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The Rose Garden: Meet the OFA, Obama’s Door-to-Door Sales Team

Correction Appended

President Barack Obama’s 13 million-strong campaign e-mail list has been transformed into a mass political operation dedicated to enacting the president’s agenda and apparently poised to help elect Democratic candidates and eventually re-elect the president.

[IMGCAP(1)]Loyal to the Obama White House, Organizing for America serves as a kind of party within a party. It is housed within the Democratic National Committee and funded by it, and its main purpose has been to serve Obama, with its usefulness to other Democrats stemming from its ability to push the agenda most share with the president. The group coordinates closely with the White House, and Executive Director Mitch Stewart was hand-picked by the president.

After last year’s presidential election, the Obama campaign essentially shifted its vast e-mail list into the DNC and rechristened what was called “Obama for America— as Organizing for America. The operation began with essentially a few people in a room with an e-mail list — Stewart and his deputy, Jeremy Bird, along with former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, known as the steward of the campaign e-mail list, operating in the background.

According to OFA officials, the group has now built a sprawling infrastructure to complement its vast membership. It now has offices — many housed within local Democratic Party outlets — in 48 states, staffed by state directors, aides, local organizers and volunteers. The operation is so sufficiently well-organized that it has been able to organize 23,000 to 24,000 events on behalf of Obama’s health reform drive, one OFA official said. On Oct. 20, the OFA generated more than 300,000 phone calls to Capitol Hill in support of Obama’s health care initiative.

The OFA has mainly served to beat the grass roots for Obama’s policy initiatives, and the full extent of its role in the 2010 elections is unclear. But its involvement in the 2009 elections is a likely harbinger of things to come. The OFA backed the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia and the contest for New York’s 23rd district, while staging get-out-the-vote drives in other selected 2009 contests without publicly endorsing a candidate.

“The infrastructure could be translated to a political infrastructure that would help local parties and candidates,— one Democratic source said. This source noted the leaders of local canvassing drives designed to drum up support for Obama’s policy initiatives could easily be rebranded as precinct captains for Democratic Party operations in Congressional and other local elections. OFA operatives have developed relationships and detailed knowledge of the local pro-Obama landscape, right down to “walk sheets— of the right doors to knock on to get out the Democratic vote.

And the group most certainly will be activated to reprise its 2008 effort for Obama during his expected 2012 re-election campaign.

Obama appears to be breaking new ground in his ability to communicate directly with base supporters, keep them enthusiastic and engaged, and then order them to get themselves, their friends, acquaintances and neighbors to the polls when the time comes.

Correction: Nov. 9, 2009

The column misquoted an Organizing for America official. The official said the group has organized 23,000 to 24,000 health care reform events on behalf of President Barack Obama.