps people learn how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate.

"She's realized the power of the netroots, and she's used some of these unconventional campaign techniques from early on. ... She's out there posting on blogs herself," Brooks said.

Her devotion to the netroots is evident in the way she's campaigned. In the district, she's visited picket lines and political rallies. But a month before the August primary election, she hopped on a plane to attend a three-day netroots conference in Texas.

Plan to end Iraq war

Burner launched her 2008 campaign by releasing a plan to end the war in Iraq. Written with the help of several former military commanders, it supports starting to pull U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and emphasizes diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country.

Her positions on other big issues are, for the most part, standard Democratic fare: She supports abortion rights and stem-cell research, more investment in alternative energy sources, and higher environmental and labor standards in trade agreements.

She agrees with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama that the government should consider merit-based pay for teachers — a position that may have cost her the endorsement of the state and national teachers unions — along with more early-childhood education and smaller class sizes.

Last month, she released an economic plan she says would ease the tax burden on the middle class by raising the minimum standard deduction, doubling the child tax credit and eliminating some of the tax cuts supported by President Bush.

Her critics question her experience. Her public service is largely limited to serving as president of her homeowners association and working on the Committee for a Two Newspaper Town.

She left her job at Microsoft to go to law school but dropped out in 2005 to run against Reichert. She came within 2 percentage points of beating him and took only a short break before ramping up to run again.

Overlapping audience

The bloggers who make up the netroots don't all see eye to eye. But overall, they are Democrats who support abortion rights, favor a timeline for ending the war in Iraq and support lower taxes for the middle class.

Burner says most 8th District voters agree with her on those issues, making the bloggers and their readers no more liberal than the voters to whom she is trying to appeal. She spends time talking to bloggers nationally, she said, because their audience includes her voters.

But Shields, Reichert's campaign manager, says the netroots don't care about the 8th District. They see Burner as a way to get more liberal, like-minded Democrats in Congress, he says.

Many of the bloggers raise money for candidates through a Web site called ActBlue, where anyone can set up a fundraising page. Donors can use their credit cards to give as little as $1. Only eight candidates nationwide have raised more than Burner has through ActBlue.

But as Burner has become a more prominent candidate, she's received money across the Democratic spectrum.

Klein promoted a "lunch with Darcy" fundraiser on his blog last month, offering lunch at a "modest vegetarian restaurant" on L.A.'s west side and a chance to speak to the candidate for $50 a plate.

But Klein has also used his blog, DownWithTyranny, to attack House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who traveled to Seattle in August to stump for Burner. Klein called Hoyer "corrupt" for protecting corporation interests at the expense of working families.

Burner was grateful for both events, but she conceded that while Klein may be more liberal than she is, Hoyer is more conservative.

Will that confuse voters? She doesn't think so.

"I think they can look at my positions and decide for themselves, to be perfectly honest," she said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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