Political groups preparing to battle over the first U.S. Supreme Court nomination in 11 years have a powerful new tool -- Internet blogs -- to spread information quickly and influence decision makers without relying on traditional media.

Web logs likely numbering in the dozens provide a way for the thoughtful and the passionate to publish their views. Politicians are taking notice as they prepare for the first high court nomination fight since the Internet became common in American households.

President Bush has yet to name a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor, who announced her retirement last week. With the vacancy and eventual nominee comes intense debate over the court's future.

"A key part of our strategy is reaching out to the Internet community," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Blogs and similar forums have been around since the early days of the Internet, but only in the last year have they begun to have an impact on public opinion and lawmakers, congressional staffers and bloggers said.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project said that 7 percent of the 120 million U.S. adults who use the Internet have created a blog or web-based diary.

Reid and other political leaders now hold conferences with bloggers in the same way they meet with traditional press.

"I think they are instrumental in getting information out and deconstructing spin," said Eric Ueland, chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

"They are much defter and swifter than the mainstream media," he said, adding that blogs are also "very clear in their philosophical and ideological leanings."

BLOG FANS

Carol Darr, director of George Washington University's Institute for politics, democracy and the Internet, said those who read and write blogs aren't "the sad, the mad and the lonely." Rather, research shows they tend to be people able to influence others, she said. (Continued Here)

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