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Obama Campaign Spin-off Set to Lead 'Standing Grassroots Army'

In her post, "Obama's Permanent Campaign: Can He Use His Reelection Playbook to Change Washington?" at The Atlantic, Molly Ball addresses a question on the minds of many Democrats who are concerned about party-building. Ball's post explains the new strategy, which is anchored on the creation of a new group 'Organizing for Action':

...Organizing for Action could be the key to enacting the president's agenda. Obama's best hope for his aggressive program may lie in the same innovative campaign techniques of grassroots mobilization and data-based field organizing that got him reelected in November. And if he pulls it off, he could revolutionize lawmaking the way he's already revolutionized campaigns.

Politicians talk about an outside game, but no president has ever commanded a standing army of organized supporters who could be summoned at a moment's notice to put pressure on Washington at his command. That is what Obama is proposing to do, said Addisu Demissie, who served as political director of Organizing for America, the heir to Obama's 2008 campaign organization.

"A lot of the things the president has proposed are popular -- pieces of gun safety, immigration, and so on," Demissie said. "The people are with him. But those people have to be heard, to step up and be counted, particularly in Republican congressional districts."

To be sure, there's a network of progressive advocacy organizations who are active on a wide range of issues. "But none of them have the sole job of mobilizing on behalf of the president's agenda," Demissie said. Obama's grassroots supporters "have been trained now, through two presidential election cycles, to work and organize and do the hard work of politics. Now, Obama can really use that power and those skills...Having a grassroots army could be the whole ballgame."

It's been a tough slog for the new organization, as Ball explains,

Insiders are calling Organizing for Action "OFA 4.0" -- the fourth iteration of the acronym. OFA 1.0 was the first presidential campaign; 2.0 was its successor, Organizing for America, which became an arm of the Democratic National Committee in 2009; 3.0 was the reelection campaign.

OFA 2.0 is the most direct precedent for the current effort -- and a cautionary tale. Organizing for America was largely blamed for having squandered the momentum of Obama's first victory, allowing the president to get mired in D.C. deal-making and leaving his rank-and-file supporters out in the cold.

Veterans of the group bristle a bit at this characterization, but most acknowledge that Organizing for America took too long to get started, lacked a focused mission, didn't play well with other actors (such as local Democratic parties) and, because of its affiliation with the DNC, suffered from conflicting imperatives. Was its job to push Obama's plans, or was it to get more Democrats elected.

Despite the obstacles, however, the group has had some impressive success, and claims a measure of credit for helping to enact the Affordable Care Act. "...by the end of August, we were showing up at events and outnumbering the Tea Party folks 3 to 1 or 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 depending on the area.," noted Evan Sutton an OFA field director in Nevada.

Ball concludes her post with a quote from former DNC chair Howard Dean: "Lots of presidents have tried to rally the public on an ad hoc basis...But I don't believe any president has ever maintained a standing grassroots army .... Obama built the best grassroots campaign I've ever seen by a mile. Nobody has done this successfully before, but if anyone can do it, he can."