Bloggers Convene In Austin For Netroots Nation

This story was written by Andrew Kreighbaum, Daily Texan

Melissa Noriega is convinced that Texas left-wing bloggers propelled her husband's U.S. senatorial campaign.

While deployed in Afghanistan with the National Guard, Rep. Rick Noriega, a Houston Democrat, nominated his wife to serve in his place in the Texas House of Representatives.

At the Netroots Nation convention in Austin Thursday, Melissa Noriega told a caucus of about 50 bloggers from across the state that blogs were a valuable source of information during her service in the House.

The blogs of the Texas Progressive Alliance, a coalition of liberal Texan bloggers, helped her, she said.

"When they talk about my being effective in Austin when I stood in for Rick, it was because I was reading you," she said to the bloggers gathered in a room at the Austin Convention Center.

The third annual Netroots Nation, formerly known as the YearlyKos Convention, brought nearly 3,000 liberal bloggers and activists to Austin from across the nation this weekend to network and discuss the presidential campaign. The four-day event started Thursday.

"Today, our caucus and the fact that the convention is in Texas speaks a lot to what is happening in our state," said Karl-Thomas Musselman, publisher of the Texas blog Burnt Orange Report, in reference to the prospect of Texas electing Democrats in the fall to national and state political seats for the first time in decades.

Musselman said states where Democrats don't have to fight for representation in government bodies produce weaker progressive blogging communities. He said Texas' possible party transition is pushing left-wing bloggers to organize and unite.

"In Texas, we realize we have to fight for every inch we get," Musselman said.

A brief appearance at Brush Square outside the Austin Convention Center by Howard Dean, former Vermont governor and current chairman of the Democratic National Committee, drew more than 200 attendees Thursday afternoon.

Dean was at the convention to mark the start of a new 50-state electoral strategy beginning in Crawford, Texas. Dean, who often joked about sending President Bush back to Crawford to retire during the 2004 presidential campaign, said he made his first trip to the town this month.

Dean spoke about recent Democratic legislators' efforts to reach out to evangelical voters and said the conservative group's greatest concerns - which include poverty, climate change and the genocide in Darfur - were key elements of the Democratic Party platform.

"Stop fighting about things you can't agree on, and start fixing the things you can agree on," he urged the crowd.

Dean said a Democratic vote alone would not be enough to produce political change, and he asked each audience member to knock on 25 doors at least three times before election day in the fall.

"I'm asking you to go out and explain to people why it makes a difference," he said.

Convention-goers received tips on how to talk to neighbors about politics from Parag V. Mehta, director of training for the committee.

Mehta said that when campaign volunteers are uninformed about part of a candidate's platform, they should respond to a question by acknowledging their inability to answer and should ask for the voter's contact information so the volunteer can respond when better informed.

"Don't ever be afraid to say 'I don't know,'" Mehta said. "It's not our job as an activist to supplant our values for the candidate's."

A panel of bloggers talked to attendees about improving the effectiveness of their television appearances.

"As much as we wouldn't want to admit it, peole often come away with a judgment of your argument based on how you looked," said panelist and blogger Amanda Terkel.

The panel recorded mock interviews with audience members and critiqued their performances. The most common critique was that volunteers were not single-minded enough in pushing their talking points.

"TV is incredibly corrosive to public discourse," said panelist and blogger Matt Yglesias. "The whole point is for progressives to hold their own in an uneven battle field."