Democratic officials using Netroots Nation meeting to stir up liberal base

By Philip Rucker and Aaron Blake
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 11:58 AM

LAS VEGAS -- Even before the annual Netroots Nation conference opened here Thursday, the committee responsible for electing Democratic governors issued a direct appeal to liberal activists designed to fire them up for the 2010 midterm elections.

Hundreds of progressive bloggers and activists are descending on Las Vegas for a four-day event, which is the last big gathering of liberals before the November elections. Democratic officials see Netroots Nation as an opportunity to rally the party's left flank and help close the sizeable gap in enthusiasm between Democrats and emboldened Republicans.

Some of the party's top operatives are scheduled to speak here about campaign strategy, as are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who will take questions from the audience Saturday.

Liberal activists have openly criticized President Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress for not pursuing a more progressive agenda, specifically for failing to pass climate change legislation and abandoning the public insurance component of health-care reform. This week's conference might be the last chance for Democratic leaders to mend fences with the liberal base and channel its energy in service of Democratic candidates.

The Democratic Governors Association is wasting no time, launching on Thursday a new campaign initiative, Fight the Right 2010, that is designed to rally progressives by warning of the Republican Party's "growing radicalization."

The DGA released a provocative video, "Never Surrender," that it hopes will be a rallying cry to Democrats to stand up and "never surrender to this radical fringe."

"Today's Republican Party is dominated by the Tea Party-Sarah Palin fringe, which is forcing candidates further and further to the right," Nathan Daschle, DGA executive director, said in a statement. "Governors are traditionally immune to ideological purity contests, but today's GOP won't accept anything short of rigid adherence to an out-of-touch dogma."

The DGA has seized on Sarah Palin's role endorsing gubernatorial candidates with a Web feature called "Six Degrees of Sarah Palin," which maps what the DGA calls a "frightening web of connections" between Republican candidates and the former Alaska governor.

Even as it tries to rally the base in Las Vegas, the DGA could face a tough crowd in light of one recent controversy. It was revealed last week that the committee funded mailers in the Iowa Republican primary attacking former Gov. Terry Branstad and tying him to "liberals" like President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in hopes that he would lose to a more conservative Republican opponent.

With 37 governors offices up for grabs in November, the stakes are high for both parties. Daschle, in an e-mail to supporters, said the stakes are "too high for us to throw in the towel."

"It's time for us -- Democrats and independents -- to stand up, join together and fight the Far Right."

The DGA has a tall task this cycle, especially against a Republican Governors Association that has outraised it $28 million to $17 million so far this year. Daschle said that had more to do with RGA Chairman Haley Barbour's fundraising prowess than with an enthusiasm gap.

He acknowledged Palin is a good fundraiser for Republicans, but he said she's also fair game for Democrats trying to rally the base. He said that progressives need to be reminded how important this election is for a party that for so long suffered under Republican rule.

"Most people look at an election as a fork in the road, but that's not the right metaphor," Daschle said. "We're on a path."

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