MACON, Ga. — Between pecks at his laptop, Macon City Council member Erick Erickson ticked off some of his goals for the new year:
• Beating Gov. Charlie Crist and electing Marco Rubio as Florida's junior senator.
• "Taking out" Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah because he's a centrist.
• Ensuring the Republican establishment receives no credit for whatever success the GOP has in November.
This die-hard Republican doesn't even necessarily hope Republicans win congressional majorities.
"If they get back into power, who's going to be in leadership again? The same guys that led them into the minority, and they're going to think that nothing was wrong," Erickson said. "The top priority has to be beating the Republican establishment."
Look at this cherubic, red-headed 34-year-old sipping skim cafe au lait and you might wonder: Who the heck does this guy think he is? Beat the Republican establishment? Some Podunk city council member with a laptop 600 miles from Washington?
The answer is that Erickson, editor in chief of the RedState.com blog, is emerging as one of the most important and prescient new voices and opinion-shapers in the Republican Party. And he is an increasingly influential headache for party leaders seen as straying from conservative principles.
"He knows everybody," said an admiring Tucker Carlson, the Fox News commentator who is about to unveil his own conservative site, DailyCaller.com. "If you measure influence by the amount of damage he can do, he has a lot."
Pity the party leaders Erickson thinks are selling out conservatism, because they can quickly become a target among grass roots activists, and conservative giants like Rush Limbaugh, who often cites Erickson's posts on his radio show. RedState can mobilize activists to overwhelm congressional phone lines or — in the case of Charlie Crist — help drive mainstream media coverage about endangered centrist Republicans.
"I don't know anybody who can hold themselves out as the measuring stick or gold standard when it comes to being a true conservative," sniffed U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee and has drawn blistering scorn from RedState for snubbing Rubio and endorsing the more moderate and supposedly electable Crist for U.S. Senate.
Cornyn phoned Erickson at home to beseech him to call off the RedState loyalists blasting Cornyn on his Facebook page for having endorsed Crist.
Republicans for years have lamented how Democrats have been more effective at organizing and raising money online, and RedState was created in 2004 as an answer to the popular liberal site Daily Kos. In 2006 it was bought by Eagle Publishing, which also owns Human Events and Regnery Publishing, whose authors include Newt Gingrich, Laura Ingraham and Bernard Goldberg.
Erickson is the only paid employee at RedState, which features about two dozen volunteer contributors. With roughly 300,000 unique visitors monthly, RedState has lighter traffic than such conservative sites as biggovernment.com, townhall.com and hotair.com, but it tends to have a greater knack for driving the discussion among conservatives around Capitol Hill and activists across the country.
"It is the blog that's read by Capitol Hill staffers and Capital Hill lawmakers. It's the place in the Republican Party you can go to get a pulse of what's happening in the heartland," said Robert Bluey, director of online strategy for the Heritage Foundation and a former RedState contributor. "And if you're working at the (National Republican Congressional Committee or National Republican Senatorial Committee), you're always on edge about what Erick Erickson is going to do because he can either be your biggest advocate or a huge thorn in your side."
Erickson doesn't make any apologies for constantly cheering on former Florida House Speaker Rubio, whom he endorsed in February when Rubio's campaign looked hopeless to most observers.
"When we're confronted by a guy who is a Republican but not a conservative vs. one who is, I think we should support the conservative," said Erickson, who has little doubt Rubio can win the general election.
Yes, Erickson can occasionally sound like a nut job. Like when he tweeted that retiring former Supreme Court Justice David Souter is "a goat f------, child molester" or mused about people beating their state legislator "to a bloody pulp for being an idiot."
But such rants are not typical and the former lawyer, a father of two, is more pragmatic than many realize. He doesn't like the moderate Republicans running for U.S. Senate in Connecticut or Rhode Island, for instance, but keeps his mouth shut because he doubts a staunch conservative could win those states.
Likewise, as a City Council member in Macon, he mostly works amicably with his mainly Democratic colleagues.
Of course, not everyone appreciated his proposed amendments to a resolution making Barack Obama an honorary member of Macon's City Council. Offered Erickson: "WHEREAS, we appreciate Barack Obama's candidness in his autobiography admitting that he had snorted cocaine" and "WHEREAS, prior to and after entering elected office, Barack Obama felt no shame sitting for twenty years in front of a preacher who referred to the United States as the 'U-S-of-KKK-A' …"
The resolution was tabled.
These days, though, Erickson receives a lot more attention for the ripples he causes in the national political scene than around Macon. He's scheduled to appear tonight on The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. It's a pretty heady time.
"When our second child was born last December, I had a letter show up from the president congratulating us. Sen. Jim DeMint (of South Carolina) called. Dick and Lynn Cheney sent us a book," he recounted. "It's surreal. I mean, I'm just a guy with a laptop."
Times staff writer Alex Leary and researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.