Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the only top-tier Democratic presidential candidate attending the gathering of liberal activists at this year’s Netroots Nation convention, as most of the radical leftists in the race scramble to avoid an event notorious for brazen hecklers and demonstrators.
With socialist-style candidates such as Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio skipping the four-day convention, which kicked off Wednesday in Philadelphia, Ms. Warren will have an opportunity to solidify her activist base and lay claim to the race’s far-left lane.
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said the 2020 hopefuls were not running scared from Netroots Nation.
“Liberal activists haven’t chased away Sanders and de Blasio. They have run to Elizabeth Warren, who has become the champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” he said. “Netroots is a good opportunity for Warren to cement her status as the new leader of the liberals in the party.”
Still, the absence of Mr. Sanders and Mr. de Blasio raises questions about the candidates’ connections to the liberal base and how much sway the activists have in the Democratic Party.
Mary Rickles, political director of Netroots Nation, told The Washington Times that the candidates who skip the event do so at their own peril.
“This is a chance for candidates to directly address more than 3,000 of the most fired-up, energetic members of the Democratic base. Any candidate who chooses not to participate in our forum is missing out on a huge opportunity to build momentum,” she said.
Ms. Warren is a regular at the annual gathering of liberal bloggers and grassroots radicals. She was their champion before she entered the presidential race, and their aspirations echo in her campaign promises to crack down on corporations and Wall Street and impose an “ultra-millionaire tax” to pay for a slew of new benefits.
Other darlings of the far left who have speaking roles at the convention include Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Stalwart liberals such as Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Rep. Barbara Lee of California also are slated to address the convention.
Most of the center-left and moderate Democratic hopefuls, such as former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, took a pass on facing the rowdy crowd.
“Their constituencies will not be at Netroots,” Mr. Bannon said.
Mr. Biden, the front-runner in the Democratic race, tasted the wrath of Netroots Nation at the 2014 convention in Detroit. He was confronted by demonstrators who railed against the Obama administration’s immigration policies.
Protesters’ shouts of “Stop deporting our families” interrupted Mr. Biden’s speech.
Not much has changed since then.
Immigration rights activists in Philadelphia for Netroots Nation converged Wednesday on Mr. Biden’s campaign headquarters. They staged a sit-in at the office and demanded that Mr. Biden commit to bringing back people “unjustly deported” while he served in the Obama White House.
“The Democratic Party is complicit in deporting 3 million people,” one demonstrator said on a live webcast of the sit-in.
When Mr. Sanders first ran for president in 2015, he contended with shouting Black Lives Matter activists at the Netroots Nation in Phoenix.
They also stormed the stage and shouted down Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, who proceeded to enrage the crowd by saying, “All lives matter.”
Mr. O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor, later apologized for using a formulation that Black Lives Matter activists consider offensive.
Of the two dozen candidates in the 2020 Democratic race, three will join Ms. Warren for the presidential forum Saturday: Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. All three are near the bottom of polls and have little to lose from a dust-up at Netroots Nation.
The Gillibrand, Castro and Inslee campaigns refused to discuss their decisions to participate or what they hoped to get out of it.
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