The Democratic National Committee's 50-state canvass this weekend in support of President Obama's budget proposals marks the beginning of a months-long election-style campaign and includes several elements not previously disclosed, including automated telephone calls.
The calls, from DNC chairman Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia, ask recipients to call their members of Congress and press them to support Obama's health care, education and energy agenda.
Obama's political team hopes to use the budget process to pass hundreds of billions of dollars worth of downpayments on his two signature domestic policy priorities.
"What we're really saying," said a Democratic strategist involved in the campaign, "is that this is a budget here, but all of these pieces...they're so central to function the economy, and this budget is a downpayment on any substantive reform that the president seeks on those - in those areas. If President Obama doesn't get a significant placeholder for health care reform, what are the prospects that you're going to get that going forward?"
The same is true, the strategist said, of Obama's energy and education reform proposals.
Republicans and Moderate Democrats in Congress are balking at using budget rules to rush through significant changes to current policy.
But Brad Woodhouse, the DNC's communications director, said that the DNC's effort, operated by its Organizing for America arm, is not targeted at particular members of Congress. "We have a list of millions of people in all 50 states, and in many ways, if we can move enough calls, contacts, door knocks, canvasses, and pledge sign-ups into every Congressional office, that's better than us being involved in individual targeting campaigns."
Though the DNC is not currently sharing information about its efforts with outside liberal groups, Democratic officials do expect that, if individual members of Congress would benefit from a fathom of pressure, the outside groups will perform that function, allowing the DNC to avoid having to get into conflicts with Democratic members of Congress.
The canvasses - more than 1100 are scheduled -- are the first major national project of Organizing for America, the grassroots arm of the DNC. Its director, Mitch Stewart, said that the canvasses, an associated pledge drive and the calls to Congress "are all designed to put our elected officials in Washington on notice that Americans expect that the change President Obama campaigned for becomes reality."
The messaging is fairly generic at this point; the DNC hasn't sent any urgent pleas to its membership, mostly because key votes in Congress are weeks, if not months away.
DNC officials have ways to measure whether their canvassing efforts translate into telephone calls and will be using the results to see whether Obama's campaign volunteer corps can be effectively mobilized to help Obama pass legislation. Pledge drives will be use as earned media hooks in local television markets; the DNC estimates that several hundred thousand Democrats will sign their names toward passage of the budget.
On the heels of the canvass, the DNC is expected to announce the deployment of new organizing staff into all 50 states; that will coincide with a ramping up of campaign-like activities throughout the spring.
Republicans are eager to join the battle.
"When the DNC has to launch a massive campaign to convince their own moderate Democrats to support the President's budget, it speaks volumes about how far outside the mainstream this agenda really is," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesperson for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor. "We hope that Republicans and moderate Democrats can convince the Administration to return to the political center so that we can work together on bipartisan solutions to help small businesses and middle class families overcome the economic challenges they face."