Saturday, June 10, 2006

LAS VEGAS — Democrats with national aspirations performed a delicate dance at the liberal blogger convention here this weekend, eager to court the powerful new political movement, but wary of getting tainted by the movement’s more radical element.

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who is making moves for the Democratic presidential nomination as a more widely acceptable alternative to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, has gone further than anyone else to court this crowd. Friday night, he threw a swanky party atop the Stratosphere tower high above the Las Vegas Strip featuring sushi, chocolate fondue and martinis that were named after Markos Moulitsas, convention host and founder of the popular left-wing blog DailyKos.

Mr. Moulitsas declared that as a “first date,” it was pretty “cool” and the chemistry between the two men was clearly enthusiastic.

“He is one of the people who made this a credible event,” the mega-blogger said of the former governor, a reference to Mr. Warner’s early decision to speak at the convention.

Still, Mr. Moulitsas repeatedly said that he was not endorsing Mr. Warner, and everyone made common reference to the political gaps between Mr. Warner and the more liberal strains represented here.

Others who have paid homage this weekend include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and retired Gen. Wesley Clark.

But the most buzz was over Mr. Warner, who in his keynote speech wandered into the deeply anti-war crowd with a sharp critique of President Bush’s handling of the Iraq war without explicitly stating his position on the war.

“This president has never tried to bring this country together,” he said. “He has missed so many opportunities.”

In foreign policy, Mr. Warner advised Mr. Bush to “unite our friends and divide our enemies, not the reverse.”

And he chided Mr. Bush for not doing more to advance energy independence through scientific funding. “That would require,” Mr. Warner said to lusty applause, “an administration that believes in science.”

Some of his lines repeated the litany of charges Democrats used against Mr. Bush in their failed effort to oust him from office in 2004.

“Manipulated intelligence, selective leaks, no plan on what to do after we took out Saddam Hussein; he didn’t listen to our military leaders, he had no real effort to try to form an international coalition,” Mr. Warner said.

The line that earned him the most enthusiastic applause with hoots and hollers was his call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to be fired.

But seconds later, Mr. Warner said that “we are all glad to see the end of” terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi. That line was followed by silence.

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