- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liberal and progressive activists are gathering in Washington for a conference, and what they are saying is not good news for the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Yesterday was the first day of the fifth annual Take Back America conference, sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future to plan voter-turnout strategy, debate policy and discuss presidential politics, and many of the more than 2,000 activists present were skeptical of Mrs. Clinton’s position on the Iraq war.

During an address yesterday at George Washington University, Mrs. Clinton said she would begin withdrawing troops from the region within 60 days of assuming office at a rate of two brigades per month.

“For us, it’s never enough,” said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, in an interview with The Washington Times at the Take Back America conference. “I would never trust her because she voted for the war. I’ll never forgive her for that. She used George Bush’s lies to justify the invasion.”

Mrs. Benjamin said the proposed timeline is much slower than she’d prefer.

“It could be done in six months,” said Mrs. Benjamin, who said she prefers Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois because he “doesn’t have that baggage” of voting for the war.

Brett Kimberlin, director of Velvet Revolution, a coalition of some 120 liberal grass-roots activists, echoed Mrs. Benjamin.

“I don’t believe anything she says,” Mr. Kimberlin said of Mrs. Clinton. “She’ll say anything to get the vote … . But it doesn’t matter what she says, she’s history. She’s not going to get the nomination.”

Attendees at the three-day conference headquartered at the Omni Shoreham hotel also are participating in a presidential-preference straw poll to be released tomorrow. Mr. Obama won last year’s straw poll. Despite Mrs. Clinton’s being booed at last year’s conference, both the New York senator and Mr. Obama are invited to this year’s gathering, though it was not clear whether either would attend.

But the skepticism that exists toward the former first lady does not compare to the activists’ opinion of Republicans and conservatives, which participants said unify them above all.

“The tone here is amazing,” said Toby Chaudhuri, a spokesman for the Campaign for America’s Future. “George Bush has unified every tribe on our side … . We’re laying out what a progressive agenda would look like going forward.”

From praising the Canadian health care system to expanding Internet access nationwide to discussing how liberals can appeal to religious voters, speakers sought to hone the left’s approach to politics and policy.

“We’re clearing out the stables in Washington, and we need a new breed,” Mr. Chaudhuri said.

Panelist Kristina Wilfore criticized Republicans, who she said hope to use ballot initiatives to energize conservative voters uninspired by likely presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“The right-wing leaders and activists are desperate, and their leaders and activists are trying to use ballot gimmicking to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat,” said Ms. Wilfore, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

Ms. Wilfore highlighted a range of ballot initiatives nationwide that she said conservatives plan to exploit, including abortion, same-sex marriage, anti-tax measures and anti-affirmative action proposals. “Social issues — they’re the dog whistle to their base,” she said.

Attracting young voters, who have been crucial in several Obama victories, was another hot topic with panelists.

“This is a signal and a warning to politicians that the youth can put you [in] office, and they can take you out,” said Anthony Daniels, who directs the National Education Association’s student-outreach program. “We have started these fires of engagement, but now we must come up with ways to cultivate these flames.”

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