Hillary Clinton has been derided for her decision to skip a forum for Democratic presidential hopefuls being hosted today by Left-wing bloggers.
Boos greeted the news that Mrs Clinton would be the only main candidate not to attend the forum. It highlighted the suspicion she faces among the "netroots" - the blogger activists who helped propel the anti-war Howard Dean to within a whisker of the Democratic nomination in 2004. But despite not attending the forum, she will be at the YearlyKos conference in Chicago, along with her rivals Barack Obama and John Edwards. Their presence underscores the increasing power of the netroots. They are fast becoming every bit as much a part of the Democratic establishment as the trade unions and black groups.
Mrs Clinton is regularly lambasted by anti-war bloggers on major Left-wing sites such as Daily Kos, Huffington Post and MyDD for her 2002 vote authorising the Iraq invasion - in contrast to Mr Obama, who opposed it.
The most popular candidate with the 1,500 bloggers at the conference was Mr Obama, followed by Mr Edwards. Attendees were invited to pick up coloured wristbands depending on which candidates they wanted to see. The Obama wristbands were all snapped up quickly, closely followed by those for Mr Edwards. But dozens of Clinton bracelets remained on offer.
Interest in the event has been stoked by Right-wing outrage at the sometimes extreme comments on Daily Kos.
Bill O'Reilly, the fiery Fox News television host, has branded it "a vicious, far-Left hate site" akin to the Nazi party or Ku Klux Klan.
Mrs Clinton will be giving a conference speech to the "Kossacks" today but, unlike the other contenders, is not taking part in an individual forum afterwards. Her staff cited a "scheduling conflict" while rival campaigns suggested she wanted to avoid heckling about the Iraq war.
When it was announced that Ann Lewis, an aide who worked for Mr Clinton and was often wheeled out by his White House when he was in a tight situation, would represent the New York senator there were cries of derision.
In a post entitled "Effing Hillary Jilts Kossacks", the blogger El Ganador complained: "For some reason - which I'm sure the campaign will paper over with some platitude about competing commitment or back to Washington to vote for something - Hillary can't stay the extra 45 minutes (yes, really) to meet with 500 curious Kossacks.
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"Has the campaign lost it's (sic) mind? As soon as the announcement was made, 1,400 people let up a huge hiss." The blog made it to the top of Daily Kos's user-generated recommended list.
Gina Cooper, the conference organiser, responded that Mrs Clinton's campaign had been "incredibly flexible and helpful" and YearlyKos was "ecstatic" that the New York senator would be there. Most bloggers, however, remain deeply sceptical.
Mr Obama's campaign, which is based in Chicago and has solicited many of its record number of donors via the internet, has seized the chance to capitalise on the scepticism about Mrs Clinton.
His aides reported that the Illinois senator had 150,000 "friends" on the MySpace social networking website and 115,000 on its rival Facebook.
Bloggers have been invited to an Obama "Volunteer Headquarters Open House" today and a tour of campaign headquarters on Monday.
Mark Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos, said Democrats were embracing the internet much more effectively than Republicans, who remained fearful and suspicious. YearlyKos had attracted all the candidates because it was on the internet that activists now congregated.
"If the DLC [Democratic leaders] had an email list of three million people, you better believe those presidential candidates would have been there. We provide bodies. We provide troops on the ground."
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