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Obama's 'Organizing For Action' Inherited His Campaign's Resources


While Republicans are trying to bridge their differences, Democrats find themselves broadly united behind the president's second term agenda. That doesn't mean the work will automatically get done, however, so as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, some of Obama's biggest supporters are meeting in Washington to turn the president's campaign momentum into policy.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: When President Obama won a second term, his campaign, Organizing For America, closed its doors. A few weeks later, Organizing For Action opened for business. The goal is to get people to push his second term agenda. The staff collapsed from thousands down to dozens, but their ambitions remain huge. Sara El-Amine is the group's organizing director.

SARA EL-AMINE: On the State of the Union night we had 1,200 parties across the nation with not a single staffer on the ground.

SHAPIRO: Even without the staff, OFA has the email lists, the spreadsheets and the valuable lessons that Obama's campaign structure gathered over the last six years. For example, El-Amine said, they've studied exactly when to send house party invitations for the best response.

EL-AMINE: The sweet spot for sending - asking people to host an event is about 10 days before the event. The sweet spot for asking someone to attend an event is typically two days before the event happens.

SHAPIRO: She and other OFA leaders spoke at the toney St. Regis Hotel in Washington this morning for about 70 volunteers and donors. Last night, President Obama showed up and described his goals for group.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: How do we make sure that people stay involved? How do we make sure all those neighborhood groups are engaged, feel a sense of connection? We did not do as good of a job in 2008 as I would've hoped in making sure they still felt a part of the process.

SHAPIRO: That may sound like the campaign and that has government transparency activists up in arms. OFA can take unlimited donations. Critics say the group is trying to sell access to the president. The conservative group Crossroads has this ad using a short clip from White House spokesman Jay Carney.


SHAPIRO: While campaigns push toward a single Election Day, Organizing For Action is trying to create a more long term structure with lots of goal posts. Toward that end, since early February OFA has held a Wednesday night policy call about the issue of the moment, whether it's gun control, immigration or climate change. Staffers say at least a couple thousand Obama supporters dial in every week.

And unlike a campaign, this is a 50-state push. Jim Messina ran Obama's reelection and now he helps run the new OFA.

JIM MESSINA: Each region or city will have its own OFA chapter and members will decide on what issues in their community they most care about.

SHAPIRO: Within limits. So for example, in Illinois, OFA is working on a same-sex marriage bill that fits Obama's agenda. But if a local chapter wants to push for marijuana legalization or transparency on drones, executive director Jon Carson says they'll have to take it someplace else.

JON CARSON: We're going to be focused on things that match with the president's agenda, but as there's volunteers, you know, they'll volunteer sometimes with OFA and if they want to work on other issues elsewhere, they'll be able to.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, Jim Messina proudly announced that more than a million people have already taken a volunteer action for OFA. Then he added that his definition of volunteer action includes writing a tweet. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.