[2 August 2007]
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
CHICAGO - With his laptop open and his luggage still in tow, Tom Tucker sat in a lobby of the sprawling McCormick Place convention center on Thursday afternoon frantically typing a new post for his blog back home in Rochester, N.Y.
Across the way, also armed with an open laptop, sat Matt Thompson, a 17-year-old high school student who is trying to politically organize Native Americans in his home state of South Dakota.
And down another hallway was Justin Krebs, a New York City man who helped found drinkingliberally.org, a nationwide online community that meets in taverns to discuss progressive politics.
This is YearlyKos, one of the more colorful - and politically powerful - conventions to make its way to Chicago.
And anyone who doubts blogger clout should consider this: Seven presidential candidates, the two top congressional leaders and the Democratic Party’s chairman will all stop by to pay their respects.
Even before Saturday’s candidate forum, at least four presidential candidates were wooing the bloggers with convention booths, including one sponsored by former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who featured inflatable plastic chairs and couches for the weary.
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s booth, meanwhile, stood strangely empty for part of the day, as those for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson buzzed with activity.
The convention, sold out with more than 1,500 registered attendees and 250 credentialed media, is version 2.0. The first was held last year in Las Vegas.
Blogs are online journals that often feature commentaries on daily events, a rehash of traditional media and links to other Web sites. Like their conservative talk-radio counterparts, they tend to be far more freewheeling, opinionated and conspiratorial than the average newspaper or television network.
And even as the presidential campaigns experiment with new technologies like text messaging and online videos, Democrats are actively courting these opinion writers, even as they live in fear of angering the most influential among them.
Former Chicago resident Markos Moulitsas, 35, started YearlyKos, which the Republican National Committee calls a “panderfest to liberal partisans.”
Republicans have also pointed out that none of the major Democratic candidates had time to attend the annual conference of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council earlier this week, but still have time for the more liberal bloggers.
“If the DLC had an e-mail list of 3 million people, you better believe those presidential candidates would have been there,” said Moulitsas, who founded the influential Daily Kos blog. “We provide bodies. We provide troops on the ground. It is a more activist audience.”
Between candidate visits, there will be politically oriented workshops, speeches and panels, including one called “Outfoxing Fox” meant to offer strategies for challenging the network that liberals love to hate.
But after candidates were criticized last year for throwing lavish parties - including one that included an Elvis impersonator and chocolate fondue machine - they are expected to stick to the basics this year.
The presidential candidates have agreed to attend a roughly 90-minute forum on Saturday afternoon, and will also spend another 40 minutes answering questions in individual breakout sessions.
Besides Clinton, Edwards, Obama and Richardson, also expected are Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be here, too.
The presidential campaigns say they expect precisely worded questions at the forum, partly because this group includes both information and political junkies.
The sponsors, contributing about $220,000 in cash and $56,000 in gifts, include about 70 entities, representing the nation’s biggest unions, JetBlue Airways and entities like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The rising influence of the so-called netroots - Internet and grassroots - is indisputable among Democrats, and all of the leading candidates have aggressive Internet strategies.
Edwards has hired Joe Trippi, an Internet evangelist who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. He also routinely posts videos from his appearances to both YouTube and the liberal Web site MyDD.com.
Clinton and Obama, meanwhile, announced their presidential exploratory committees through Web videos and have also used the Internet extensively.
Obama, who will be celebrating his 46th birthday when he appears Saturday, is even advertising this week on DailyKos.com.
His campaign hopes to try to impress the visitors with the extensive efforts it has made online, ranging from 75,000 registered users on its Web site to 9,500 grass-roots fundraising pages that some of those users have created.
Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the campaign has no plans to host any receptions, but tours of the campaign’s headquarters on Michigan Avenue and volunteer offices in the Loop will be given to some.
“This is a great venue for us,” she said. “The fact that it is in our hometown is exciting.”