With the turn of a phrase, Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann seemed to sum up last weekend’s RightOnline conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists.
“The sleeping giant is awake,” she declared, drawing a thunder of applause and cheering that could be heard across the fifth floor of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, where the two-day event was held.
For years, the progressive Netroots Nation conference had monopolized the discussion about online activism. Republicans held the White House and Congress until November 2006, a reality that sparked a fury on the left and motivated them to dominate the online world.
The election of Barack Obama, however, turned much of that on its head.
For the first time ever, conservative blogs hold the top two slots in Technorati.com’s political blog ranking, pushing The Huffington Post, the long-reigning champion, to the fifth slot. Conservative blogs also make up half of the top ten political blogs on the Web, while the distinctly liberal blogs only claim two spaces.
With the turnover in power in Washington since November 2008, the progressives appear to have fallen into the same trap as the right did while in power. Compared to the noise they were making while former President George W. Bush held the White House, they have quieted down a bit online, opening an opportunity for their opponents to start taking the Web seriously.
Enter Erik Telford, director of membership and online strategy for Americans for Prosperity, a Washington-based conservative activist group. In 2008, Telford organized RightOnline to go head-to-head with Netroots Nation, training conservatives how to use the Web to organize their efforts. Telford coordinated the first conference in Austin, Texas during the same time as Net roots Nation, and the enthusiasm for the event has grown ever since. Only about 500 people showed up for that meeting three years ago. Last weekend, more than a thousand made the trip.
RightOnline organizers even boasted that their conference had more attendees than Netroots Nation this year, which turned out not to be true. Netroots Nation had registered about 2,100 this year, while RightOnline had around 1,100. Netroots Nation attendance has also increased, up from 1,200 their first year.
“Netroots Nation is going down faster than Mel Gibson’s career,” Telford told the crowd during a Friday night line-up of speeches.
But even with a smaller (but growing) crowd, the enthusiasm at RightOnline was on full charge.
While a feeling of frustration with the Democratic Party seemed to float through the air at Netroots Nation, it was all rapture among the conservatives. For a group that has faced such excruciating losses so recently, the activists at RightOnline were literally giddy about their November prospects.
Sharron Angle, who is opposing long-time Nevada Democrat Sen. Harry Reid, received a standing ovation Saturday for urging a change to Social Security, announcing support for Arizona’s new immigration law, and, of course, promising to beat Reid, who is also the Senate’s majority leader.
“Love you Sharon!” shouted an attendee when Angle took the stage. “I love you too” she replied.