Back in February 2007, a few months after a political neophyte named Deval Patrick cruised to victory in the Massachusetts governor's race with help from a political blog named Blue Mass Group (BMG) — which whipped up pro-Patrick sentiment while aggressively rebutting the governor-to-be's critics — I sized up a recent conservative entry in the local blogosphere. The blog in question, Red Mass Group (RMG), looked like a shamelessly derivative attempt to ride BMG's coattails — an especially dubious proposition given liberals' then-dominance in the world of online political activism. Hence my glib prediction: RMG would "peter out in a couple of months."
So much for that. Three years later, RMG is very much alive. And in Republican Scott Brown's recent US Senate victory, it played a potent, multifaceted role similar to the one BMG played for Patrick and the Democrats in 2006, acting as a clearing-house for information, a source for analysis and original reporting, a fundraising tool, and a one-stop shop for the distillation and dissemination of political zeal. RMG also smashed its previous traffic records, pulling in a whopping 41,000-plus unique visitors on January 16, the Saturday before the Senate election, according to statcounter.com — a remarkable 39,000 of whom were visiting for the first time.
But RMG isn't just a local new-media success story. It's also evidence of a broader media shift. Thanks to moveon.org and Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, the Web has long been a source of strength and succor for liberals. That advantage now looks like a historical accident — not the inevitable result of some deep affinity between liberalism and the Internet. And in the next few years, it just might disappear.
Waiting in the wings
Last Wednesday evening, RMG owner and editor Rob Eno was a man on the move, hustling from a Mass GOP shindig on Canal Street to South Station, there to catch a train to Washington, DC, where RMG would mark its newfound celebrity by hosting a fête in honor of Brown's election the next day. On that night, Eno had the frazzled mien that's often seen during elections and political conventions: he seemed profoundly exhausted, but also energized by a conviction that history was on his side.
And perhaps it is. "I'm sitting in my hotel room on election night," recalls Eno, who has the physique of a football lineman and a salesman's gregariousness. (Trained as a chemical engineer at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Eno's day job now consists of selling print advertising for a Boston company he declines to identify.) "My buddy calls up. He says, 'Rob, are you sitting down? Rush Limbaugh just said, "As Red Mass Group is reporting . . . " ' " The implication is clear: when Limbaugh cites your work, you've arrived.
Eno has been commenting at RMG since its inception, and purchased the site from founder Patrick Johnson in early 2009 for "not that much less than a hundred bucks." Soon thereafter, he launched a strategic advertising campaign on a shoestring, purchasing ads on Facebook and planting links at friendly Facebook destinations — for example, WTKK-FM host Michele McPhee's wall.