Yearly Kos Convention Draws Presidential Contenders

By Dan Balz and Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 4, 2007; 7:24 PM

CHICAGO, Aug. 4 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York walked into the lion's den here Saturday, drawing applause as well as boos and hisses from an audience of progressive bloggers during a presidential candidates forum in which she became the target of sharp criticism from several of her Democratic rivals.

The forum at the second annual Yearly Kos convention drew all but one of the Democratic presidential candidates, and it helped cement the bloggers as an increasingly significant constituency inside the party. The 90-minute session displayed many of the qualities for which the blogosphere is known -- it was free-wheeling, occasionally raucous and consistently passionate, with candidates competing with one another to earn the affection of the audience.

In contrast to past debates, Clinton was on the firing line because of her often-difficult relationship with bloggers over her initial support for the Iraq war, and because her opponents saw a chance to paint her as the Establishment candidate before an audience hostile to inside-the-Beltway power politics.

Clinton emerged with some scrapes but also was praised by some prominent bloggers. She tried to court the progressive audience, praising its members for aggressively standing up to President Bush and the right, while avoiding making statements that might compromise her during a general election campaign if she becomes the Democratic nominee.

Clinton came under attack for declining to join former senator John Edwards (N.C.), who is quite popular with bloggers, and Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) in pledging not to take campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists.

"I think my party, the Democratic Party, the party of the people, ought to say from this day forward we will never take a dime from a Washington lobbyist," Edwards said to rising applause from the audience of more than 1,000.

Asked whether she would agree with that, Clinton said, "I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believe in, anybody seriously believes I'm going to be influenced by a lobbyist or a particular interest."

With that there were groans and hisses, and Clinton, who had braced for such a reaction and seemingly had waited for it through nearly an hour of debate, responded: "I've been waiting for this. This gives us a real sense of reality with my being here." She added, "A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans."

When the moderator, New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai, turned back to Obama a few minutes later, the senator immediately challenged Clinton's position.

"I disagree with the notion that lobbyists don't have disproportionate influence," he said. "The insurance and drug companies spent $1 billion in lobbying over the last 10 years. Now Hillary, you were talking earlier about the efforts you made back in '93 [trying to reform health care]. Now you can't tell me that that money did not have a difference. They are not spending that just because they are contributing to the public interest."

With that the audience erupted in cheers of approval, and Edwards, sitting on Clinton's right, joined in the applause.

"I'm losing control," Bai quipped, before giving Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) the floor. Kucinich turned the issue of campaign contributions back on Edwards, asking whether he would be willing to stop taking money from hedge fund executives.

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