AUSTIN, Texas | Former Rep. Harold Ford Jr., Tennessee Democrat, ventured into the lion’s den Friday, telling liberal activists their differences with his centrist style are overstated and asking the “netroots” bloggers gathered here to suspend intraparty fighting until after the general election.
“Whatever differences there may be, … I don’t think they have any comparison to magnitude, caliber, character at all to the kind of differences we may have if Barack Obama’s opponent in this presidential race wins,” Mr. Ford, the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, said to applause.
“I have great confidence that a president named Obama would be a whole lot different than a president named McCain.”
But Internet icon Markos Moulitsas, admired by the 2,000 gathered for the Netroots Nation conference inspired by his Daily Kos blog, demanded Democrats stand for their convictions, and issued a warning to politicians who voted for the Bush administration’s surveillance bill this month.
“In 2010, we’re going to have some Democrats we’re going to pay some visits to in primaries,” he said. “We’re going to keep pushing for an unapologetic Democratic Party that trusts in what it believes in and isn’t afraid to share that with the voters, that isn’t afraid to make distinctions with the Republican Party.”
Mr. Moulitsas, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said the netroots’ core issues resonate with everyone in America.
“We’re the mainstream … on issue after issue,” he said, naming health care and Iraq. “We are where the American people reside.”
He said the press has overplayed any “discontent” with the presumptive Democratic nominee. He said most of the netroots were frustrated with Mr. Obama’s support for the eavesdropping measure, but that he does not view that as “moving to the center.”
Actually, the Illinois senator has moved away from the center, Mr. Moulitsas argued, since “There was no popular support for this bill.”
Mr. Ford, of Tennessee, repeatedly told the crowd they had his “respect,” and noted that he and Mr. Moulitsas have worked together since agreeing last summer on TV’s “Meet the Press” to appear at each other’s conferences this year.
Mr. Ford said his group - which propelled Bill Clinton to power in the early 1990s - is sometimes “caricatured” as an inside-the-Beltway organization. He suggested that’s inaccurate and noted most DLC members are elected local leaders such as state legislators and county commissioners across the country.
“We can’t win without one another,” Mr. Ford said. “It takes both wings here to make the thing move … and allow for wins to happen.”
He told the crowd, “With all due respect, I am proud of my record in Congress,” and said while they may disagree on the surveillance measure, the party agrees on housing, universal health care and a “broader and new energy platform.”
He made a point to say he applauds the work of the netroots, but added, “I wish you’d not take so many shots at me personally.”
Some in the audience were antagonistic toward Mr. Ford during a question-and-answer session, and Mr. Moulitsas quickly steered the discussion back to friendlier territory.