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Thousands of liberal bloggers meeting face-to-face

Netroots Nation's conference is attracting hard-core political bloggers and Democratic heavyweights, all of whom hope to make a difference in the fall.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 liberal-leaning bloggers are getting some face time this week, in hopes of gathering strength before the fall election.

The four-day Netroots Nation 2008 conference, which started Thursday in Austin, Texas, will feature more than 150 speakers and 125 panel discussions and events.

With the presidential election less than four months away, the conference is attracting the attention of a number of Democratic heavyweights--with the major exception of presidential candidate Barack Obama himself. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Obama apparently bowed out due to a planned trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Keynote speakers include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and two former presidential hopefuls: Howard Dean, who now leads the Democratic National Committee, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark. Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor and founder of Change Congress, will also speak.

Panels include "Pundit Project: How To Outtalk The Talking Heads," "Sunshine Laws For Bloggers," and "Measuring and Managing Your Online Paid Advertising Campaigns." There are also caucus meetings such as ones for Native Americans, Latinos, African Americans, "geeks," "moms," "street prophets," and Mother Jones readers.

This is the third annual such conference, which was previously known as YearlyKos, and the first one that could help influence the outcome of a presidential election. Netroots Nation, a site where liberal bloggers converge, was originally part of the Daily Kos blog--thus the previous name of the gathering.

"Bloggers want to be involved in the election of the next president," Matt Glazer, editor of the Austin-based blog Burnt Orange Report, told the Austin American-Statesman. "Networks of bloggers aren't just talking to one another; they are making very strategic decisions about the issues they want to discuss."

At the same time the liberal bloggers are meeting, their conservative counterparts are gathering in Austin as well. The Texas Defending the American Dream state summit will be markedly smaller than the Netroots Nation gathering, with about 300 expected, according to the Statesman. But its speakers include Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr.