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Political Website With No Party Lines

A group of campaign veterans from both sides wants to cool the rhetoric and stir debate.

July 12, 2006|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A group of prominent political consultants from opposite sides of the fiercely fought presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 joined forces Tuesday to launch a website aimed at bridging the divisions those campaigns helped to widen.

The site, called Hotsoup.com, intends to provide a forum that connects community leaders from across the country -- what the sponsors call "opinion drivers" -- with national political leaders, experts and celebrities to debate issues and trends in politics, business, science and culture.

The effort is striking because it includes central figures from the last two presidential races, which sharply polarized the nation along lines of race, gender, cultural attitudes and geography. None of the website's organizers explicitly renounced the strategies they pursued in those campaigns, but they acknowledged unease with the fractures now evident in the public discourse on almost all major issues.

"The perceived polarization that exists in this country ... is not a good thing ... for each party ... or for the country's advancement," said Matthew Dowd, one of the site's founders and the chief strategist in President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.

The website, he said, "is a way to put together a forum that can counter that."

Along with Dowd, who is the chief strategist for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign, the other leading Republican promoting the site is Mark McKinnon, the senior media advisor for Bush's two presidential campaigns. Dowd and McKinnon are former Democrats who switched parties to work for Bush in Texas.

The site's other founders include Allie Savarino, an Internet advertising consultant, and three partners in a Democratic consulting firm: Joe Lockhart, the former White House press secretary for President Clinton who became a senior aide to Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, and Carter Eskew and Michael Feldman, both longtime advisors to Al Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential candidate.

Ron Fournier, the former chief political reporter for the Associated Press, will serve as the website's editor.

In addition to doing good, the organizers hope to do well: The site, set to launch in October, is intended to make a profit through advertising sales.

The site's founders said they hoped it would change the political dialogue by providing opportunities for local and national leaders to discuss issues outside the existing ideological and partisan arguments that dominate Washington and the media.

"We all agree that the system of exchanging ideas and debate is broken," Lockhart said.

Added McKinnon: "There is a real appetite out there for less partisanship ... for less screaming and yelling. Have we been guilty? Sure. But we are trying to fix the system. We are trying to rehab."

In their view that many Americans want an alternative to the highly polarized atmosphere in Washington, the site's sponsors share an assumption with Unity08, an Internet-based campaign recently announced by other veteran political consultants who want to build a third-party presidential challenge for 2008.

But the Hotsoup.com group said its effort was not intended to promote a political party. Its founders, however, did not rule out working against one another in the 2008 presidential election.

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