Las Vegas, Nevada (CNN) - Organizers of the annual Netroots Nation convention, beginning Thursday, hope what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas.
With the president's poll numbers hurting and chatter increases about the possibility of major defeats for Democrats in this year's mid-term elections, sponsors of the fifth conference hope the ideas and techniques that emerge from the participants will help propel the progressive agenda and spur action by the more than 2,200 progressive activists participating. It is billed as the largest gathering of the Democratic base in advance of the November election.
While the president still has an over 80 percent approval rating among Democrats, it has slipped a bit. As for the Democrats running this year, they are facing a large enthusiasm gap. Only 32 percent of Democrats said they were extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this year compared to 54 percent of Republicans, according to a May 21-23 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll.
Some 80 groups and organizations, many of them key constiuencies of the liberal wing of the Democratic party, are sponsoring NetRoots, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME, MoveOn.Org as well as the Democratic National Committee's Organizing For America wing.
There are over 150 different panels during the four-day event, ranging from voter contact: warming up the cold call; to channeling the power of jobs, populism and the angry voter; to how to respond to attacks on community organizers. Those sessions include a wide variety of activists, Democratic Party leaders, officeholders and candidates.
The convention occurs at a time when some in the progressive community are disappointed in the Obama Administration for not pushing harder for more of their agenda. Specifically they point to the exclusion of the public option in the health care overhaul and some of the nation's biggest banks were not broken up in the financial overhaul package just signed by the president. Other attendees however have blamed Congress for blocking some of those actions, especially in the Senate through the use of the filibuster, and say that is why more Democrats need to be elected.
How to shrink that gap will be one of the key topics among attendees. Among the major speakers at the convention are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Al Franken and Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Also speaking at a seminar is Elizabeth Warren, chairwoman of the congressional panel that oversees the government's bailout programs. Several progressive groups are mounting a petition to encourage the president to select her as the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is part of the newly signed financial reform law. She has ruffled some in the administration for being too vocal in her actions.
Also present will be a large group of progressive bloggers. The convention, formerly known as Yearly Kos, first began with a technology and blogging emphasis as activists increasingly gathered on line to influence government action. Now it has morphed into a more general gathering for the wide range of progressive interests and organizations as well as those who want to use new media to communicate. Several of the panels emphasize that topic, including using new media to break through barriers, online to offline engagement and extending our reach: new tools for online progressives.
One interesting attendee is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican member of Congress. He is participating in a panel entitled Bikes, trains, stimulus and the Obama Cabinet's biggest surprise.
Meanwhile, about 1,000 conservatives will also gather in Las Vegas this weekend in a convention to counter NetRoots. On Friday and Saturday RightOnLine, sponsored by the group Americans for Prosperity Foundation, will feature Nevada Republican Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, Republican Reps. Mike Pence and Michelle Bachmann and several conservative radio talk show hosts. As is true with NetRoots, sponsors of the conservative version aim to teach attendees how to become more effecitve in online activisim and with new media.
- CNN's Martina Stewart contributed to this report