Organizing for America Kicks Off Health Care Campaign

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Organizing for America (OFA), the Democratic National Committee-run vestiges of President Obama's campaign, kicks off its grassroots health care campaign Saturday with events in all 50 states--thousands of events held in places ranging from homes to libraries to community centers, with tens of thousands of attendees watching a message from Obama and discussing health care, OFA says--all organized by volunteers and OFA's field staff.

Saturday's events will be a precursor to a national health care day of service on June 27, and participants are encouraged to brainstorm for June 27 activities.

This marks the first major initiative for the group--and many will be watching and waiting to see whether it has an impact on President Obama's efforts to reform health care, as it seeks to become a relevant political force in shaping national legislation.

Organizing for America's project is a unique one: to roll the energy of the 2008 presidential campaign over into energetic support for Obama's agenda over the next four years. In short, to get Obama supporters to engage in a grassroots lobbying campaigns to back his major goals of health care, energy, and education reform.

"We need you to stay involved," President Obama told OFA supporters on May 28 on the phone, via conference call, from Air Force One.

"The election in November--that didn't bring about change. That just gave us an opportunity for change," Obama said.

No one knows, yet, how successful OFA will be at bringing that change about.

OFA's first foray into grassroots politicking came earlier this year, when it organized canvasses that generated around 100,000 pledges of support for Obama's budget blueprint, it says. Together with online pledges drummed up via emails to its supporters list, OFA delivered pledges from 214,000 people in April to legislative offices on Capitol Hill.

Critics have noted that, despite OFA's boasting about those numbers, it's quite a low percentage of OFA's total number of supporters, which is believed to be around 13 million--it's 1.65 percent, in fact. A YouTube video of Obama talking about health care reform, which OFA emailed to its supporters, has collected just over 100,000 views (100,911 as of the time of this posting).

If you can only get 1.65 percent of your supporters to sign a pledge supporting one of your goals, that's not very impressive, they say.

Then again, it's not a campaign year, and OFA's project is a tough one. The nation generally doesn't get so excited about bills, compared to presidential races. The nation builds up political energy (anxiety, even) in the months before a presidential election, lets it out in November, and then exhales, thankful to ignore the process until it happens to them again four years later. OFA is trying to change that.

Perhaps more unique than its project is OFA's place in liberal politics. Its inception comes after an election in which the Obama juggernaut's organizing prowess dwarfed the efforts of liberal coalitions (and the Democratic Party) in comparison to 2004.

The brand and supporters list of that juggernaut are now OFA--in addition to an office at DNC headquarters and field staff in 30 states (with a goal of all 50 by the end of the year), though OFA won't say exactly how many field staff it employs.

 It's headed by the DNC, but it's still its own entity, with its own brand, using the Obama campaign logo. It's more closely associated with Obama than the DNC, image-wise--and it aims to get people involved for a new reason: because they support Obama, not because they're crazy about Democratic politics.

OFA and the DNC have insisted that their efforts have been successful so far. Their goal is ambitious, and OFA continually risks endangering itself with paltry turnout.

But if tens of thousands of people actually show up to other people's living rooms Saturday--as they have signed up to do--they will claim it as a huge success.

Leading up to this, OFA has sent emails to its supporters, keeping in regular contact with them not just about health care, but about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination as well. Obama and OFA Director Mitch Stewart sought to rally the troops in the aforementioned conference call.

It's unclear what OFA will do between now and the June 27 day of service, which could be the biggest day of grassroots lobbying for health care this summer--and Obama wants reform passed by July 31.

Canvasses and phone banking are two strategies we might see, though no plans have been made public.

With the budget campaign over and done with as a sort of trial run, OFA's organizing prowess will be put to the test--and the process starts Saturday.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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