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Colbert-Stewart rally: Bigger than a tea party?

People who can't make it to Washington for the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert 'Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear' Oct. 30 are holding 'meet-ups.' By one measure, the rally might spawn more local events than the tea party movement has.

By Staff writer / October 20, 2010

Stephen Colbert (l.) and Jon Stewart (r.) are joined by Oprah Winfrey in announcing that they will combine the 'Rally to Restory Sanity' and the 'March to Keep Fear Alive' Oct. 30 in Washington.

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As the clock counts down to the Oct. 30 "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" in Washington, the number of sister events in support of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert extravaganza is exploding.

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You can actually go to the event's websites and watch the number speed upwards in real time. As of this writing, the tally of “meet-ups” – which includes everything from a few buddies at a sports bar to the grand second- and third-city events planned for Chicago and Los Angeles, complete with pricey jumbotron screens and city permits – is 801 cities in 67 countries.

"This is growing faster than any online meet-up we’ve seen,” says Andres Glusman, vice president of strategy and community for Meetup.com, the firm behind the little widget on the events' sites. He spoke from a Manhattan street corner where he had just emerged from a meeting with the Colbert Report team.

In Pictures: Tea Parties

His company, founded in 2002, has powered the online grassroots organizing behind the 2004 Howard Dean presidential bid and the tea party movement. He says he would not be surprised to see the Colbert/Stewart rally surpass the numbers put up by the tea party by the Nov. 2 election. Tea party groups currently have about 2,500 events scheduled on the website.

The next question, of course, is what this will all mean come election day.

Will it inspire voters? Will it help Democrats?

Some suggest the rally could boost voter turnout. Ten percent of online conversations around the Comedy Central rallies on the top 400 forums and blogs mention voting, while 5 percent talk about the midterm elections, according to Networked Insights, a firm that analyzes web topics.

“This is a growing movement,” says CEO Dan Neely, who adds that the largest demographic participating in the conversations is people aged 35 to 54.

If true, the rallies could help Democrats, some say. “The speculation is that it will likely be heavily slanted in favor of the political left,” says Mr. Kownacki.

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