Netroots Nation Strives To Keep Right Online Away From Next Year’s Convention

The organizers of Netroots Nation 2012 are doing their darndest to keep the conservative Right Online conference from horning in on their action.

Netroots is headed to Providence, RI next year — offering attendees a chance to be close to major cities on the East Coast for less bucks, organizers say — and, unlike this year’s conference in Minneapolis, RightOnline won’t be able to crash it.The conservatives set up their event in the main hotel Netroots attendees were staying in, making for more than a few meetups in the bar and strange dueling welcome banners in the lobby.

The proximity of the two groups led to some interesting unannounced visits to both events.

For Right Online, sponsored by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, the close quarters are all part of the plan.

“We don’t just hold conferences quietly,” AFP president Tim Phillips said during the opening banquet of this year’s RightOnline. “We decided to go where the left was. we found out where Netroots…was and we said, ‘we’re going to go same city, same weekend, heck, if we can the same hotel.'”

Netroots is less than thrilled. Conference organizer Nolan Treadway told TPM he would prefer RightOnline stayed away.

“Ideally, I’d like AFP not to exist,” Treadway said. He said he didn’t expect RightOnline to grab the ballrooms in the same hotel so many attendees to his conference were staying in.

“We didn’t think they’d book on top of us, really,” he said. “Frankly, I probably should have.”

In 2012, he said, “we just prefer to have [RightOnline] at arm’s length.”

To make that happen, Netroots has signed non-compete clauses with the two official Netroots hotels next year — the Westin Providence and the Providence Biltmore. While that won’t keep AFP out of the whole city, Treadway said it should keep them farther away from the Netroots festivities.

“It was more tense than it had to be,” Treadway said, referring to the atmosphere in Minneapolis. “People were on edge and there was a lot of distrust among the sides. It wasn’t the way we like to do things going forward.”

AFP’s Erik Telford told the TPM that his group hasn’t decided where to put RightOnline next year, but he confirmed that Providence is among the contenders.

“If we decide to go elsewhere it will be for other reasons [beyond the non-compete clause],” Telford. He said that RightOnline has perhaps outgrown the need to be near Netroots, which he said was done to fire up supporters about the power of the online left and draw some earned media.

“We’ve reached the point where we no longer have to do it that,” Telford said. Still he said “I wouldn’t rule it out,” when it comes to holding RightOnline in Providence.

He said he was surprised that the Netroots folks don’t want AFP around.

“Winners don’t run and hide,” he said. “They’re perhaps running scared…and afraid to have a debate.”

Treadway said Netroots plans to make “some tweaks” to next year’s conference in anticipation. But he also said he hopes Netrootsers won’t rise to the occasion should AFP find a way to get close again.

“I think personally I’d like to try and challenge our attendees to ignore the [Andrew] Breitbarts and [James] O’Keefes of the world rather than gathering around them and taking a million photos,” he said.