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Under Obama, Web Would Be the Way

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By Shailagh Murray and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 10, 2008

CHICAGO -- Armed with millions of e-mail addresses and a political operation that harnessed the Internet like no campaign before it, Barack Obama will enter the White House with the opportunity to create the first truly "wired" presidency.

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Obama aides and allies are preparing a major expansion of the White House communications operation, enabling them to reach out directly to the supporters they have collected over 21 months without having to go through the mainstream media.

Just as John F. Kennedy mastered television as a medium for taking his message to the public, Obama is poised to transform the art of political communication once again, said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who first helped integrate the Internet into campaigning four years ago.

"He's going to be the first president to be connected in this way, directly, with millions of Americans," Trippi said.

The nucleus of that effort is an e-mail database of more than 10 million supporters. The list is considered so valuable that the Obama camp briefly offered it as collateral during a cash-flow crunch late in the campaign, though it wound up never needing the loan, senior aides said. At least 3.1 million people on the list donated money to Obama.

Millions more made up the volunteer corps that organized his enormous rallies, registered millions of voters and held countless gatherings to plug the senator to friends and neighbors. On Election Day, they served as the backbone of Obama's get-out-the-vote operation, reaching voters by phone and at the front door, serving coffee at polling stations and babysitting so parents could stand in line at voting precincts.

After Obama declared victory, his campaign sent a text message announcing that his supporters hadn't heard the last from the president-elect. Obama conveyed a similar message to his staff in a campaignwide conference call Wednesday, signaling that his election was the beginning, and not the culmination, of a political movement.

Accordingly, the president-elect's http://www.change.gov transition Web site features a blog and a suggestion form, signaling the kinds of direct and instantaneous interaction that the Obama administration will encourage, perhaps with an eye toward turning its following into the biggest special-interest group in Washington.

Once Obama is sworn in, those backers may be summoned to push reluctant members of Congress to support legislation, to offer feedback on initiatives and to enlist in administration-supported causes in local communities. Obama would also be positioned to ask his supporters to back his favored candidates with fundraising and turnout support in the 2010 midterm elections.

"There's this network of people now," said Martha Page, a neighborhood leader in Warren County, outside Cincinnati, where Obama managed to reduce a traditionally large Republican vote margin. Page received six calls Wednesday from volunteers looking for new assignments. "It's a sea change," she said.

People in technology circles have been musing for months about how Obama would use his list, said Peter Daou, who oversaw Internet operations for the Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). "Once you have people connected through a network, you can't disconnect. It's like unbreaking an egg. People all across the country have formed these groups to support Obama. They've worked together for a successful purpose," Daou said. "You don't let go of that easily."

But Daou noted that the initiative could have a downside. Obama faced an intense backlash when he broke from the left on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies that took part in the warrantless wiretapping program. "People who have helped you reach this historic goal by self-organizing can also organize in opposition to your policies," he said.


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