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Obama campaign exploring post-election reboot

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The man who managed Barack Obama’s successful re-election campaign said Tuesday that the Chicago-based operation will carry on in some form to advocate the president’s second-term agenda, and may even engage in the debate over how to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

But before closing up shop in its current form, the analytics-driven Obama for America (OFA) has again turned to its massive online network to determine how best to do that. A survey emailed to supporters asked what kind of activities they’d like to see OFA engage in, including supporting Obama policy offerings to backing individual candidates in future campaigns. Recipients of the email could also indicate whether they’d like to continue to volunteer “as part of an Obama organization,” and what specific issues would be of interest.

Jim Messina, who was at the helm of the 2012 effort, said it was a personal priority for Obama to keep supporters mobilized even after they cast their final votes on his behalf, and the survey was part of the process for determining how best to do so.

“People just spent five years winning two presidential elections together. They’re now not going to walk away and not help him become the change that they want to see,” Messina said Tuesday at an event sponsored by Politico.

After Obama first won the White House in 2008, his campaign operation became a distinct entity within the Democratic National Committee called “Organizing for America,” an arrangement that may be repeated now.

The Organizing effort advocated on behalf of the president’s agenda and worked to help elect Democrats in the 2010 midterms. But even Obama has said it was not utilized in quite the way he would have hoped.

“I do think that we had the best of intentions in 2009 and 2010,” the president told Time magazine in August. “We had to move very quickly, which meant that our biggest concern was how do we get 60 votes right now to get this done. We won’t be in that same kind of crisis, putting-out-the-fire mentality, in 2013-2014.”

Messina said the president’s health care overhaul would never have passed without the work of Organizing for America. But the party’s shellacking in the midterm elections showed its limitations, and the campaign infrastructure is not something that can simply be transferred to whatever Democrat is the party standard-bearer in 2016.

“This organization was built for people who supported this president and who were involved,” Messina said. “We had over 32,000 team leaders who basically volunteered full time. And those people were involved because of the issues and positions the president took. … We learned this to our own surprise in 2010 — you can’t just hand it to the next candidate. They have to have their own relationship (with voters).”

Messina did not rule out that OFA could continue to operate out of Chicago, where now only a small fraction of the once 650-member team at headquarters continue to work winding down the 2012-focused effort. Obama’s decision to base the campaign there initially was one of the smartest strategic decisions that was made, Messina said, because it kept the team focused on building toward the ultimate goal of re-electing the president rather than the daily distractions staff would have dealt with had they been based in Washington.

A final decision on OFA’s future would likely come by Inauguration Day 2013, Messina said. In the meantime, he said supporters were already equipped to mobilize on behalf of the president’s position in negotiations on the fiscal cliff using some of the tools that were used during the campaign, like the online organizing tool called Dashboard.

“It would be very easy for supporters today to go and start asking people to call members of Congress. … I am sure you will see our supporters start doing that,” he said.

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