- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

CHICAGO — Liberal activists and bloggers left town yesterday energized after three days of strategizing ways to strengthen the Democratic majority and to pressure leaders to shift policy to the left.

Many at the Yearly Kos convention cared more about Democrat Rick Noriega than Sen. Barack Obama. They hoped Mr. Noriega will unseat Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, but still debated whether Mr. Obama is the best choice to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee.

About 1,500 “Kossacks,” named for Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, attended the second national gathering.

They heard directly from seven of the eight Democratic presidential candidates. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who was at a book signing, did not attend.

Although press coverage focused on the debate about accepting lobbyist donations, the crowd was more interested in obtaining candidate pledges to visit all 50 states before the general election next year.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York wouldn’t commit to visiting all 50, but promised she would campaign in red states and in the red districts of blue states that Democrats sometimes ignore and “too often” lose.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said his efforts to register new voters will broaden the political map and put into play traditionally red states such as Mississippi.

Although a consensus wasn’t reached about whom to back for president, many said they were generally pleased with the field of candidates.

“If a bag of bricks had a ‘D’ next to its name I’d vote for it,” said Rick Hegdahl, a veteran from Seattle.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina attracted a big following. “He owned it,” said Chicagoist blogger Kevin Robinson.

Mr. Moulitsas, wearing a Noriega sticker, said he is focused on shoring up Democratic numbers. As for the presidential contest, he said, it is “to me, actually, the least important race that is going on.”

Although the convention was intended to raise money and awareness for “netroots” candidates — a term combining Internet and grass roots — Kossack “Sharoney” said, “This is like a rock concert.”

Kossacks from San Francisco to Rhode Island said they recognized their growing influence in the political process but distrusted the electoral system. They favored public financing of elections, assumed that votes could be stolen and were proud to wear impeachment buttons.

Despite the strength of their network, activists expressed fear that the “Republican machine” will be prepared and organized next year.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, who received an enthusiastic response from the crowd, announced that a handbook of voting practices in each precinct of the country would be distributed to every candidate to “tell us in advance where the problems are going to be.”

He urged Kossacks to lobby Congress for legislation to improve voting machines.

The unrestrained forum allowed Kossacks to boo, hiss and cheer, and many of them unleashed their distrust of the “mainstream media.”

Mr. Hegdahl said the message to the rest of the country was, “We’re not all in lockstep with the Democratic Party.”

Organizers announced Saturday that the event would be renamed the Netroots Nation Convention next year because of the rapid growth of the movement.

The dozens of panel discussions covered topics including election strategy, the clash of traditional media and the blogosphere. One panel criticized Democrats for being too easy on President Bush’s Supreme Court nominees, and another examined the similarities between Republican campaign tactics and those used by Big Tobacco.

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