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Right-Wingers Gather in Las Vegas for Online Organizing Conference

LAS VEGAS, NEV. -- Richard Viguerie is a happy man. At 76, Viguerie, a founder of the religious right and largely credited with winning the 1980 presidential election for Ronald Reagan, believes he's about to see his dream come true: a U.S. government dominated by movement conservatives, thanks to the Tea Party movement. "Today we have an opportunity like I've never seen in my lifetime," Viguerie told an audience of Tea Party activists at RightOnline, the right's answer to the progressive Netroots Nation conference, which is gathered at a hotel on the other end of the Las Vegas strip. The Tea Party faithful gathered at The Venetian Casino and Hotel for the third such confab, organized by the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, an AstroTurfing group chaired by David Koch, board member and executive vice president of Koch Industries, the largest privately held company in the United States (and one of the nation's worst polluters). Those who view the Tea Party movement as a bunch of in-fighting yahoos might take pause at the conference agenda, which covers virtually all aspects of organizing, both online and off-. Tea Partiers fill to overflow training sessions about blogging and podcasting, as well as how to organize via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. (One break-out session was titled "Pimp Your Website: Taking it to the Next Level.") Progressives often like to gloat that the right is behind on the adoption of online technologies for political organizing. But the view from here is that they've nearly caught up. Americans For Prosperity saw the need to kick up online organizing in 2007; it is one of two major AstroTurf outfits that organized the disruptions last summer of congressional town-hall meetings about health-care reform, all brought to the news media via YouTube. Viguerie, who was the first on the right to perfect the technique of direct-mail political fundraising in the 1970s, sees the internet as the tool that will finally deliver his people to real and lasting power. "They used to hold the microphone," he said of what he called the "governing elites." "Now we have our own microphone," he said. Viguerie predicted that this year's mid-term congressional elections will be "a tidal wave of biblical proportions that will sweep the Democrats out of power." After the session I asked him if that was just hyperbole for his base. I've always known Viguerie to answer these kinds of questions forthrightly. "No, not at all," he told me. "I think there will be a wave, a force, that will sweep the Democrats out. It's not necessarily going to sweep in the Republicans -- that is, people aren't voting for the Republicans; they're voting against the Democrats...Carville said over and over again in 1992, 'It's the economy, stupid.' So I say to conservatives, it's the primary, stupid, because when this wave, I think, of biblical proportions sweeps the Democrats out -- if all they do is bring to office Republicans like the old Republicans, the big-government establishment Republicans, we've really wasted the opportunity of a lifetime." "So, let's say you don't get your tidal wave," I said, "but you successfully primary-challenge a number of establishment candidates. You still win, don't you? I mean, you're looking to change the [Republican] party, right?" "Well, we're looking to bring people who share our values to power in America," he replied. Think it can't happen? In a two-party system, sooner or later the voters decide they don't like who's in power, and they vote in the other guys. Once Viguerie's people take hold of the machinery of the Republican Party, all they have to do is wait. And Viguerie, who, in his seventh decade is still working 14-hour days and savvy in the ways of the intertubes, is determined to live to see his vision manifest.