Democratic Candidates Meet with Bloggers, Activists at YearlyKos

Jonathan E. Kaplan, a staff writer for The Hill, is covering the YearlyKos convention and will provide periodic updates on the Congress Blog.

Following the YearlyKos debate, the Democratic presidential candidates (except Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who raced back to Washington to cast votes and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who did not attend) held "breakout" sessions with liberal bloggers and activists who had signed up earlier this week.

Each room had a distinct feel and look. The McCormick Place Convention Center is massive so it was possible to catch glimpses of each candidate.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) were assigned rooms closest to the ballroom where the debate was held. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), the 2004 vice presidential nominee, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) met in rooms 15 minutes away.

(For a synopsis of New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton's breakout session, please see the previous post).

Obama's room was jam packed with fans and reporters, cameras and campaign aides. He thanked the crowd and then invited questions, and scores raised their hands.

The most interesting question came from a man who wanted to know if Obama had a "Lyndon Johnson side to [his] persona?"

"Welcome to Chicago," Obama said, giving a nod to the city's reputation for rough and tumble politics.

"I've got sharp elbows," he said, adding that he had flummoxed the entire Washington foreign policy establishment last week by suggesting that the U.S. should talk to its enemies and use the military to enter Pakistan to capture Osama bin-Laden.

"Those who helped create the biggest fiasco [in history] are accusing me of being too inexperienced because I had the temerity [to challenge them]," he said with a dose of sarcasm. "I revel in those fights."

Obama said that if attacked by Republicans he would respond "swiftly, decisively and truthfully. I am not going to respond to something scurrilous with something scurrilous."

He explained that the best way to make something true is through repitition.

"If you repeat it enough it becomes the truth ... that applies to the truth," he said.

Obama also was asked what he would do to rebuild New Orleans and about his support for the coal industry.

Sensing that the best question had been asked, I hustled next door to Gravel's dimly lit room. Less than 30 people (I counted) sat at a long conference table where Gravel pointed to a screen that showed the Constitution.

Then I raced across the hallway, trekked up three flights of escalators, and walked for another four minutes to find Edwards, jacket off and sleeves rolled up, standing in the middle of a sweltering, crowded room taking questions.

Edwards was hitting all of his campaign themes: universal health care, tax reform, and he told one activist that he did not want to use his time impeaching President Bush.

I briefly checked on Dodd, who kept his suit on, stood at a podium and talked to a smattering of people. As he spoke, one could hear the cheering in Edwards's room.

Richardson's room was somewhat more crowded than Dodd's, and he continued talking as Edwards and Dodd finished up.