Bloggers step away from screens to gather in Vegas

Convention brings together politicians and liberal Web writers

June 10, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LAS VEGAS -- Hundreds of liberal (they'd say progressive) Internet bloggers crawled out of their cybertunnels for face-time and political networking here at the first-ever YearlyKos convention.

Named after DailyKos.com, the widely read political Web log by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, the three-day convention that opened Thursday is something of a milestone - an event that unites the irreverent and ever-morphing liberal blogosphere with mainstream political figures who have begun to recognize the bloggers' potential influence.

Billed as "Uniting the Netroots," the convention at the Riviera Hotel promises top Democratic politicians as its headliners, such as poli-Web pioneer Howard Dean, the head of the Democratic Party who was one of the first presidential candidates to mobilize supporters and raise funds online; Sen. Harry Reid, minority leader, who reads and guest-blogs and has a Web site (giveemhellharry.com); Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House; and Gen. Wesley Clark.

The gathering resembles a mini-political convention, with seminars instructing participants on the potential power of the blogosphere, as well as talks on the Supreme Court, religion, the environment, immigration and other hot-button issues.

No hidden agenda here; the speakers and panelists mocked their own screen-worn politics as those of Bush-bashing, rabble-rousing and noodgy operatives, some already well-known for trying to breathe a new political life online to what the blogocracy views as tired old Democratic ways.

Most of the panels, too, emphasize activism, online and offline.

Some even fit the advice column mode. One session Thursday offered political pundit training: for the mainstream television appearance - smile, no matter what; wear boring clothes and always a jacket; women, don't tilt your heads; men, keep a hand in one pocket.

Not that all those in attendance needed polishing, though. Some of the featured bloggers are getting rock-star treatment. The former editor of Wonkette.com, Ana Marie Cox, who now writes for Time magazine, could barely wander around without notice.

Joe Trippi, Dean's former campaign manager, who led the charge on the Internet and then wrote The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything, was trailed by news reporters busily recording his quotes.

And the convention's opening night featured Moulitsas, who was treated to standing ovations when he appeared as the keynote speaker. Now co-author with Jerome Armstrong (MYDD.com) of Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots and the Rise of People-Powered Politics, Moulitsas beamed on stage and verbally blogged his way through the day's news to cheers from a normally mute crowd.

It's Rep. Tom DeLay's last week in Congress, he told the wildly clapping audience, and ticked off his list of political highs and lows.

Moulitsas cajoled his listeners into pushing both political parties to take heed of the keyboarding masses, claiming successes for some candidacies and for making some races that were considered sleepy surprisingly competitive.

He cited efforts by Internet users to rally support for such candidates as Ned Lamont, who is challenging Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in Connecticut in a primary contest that has become a symbol of the progressive bloggers' protest against politicians who support the war in Iraq.

And he chided the Beltway political operatives for not warmly embracing bloggers as they strive to change the way elections and campaigns are designed and run.

At an early evening seminar on grassroots/netroots politics led by Matt Stoller, Chris Bowers and Jerome Armstrong, all bloggers at MYDD.com, a few political candidates asked for help from this relatively new stretch of political muscle.

Nancy Skinner, a Democrat and former radio personality who is running in the 9th Congressional District in Michigan against Rep. Joe Knollenberg, a seven-term Republican, said her staff persuaded her just a day earlier that she had to get to Vegas to touch base with what they considered the hot influence of new media.

She had just climbed to No. 2 on a list of top races to support, by Democracy for America, founded by Mr. Dean two years ago as a way to build on his net backers.

Skinner worked the room and said she'd been seeking advice from several in attendance, including Trippi, on how best to marshal the potentially potent force of the Internet for her own campaign.

As she talked, Dave Johnson of seeingtheforest.com interrupted to announce that because he had just been blogging to his readers, "Ten thousand people are now here."

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