Obama Announces Grass-Roots Lobby

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama yesterday announced the formation of a group to continue the grass-roots engagement that was a hallmark of his presidential campaign, but lobbying now for his policy priorities in the White House.

"As president, I will need the help of all Americans to meet the challenges that lie ahead," Obama said in a video message e-mailed to supporters and reporters. "That's why I'm asking people like you, who fought for change during the campaign, to continue fighting for change in your communities."

The new group, called Organizing for America, will be a "special project" of the Democratic National Committee, according to Obama transition spokesman Ben LaBolt, and it appears to be the primary vehicle for issue advocacy for Obama's agenda. It will also be the keeper of Obama's e-mail list, which has 13 million addresses.

"President-elect Obama has laid the foundation to meet the great challenges facing our nation, but we can succeed only if we build grass-roots support for the administration's agenda," incoming DNC chairman Timothy M. Kaine said in a release.

The unveiling of Organizing for America came after months of consultation with the grass-roots network built by Obama during the campaign; more than 500,000 online surveys seeking guidance were filled out, and the group was created out of those recommendations.

In an interview late last week with Washington Post editors and reporters, Obama emphasized the idea that the work by his supporters during the campaign was far from done. "We want to put a high premium on service," he said, adding that the "model used during the campaign," which leaned heavily on volunteers and hence had very little overhead, appealed to him.

By keeping Organizing for America within the DNC, and running it with a small handful of campaign operatives, Obama is ensuring that the political machine, and political brand, he built during the campaign are preserved and protected over the coming years.

That echoes his approach during the general election, when he and his team turned down a series of requests for appearances on behalf of down-ballot Democrats -- the better to avoid situations in which his political brand could have been tarnished.

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