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Bloggers Building Bridges to Allies

PITTSBURGH — While a public insurance option was jeered in town halls across the country in August, the health care policy was met with boisterous applause from liberal bloggers at their annual conference here last month.

The cohort of lefty online writers were wrestling with whether a single-payer system was achievable, or if they might have to settle for a robust public insurance option.

“A big part of the conversation focused on the tension between the importance of getting a good bill passed and holding out and advocating and pushing as hard as you [can] for the very best bill possible,—

said Brent Blackaby, a Democratic new media consultant who attended the confab.

Just how important the left is as the health care debate on Capitol Hill reaches its zenith remains to be seen. But it’s clear that progressive activists are trying to flex their muscle on the subject as often as possible.

President Bill Clinton was the keynote speaker at the Netroots Nation conference, where he urged bloggers to be pragmatic with their demands. But unlike when Clinton was in office, President Barack Obama appears to have a stronger, more organized progressive movement lobbying him on the left.

American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation Executive Director Darcy Burner, a darling among the net-roots community during her two failed bids against Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), said discussion centered on what role the net roots can play in lobbying Congress for a public insurance option.

“If we want the president to be progressive, we have to make him do it,— Burner said. “We have to be there and apply the pressure to offset the pressure that he’s getting from the right.—

Chris Bowers, a liberal blogger who works for the Senate campaign of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), said much of the talk at the conference centered on how writers could force the public option through lobbying the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“At the same time there’s a lot of trepidation and a lot of fear … that even that won’t still be enough,— Bowers said. “But we’re plugging for it because there’s nothing else that should be done.—

Unlike the town hall discussions held by Members of Congress during recess, the Netroots confab was less of a debate and more of a pep talk or a rally, according to Bowers.

Organizing for America, the grass-roots organizing arm of the Democratic National Committee, held a sparsely attended cell phone bank for attendees.

And after the conference, the liberal bloggers put their money where their mouths — er, keyboards — were. Several prominent liberal bloggers set up an online fundraising blitz that raised $409,000 and counting for 60 members of the Progressive Caucus who signed on to a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying they would not support a health care bill without a robust public insurance option.

Every Member who signed on to the letter received at least $3,000 in small-dollar contributions. According to John Amato of, Members who were more outspoken on the issues raised more funds: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), for example, received more than $12,750 in small-dollar contributions.

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