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September 1, 2014

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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION:

New media, new questions

Two years after bland Vegas powwow, liberal bloggers embraced in ‘Big Tent’

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Leila Navidi

Christian Avard works on a Web posting Monday for www.docudharma.com inside “The Big Tent,” where Web writers ply their trade near the Democratic National Convention. “This is a long way from the gold lame of the Riv,” says a Democratic strategist, referring to the Riviera, which hosted a convention two years ago for liberal bloggers.

Blogging in the Big Tent

During this year's Democratic National Convention, independent journalists and progressive activists gather under "The Big Tent"-- a large gathering outside the mainstream press area devoted to blogging. Major players in the blogosphere share their views on the movement's growing influence over U.S. politics. (1:45)

Day One for Democrats

State Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, from left, and State Senator Steven Horsford cheer for Caroline Kennedy as she speaks inside the Pepsi Center during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Launch slideshow »

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This is the headquarters of the vast left-wing conspiracy. They’re all here: MoveOn.org, Media Matters and Markos Moulitsas, and if a bomb went off, Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t be disappointed.

These are the online liberals who, a few years ago, were like the boxing trainer who slaps his fighter around a bit, imploring him to fight back.

“The Democratic Party used to be afraid of its own shadow,” said Moulitsas, whose Daily Kos blog receives 1.5 million unique visitors a month, with daily traffic matching the circulation of the Chicago Tribune.

This crowd is ensconced near the Democratic National Convention and brings a certain swagger to the week, a knowing confidence that the online world helped change the party and deliver victory in 2006. The big prize is now so close its members can taste it like the free smoothies and high-end hippie food being passed around in what’s called “The Big Tent,” a sly homage to a famous Ronald Reaganism.

The aping is apt, for these liberals have long used the conservative movement as their model for its ability to set aside differences for the sake of victory, and for its confident use of attack politics.

Their confidence reflects what many Democrats feel here. For them, it’s a relief the party is now looking forward to this election, rather than dreading it.

A little more than two years ago, the Kos crowd held its own convention in Las Vegas. The mainstream press covered it as if it were an amusing lark, a Dungeons & Dragons convention with laptops.

“This is a long way from the gold lame of the Riv,” said Tom Matzzie, former D.C. director of MoveOn and now a Democratic strategist. He was referring to the Riviera, of course, the down-market casino that hosted the first Yearly Kos.

The Big Tent event is sponsored by Google and Digg and feels like an in-the-know place, with appearances by the celebs of liberal politics such as Arianna Huffington and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

As for the swagger, Matzzie’s been through too many of these to feel it: “It’s dangerous. Victory is not a certain thing.”

Still, he said, he understands it given the growth of a movement that has risen from nothing to play a key role in fundraising, media pushback and organizing in 2006 — and now, all the way to sponsorship by Google.

Matzzie and Moulitsas, as well as Media Matters’ Karl Frisch, pointed to the profusion of technology and their tribe’s ability to harness it better than their opponents. One key: encouraging participation, rather than passive consumption.

The corporate sponsorship of the event and every other across the city calls up a new feature of the Democratic Party: It is more liberal than at any time in its history and, paradoxically, more corporate, in large part because some of its most active members now are sitting in cubes in corporate office complexes.

John Podesta, once President Clinton’s hard-charging chief of staff, said he marveled at how much the online liberals had changed politics.

“Nothing gets by them,” he said, referring to their rapid response to news events and their attacks on Republicans. Back in his White House days, he noted, there were three TV networks and a few big newspapers to worry about.

(This is often cited as one of several reasons New York Sen. Hillary Clinton didn’t win the nomination: not understanding this new media environment.)

As for the swagger, Podesta said, “I don’t know if I’d say ‘swagger,’ but there’s a strong movement for change, and a ticket to get it done.”

Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, who was on the convention floor and served as chairman of Clinton’s Nevada campaign, agreed: “I think everybody’s excited. People recognize we have a tremendous opportunity to win if we show up.”

David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign manager, spoke confidently, and like a robot, as he briefed the battleground states’ press early in the day.

“We have more ways to get to 270 (electoral votes needed to win),” he said, referring to the 14 battleground states, including Nevada and Colorado, that President Bush won in 2004 but are in play. He offered a glimpse of the tough tone of this convention, saying independent women voters will be reminded again and again that abortion will be illegal if Arizona Sen. John McCain is elected.

The omens for the Democrats were mixed.

“It’s Time for a Change” watches were selling at a brisk pace outside the convention hall.

But then there was this: A monster truck driving around downtown with this message: “Our true heroes police, firemen, not NBA.”

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