- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

A conference to motivate liberal activists to take the White House in November closed yesterday as the Rev. Jesse Jackson warned a crowd of nearly 2,000 people that there needs to be a clear ideological divide between President Bush and his challenger, Sen. John Kerry.

“And the bigger the gap, the bigger the margin of victory in November,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Jackson continued the verbal assault on the president that had been the unofficial theme of the three-day conference, which officially drew 2,212 persons from 45 states, according to the Campaign for America’s Future, a liberal group that organized the event.

“The right wing is not that popular,” Mr. Jackson said. “It is sustained by money and by our side’s failure to exercise our full political power, by our failure to register and vote our whole team.”

He saidthe failure of Democrats to encourage minorities to vote has hurt the left, and that this year, “I hope that the cultural disconnect between progressive whites and blacks and Latinos will not leave us limping at less than full strength.”

The convention provided a forum for countless left-wing causes to drum up support: from Web sites promising that President Bush will allow the assault weapons ban to expire in September, to the people from Ms. magazine who handed out a free copy to anyone who would have it.

It is a movement that hopes to run on grass-roots support and calls itself populist.

Populism and those who consider themselves progressive, another term used freely during the conference, are largely Democratic and have little room for even an independent candidate like Ralph Nader.

“Tell all your progressive friends who are considering Ralph Nader that when your house is on fire, it’s not the time to talk about remodeling,” said columnist Arianna Huffington during a talk earlier in the week themed “The Populist Movement.” But, like Mr. Jackson, she also noted that Mr. Kerry was not yet fully worthy of blind left-wing support.

“We don’t want to carry John Kerry into the White House like a sack of cement,” she said. “We want him to lead us there.”

The conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel was marked by standing-room-only crowds for almost all of the workshops, including the one led by Mrs. Huffington.

Support for Mr. Kerry, at least in gesture, was minimal with campaign buttons and stickers far and few between. Even Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who contested Mr. Kerry for the Democratic nomination, acknowledged a divide in his address on Thursday.

“I understand there are some policy differences between some of you and Senator Kerry,” Mr. Dean told a luncheon gathering of more than 1,000. “But let me ask you this, if you were worrying about the defense of the United States of America, who would you rather have in the White House — a guy who like so many people who send our children to war never served a day in his life overseas, or somebody who has been to war with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star?”

Some in the crowd waved aging “Dean for President” signs that seemed ubiquitous in the media coverage of the primaries earlier this year.

Kerry signs, though, were nowhere to be found.

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