This often gets lost in the buzz over cabinet appointments and other high-profile issues, but one of the more fateful decisions Team Obama will need to make over the next few months involves the disposition of his remarkable field organization and volunteer/donor network. As noted in an LA Times story today by Peter Wallsten and Tom Hamburger, one approach is to fold the Obama organization into the Democratic National Committee and state party affiliates, which is normally what happens after a successful presidential campaign. The other is to keep his organization intact as something of a personal army that will work with, but not under, the national and state parties.
Advocates of the latter approach include key figures in the Obama campaign:
“If it’s in the party,” said Marshall Ganz, a Harvard University lecturer who helped design the training curriculum for Obama’s organizers, “that’s a way to kill it.”
Steve Hildebrand, Obama’s deputy campaign manager and an architect of the grass-roots network, has been warning the president-elect’s team that it risks turning off activists who were inspired by Obama but who never considered themselves a part of the Democratic Party.
These people, Hildebrand said, could be inspired to fight for Obama’s proposals to overhaul healthcare or combat global warming, but would reject appeals that sounded like old-fashioned partisan politics.
Hildebrand’s comments are especially interesting since his name as come up a lot in the last week as a potential quarterback at the DNC (probably under a more visible “figurehead” general chairman).
There are those who say the formal arrangements may not ultimately matter:
“At the end of the day, they own the DNC,” said one party advisor familiar with the internal debate who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussing deliberations. “Whether they merge their mailing lists or keep Obama for America as a separate entity doesn’t really matter,” the strategist added, using the campaign’s official name.
Well, that may be true so long as Obama’s agenda and that of Democrats generally remain closely yoked together. But part of the new administration’s strategy may be to try to build grassroots bipartisan and nonpartisan support for his initiatives, redeeming his post-partisan rhetoric through action around the country rather than through deal-cutting or accomodation in Washington.
This is an issue with more complex strategic implications than might at first appear, and bears watching as the transition turns into governing.