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Democratic presidential candidates paid homage this weekend to the growing power of the blogosphere as a political organizing tool. Six of the major candidates turned out for a convention in Chicago where influential bloggers had assembled.

NPR's Scott Horsley was there.

Unidentified Woman: Don't go home without a YearlyKos shirt. Only $20, marked down from 80.

SCOTT HORSLEY: YearlyKos brings together hundreds of the most popular bloggers from the liberal side of the political spectrum. It takes its name from the popular Web site, Daily Kos.

Janet Aaronson(ph) of Pittsburgh is a regular reader and she jumped at the chance to meet in person those she usually communes with online.

Ms. JANET AARONSON (Regular Reader, Daily Kos; Blogger): The Kos gave me hope. I thought there are people out there who aren't crazy, and the netroots is taking root. It made me feel like we were going to really finally make a lot of other people feel better about what's really going on.

HORSLEY: The convention is part trade show, part strategy session. There are T-shirts and books to buy, and workshops with names like Liberating the iPhone, Reversing the Alito Effect, and How to Put in Motion into the Emotionally Barren Language of the Left.

Six of the Democratic presidential candidates showed up to court these waters and the political activists who follow them. Senator Barack Obama said, if Democrats hope to make good on their promises, they have to look beyond the swing voters and battleground states that have decided the last few elections.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): If we are going to pass universal health care, if we're going to have a bold energy bill, if we are going to actually change how business is done, we've got to expand the voter base.

HORSLEY: Obama was warmly received by his hometown Chicago crowd. But the loudest applause went to former Senator John Edwards, a favorite among blogging activists who are unhappy with the status quo.

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): I think there are big changes that are needed in this country, not small changes. Because there is a - there is a very fundamental question. And I believe this room is filled with people who are about change. Bless you for that. Who will be the best candidate to do that?

HORSLEY: Edwards challenged his rivals to turn down campaign contributions from lobbyists, something he and Obama have already done. Senator Hillary Clinton refused to take the bait.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I don't think, based on my 35 years of fighting for what I believed in, anybody seriously believes under the influence by a lobbyist or a particular interest group…

(Soundbite of shouts)

Unidentified Man: All right. All right…

Sen. CLINTON: Now, you know, I've been waiting for this to see if there's a real sense of reality with my being here.

HORSLEY: Clinton has been reaching out to bloggers lately but many still see the senator as too centrist and too accommodating of opposing views for their taste. She finished far behind Edwards and Obama in a recent straw poll of Daily Kos readers. National polls ranked the top three Democrats just the opposite, with Clinton leading Obama and Edwards.

Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas conceives his readers may not speak for Democrats or voters as a whole.

Mr. MARKOS MOULITSAS (Founder, Daily Kos): A lot of people like me who, you know, are nerds, right, like computer nerds, we didn't have a way to engage in politics before. I think, I'm very comfortable that right now, in this moment in time, we are in the mainstream of American thought on Iraq, on health care, on education. Go down the list and every single issue right now, we are with the mainstream of America.

HORSLEY: For all the talk of a netroots transformation, the YearlyKos convention did seem pretty mainstream. Neither the questions put to the candidates nor their answers were very different from what you might hear in an Iowa town hall meeting or a nationally televised debate.

One participant joked about just how boring and responsible it all seemed. There were, however, some quirky convention-goers like Sharon Feldman(ph). She was promoting a line of partisan dog collars, along with her Web site, dogs4democrats.com.

Ms. SHARON FELDMAN (Creator, Dogs4Democrats.com): It's written in a voice of my dog, Sally B. Woofman. She has lots to say about politics. She wonders aloud: do you think eight years of Bush-Cheney is bad as 56 years to me?

HORSLEY: A voter nicknamed John Pontificator(ph) also delivered a well-received challenge to the Democrats, if they're elected, to appoint an official White House blogger.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Chicago.

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