Organizing for America, the Democratic National Committee-led campaign infrastructure built by President Obama, had its coming out party this morning at DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. It had gathered 642,000 pledges in support of Obama's budget, and 200+ volunteers will be delivering them today to lawmakers--both Democrats and Republicans--in a non-targeted, blanket grassroots lobbying effort.
It had organized a canvassing effort two weekends ago that drew participation from over 10,000 people, it had drummed up support via emails to Obama's campaign distribution list to gather signatures, and it had aired a national TV ad asking citizens to call Congress in support of the budget, all part of its first initiative--a massive effort to push Obama's budget blueprint through Congress.
"If today's involvement is any indication, we're going to be in very good shape over the next four years," OFA Director Mitch Stewart told several hundred volunteers, press, and DNC staffers gathered in the first floor of the DNC's HQ today. Boxes full of pro-Obama-budget pledges from across the country, which lined the room, seemed to support his statement.
But what, exactly, will OFA be in good shape to accomplish? So far, its stated goal has been to keep Obama supporters "involved in the legislative process," and to transfer the political energy of the 2008 campaign--and the Barack Obama movement--into further political engagement.
Obama's budget gave OFA a daunting first task. "People don't necessarily understand the budget," Stewart told me when I approached him after his remarks to the group. Given that challenge, Stewart said, he's pleased with the results. Indeed, budgets are esoteric, and OFA sought to combat that abstract air by highlighting the policy priorities Obama's plan contains--healthcare, energy, and education reform--in order to get people engaged with it.
But after a budget resolution gets passed, which will likely happen this month, it's unclear what's next for OFA. Given its mission, one would assume it will continue to drum up support for Obama's legislative agenda. Stewart wouldn't comment on whether OFA will rally its supporters behind healthcare or energy reform, for instance--two key areas of Obama's budget blueprint--as specific bills are drafted down the road.
"We're taking it one issue at a time," he told me. "The main priority for us is this budget."
Another possibility is that OFA will reenter the campaign realm--and in fact it already has. OFA emailed supporters on its list in New York's 20th congressional district before the special election that was held there last night, urging them to support Democrat Scott Murphy (who now leads by 65 votes as thousands of absentee ballots are yet to be counted).
When asked whether OFA will get involved more heavily in campaigns, spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth told me, "It's not one of our primary objectives, but again that could change."
We still don't know whether OFA's budget campaign will have an impact, as the House and Senate have yet to vote on their budget resolutions. It has demonstrated OFA's ability to turn out volunteers and gather signatures unrelated to any election, but whether it can affect the legislative process has yet to be seen. For that, and for the future of its operations, we will have to wait to find out.