Friday, June 9, 2006

LAS VEGAS — After years of demoralizing political failures, Democrats have turned to the Internet for electoral salvation.

The heartbeat of this liberal “netroots” movement is gathering this weekend at an aging gambling house in hopes of plotting a political recovery for Democrats and the party’s top elected leaders — Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California — will participate.

Hosted by the powerful liberal blog Daily Kos (, attendees will wrestle with tough tasks such as “Winning in the States” and debate whether Democrats really need to appeal to the South in order to win a national election.

The virtual leader of the movement is Markos Moulitsas, a blogger who transformed his online rant sheet into a Web site viewed by an estimated half-million readers and bloggers every day.

“These have been heady days for the people-powered movement,” Mr. Moulitsas said in his keynote address he posted on his Web site yesterday.

“We’re only four years old, from the early days when bloggers like Atrios and Jerome Armstrong at MyDD ( inspired bloggers like me and countless others to stop railing at Fox News and our so-called ‘liberal’ pundits, and start publishing those rants on the Web.”

And rant they do.

After the killing this week of Abu Musab Zarqawi — one of the most vicious terrorists in the world — bloggers flocked to the Daily Kos to post opinions somewhere short of the joy and relief felt by most Americans.

“Bush’s idea of justice is bombs falling out of the sky?” reads the first posting. From there, they referred to President Bush as the “Butcher of Crawford,” lamented the political boost the kill could provide to Mr. Bush and suggested that the whole thing might have been staged.

“Now we are rid of one murderous tyrant — how about the removal of another one — believed to be hiding in a safe-house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” wrote one frustrated blogger.

After hundreds of unbridled postings, one blogger asked whether the postings were a “joke” and worried that the sentiments might not play well in the heartland.

“Joe-sixpack is going to think that Zarqawi’s death is nothing but good news,” advised ShooterTX. “If he hears what you have been posting at Kos, he will think you are all nuts! Or worse, that you are in simpathetic to the terrorists/insurgents/jihadists.”

That remains an open question after a poll earlier this year on the Daily Kos revealed 41 percent of those surveyed said they “despise” Mr. Bush more than they despise Osama bin Laden.

One of those surveyed posted a comment, which was later removed from the site, that said:

“I realized that I empathized and agreed with bin Laden’s hatred of Bush and all he stands for. Bush is not America and while Binny may just be baiting us, I would welcome a truce if it included the impeachment of Bush as part of the bargain.

“You know the state of the nation is bad if it can get me to look at Binny boy in any light other than a fundamentalist wacko mass murderer. But, at this point in time, I honestly feel more disdain for Bush and his administration than I do for bin Laden.”

Also unanswered is whether the “netroots” movement translates into actual electoral victories or simply remains a Wi-Fi Woodstock for high-tech hippies.

The record, so far, hasn’t been very good. An endorsement by Mr. Moulitsas has been something of a curse for political candidates seeking to win elections.

The latest saddled with an endorsement from him was Democrat Francine Busby, the California school board member who lost her bid earlier this week to replace convicted former Republican Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

In the early hours of the morning after it became clear Republican Brian Bilbray had won, David All, a conservative blogger who works for Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, sent a dispatch declaring victory. In the subject line of the e-mail, he relished, “Kos: 0-20.”

While Mr. Moulitsas remains win-free in general election endorsements, he picked up his first successful primary endorsement in the Montana Democratic Senate primary race that same day.

In his keynote address yesterday at the Riviera Hotel and Casino, Mr. Moulitsas credited the rise of “netroots” to deep dissatisfaction with the inside-the-Beltway crowd.

“The media elite failed us. The political elite — from both parties — failed us,” he said. “Republicans because they can’t govern, and Democrats because they can’t get elected. Our leaders failed us. Our issue groups failed us. So now it’s our turn.”

By midday yesterday, 217 bloggers had responded to Mr. Moulitsas’ speech.

“I have goose pimples,” wrote JuliaAnn, the first to post. “Of course, it’s colder in Indiana tonight than in Vegas, I’m sure … but your words warmed my heart, and reinvigorated my spirit. Onward and upward!”

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