The Net Roots' Moment in the Sun

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, talks to about 30 voters Friday at a restaurant in Fort Madison, Iowa.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic candidate for president, talks to about 30 voters Friday at a restaurant in Fort Madison, Iowa. (By Scott Morgan -- Burlington Hawk Eye Via Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, August 5, 2007

CHICAGO It's year two of Yearly Kos, and it shows. Gone is the seedy Las Vegas hotel that played host to the inaugural get-together. In its place is the vast -- and well-air-conditioned -- McCormick Convention Center here in the Windy City. Gone is the haphazard scheduling of myriad conferences and caucuses. Instead, a glossy 71-page book meticulously details every event.

What has stayed the same is the heart of the gathering -- the 1,500 (or so) bloggers and online activists who represent the leading edge of the "Net roots." (Never heard of the Net roots, you say? It's a loose conglomeration of hyper-involved and politically minded progressives who over a stunningly brief period of time have established themselves as a powerful force within the Democratic Party.)

Named after Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga, founder of the Daily Kos blog and an iconic figure within this subculture, the gathering has greatly expanded and -- dare we say it -- gone mainstream. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) addressed the conference Saturday morning and were followed by nearly all of the leading Democratic candidates for president, including the three front-runners: Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.).

While the party establishment seems to have moved toward the Net roots, the coalition of bloggers remains proudly and defiantly independent of the structures of Washington, including, yes, the media. (One popular panel was titled "Blogs and the [Mainstream Media]: From Clash to Civilization.")

Like it or not, the Net roots appear to be here to stay. Much of the debate at this year's conference is aimed not at defining who the group is but rather at on what the group should do in 2008 and beyond.

So goes the evolution of a movement.

For Richardson, a Retreat In Effort to Move Forward

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) gathered more than 100 top donors, strategists and supporters of his campaign in Santa Fe last week, a meeting designed to keep the group energized and focused heading into the next crucial months of his presidential bid.

The core of his campaign convened last Sunday night with a series of dinners at local supporters' homes. A senior staffer was placed at each dinner and tasked with briefing the donors and other backers on the state of the race. The next day, the group was given a "soup to nuts" presentation by campaign manager Dave Contarino, media consultant Steve Murphy and senior adviser Mike Stratton, among others, according to one participant. New York socialite Patricia Duff, Washington lawyer Bill Titelman and Nevada developer Phil Peckman were among the boldfaced names in attendance.

The message? The campaign is right where it wants to be, but it needs more of everything -- especially money -- to have a real chance of toppling the giants of the race.

Contarino called the retreat "a chance for the governor to thank some of our top supporters and to demonstrate how their hard work and support is paying off in the polls and in fundraising."

The gathering comes as polling in Iowa and New Hampshire shows Richardson pulling double-digit support, a rapid rise fueled by a series of creative television ads. In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in Iowa, Richardson took 11 percent of the vote, far behind Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) but well ahead of so-called second-tier candidates such as Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.).

Despite his rise, Richardson is not yet drawing any serious attention from Clinton and Obama, whose campaigns don't view him as a major threat. Richardson's best hope is to remain insignificant in the eye of the front-runners for a while longer and hope for, perhaps, an early-state surprise.

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