For liberal groups, "Daily Show" rally on Mall, not just for laughs

Comedian Stephen Colbert testifies on Capitol Hill in front of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration.
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 8:00 AM

Jon Stewart has tried to paint the "million moderate march" he will hold on the Mall this Saturday as a live-action version of his comedy show, a satirical take on political demonstrations.

But some liberal groups are doing their best to adopt the rally as their own. Democratic clubs from colleges across the country are sending buses to the event, offering a seat in exchange for a few hours of volunteer time. President Obama, who seemed to talk up the rally at an event last month, is expected to appear on Stewart's "The Daily Show" just a few days before.

And when the Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington announced on the show that she would be offering free transportation to thousands of takers from New York City, she tried to cast herself and Stewart as collaborators in the progressive movement. "You work on the message," she told him. "I'll work on the logistics."

It was, of course, inevitable that a politically tinged event on the Mall three days before the midterm elections would turn, well, political. In a year when conservatives have been more enthusiastic, liberals were quick to view the rally as a call to arms - even if it is inspired by a man who has lately been skewering the Obama administration and who bluntly says he feels no allegiance to their political agenda.

The truth is, no one is quite sure what to expect on Saturday, despite the almost nightly plugs by Stewart and a fellow "Comedy Central" host, Stephen Colbert. (Colbert, whose comedic persona is that of a blowhard conservative talk show host, had planned his March to Keep Fear Alive as a counter-demonstration to Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. The combined rally is now officially called, "The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.")

Organizers have been tight-lipped about the schedule and any special guests, and groups that have reached out in hopes of sharing the stage say they have received no response.

Still, groups ranging from PETA to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are preparing props and making snarky signs in preparation for the event, and more than 200,000 people have said on Facebook that they will attend.

A question of timing

Many conservatives have watched smugly as liberal activists have become caught up in a gathering that will probably resemble a circus more than it does a serious political event and that is taking place on a prime day for campaign volunteers to help get out the vote.

Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for the "tea party"-affiliated Freedomworks, is a fan of Stewart's show and recently appeared on "the Colbert Report," but he said he will be in West Virginia on the day of the rally, knocking on doors for Senate candidate John Raese (R).

"I'd rather have as many liberals in D.C. that weekend as possible, because I don't want them out doing the phone calls and get-out-the-vote," Steinhauser said.

Most large, mainstream groups affiliated with the Democratic party, such as unions and Organizing for America, say that they do not plan to have any organized presence at the rally and that they are primarily focused on their get-out-the-vote efforts.

But they view it as a companion effort that could bolster their cause, especially among the young people who are Stewart's core audience and who were integral to the party's 2008 successes.

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