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Obama Team Keeps Grass Roots Growing

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Obama Team Keeps Grass Roots Growing


Obama Team Keeps Grass Roots Growing

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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In Chicago today, President-elect Obama will announce more Cabinet appointments. But as Mr. Obama staffs the top rungs of his administration, his team is also paying close attention to their grass roots. And that's why this weekend Mr. Obama's supporters held thousands of house parties all over the country. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, reports.

MARA LIASSON: Barack Obama has been called the Google of American politics. He's got technological expertise and an audience - 10 million email addresses - that no one else can match. And one of the Obama team's most pressing tasks is to figure out how to turn that huge network of activists and volunteers into an effective political organization.

(Soundbite of Internet video)

Mr. DAVID PLOUFFE (Democratic Party Campaign Consultant): Everybody, it's David Plouffe. It's been a while since I was able to talk to you like this. As you can see, I'm not at my desk today. Here in...

LIASSON: Plouffe was candidate Obama's very low-profile campaign manager. But while he didn't spend a lot of time on television, his regular Internet video updates made him a familiar face to Obama's supporters. And in this video, he's not at his desk at campaign headquarters in Chicago. He's standing on the Ellipse in front of the White House like a tourist. And he's giving the Obama grassroots army their first big post-election assignment.

(Soundbite of Internet video)

Mr. PLOUFFE: This weekend, December 13 and 14, we're having "Change is Coming" house party events all over the country. We're asking you to host or attend one of these. And talk to your colleagues...

LIASSON: And they did. Ten thousand house parties were organized on, the Obama social networking Web site. We went to one in the Brookland neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of D.C. Progressives for Obama house party, Brookland, Washington, D.C.)

JEREMY(ph): Hi. How are you?

ANITA(ph): Jeremy?

JEREMY: I'm Jeremy.

ANITA: Anita.

JEREMY: Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming.

ANITA: Nice to meet you. Wow!

JEREMY: Help yourself to some carrots and sticks and...


JEREMY: We've got the works…

LIASSON: This is the carrots and sticks Obama house party, hosted by a group called D.C. Progressives for Obama. The organizers say the goal expressed by the choice of snacks is to get Obama's back and hold his feet to the fire, especially - as a young man named Bill Pier(ph) tells the others - now that the campaign is over and Mr. Obama is getting ready to govern.

Mr. BILL PIER: (Member, D.C. Progressives for Obama): Up to this point, all of us have been gathering in homes such as this for one purpose - to get one man elected. And now the goal is much more extensive and much more ambiguous in many ways. It was much easier when the goal was finite and tangible and easily defined. Now...

LIASSON: The group agrees their goal should be to help the president-elect pass something tangible fast. Health care is Jennifer Dillon's(ph) top priority, and she has an idea about how they can help.

Ms. JENNIFER DILLON (Member, D.C. Progressives for Obama): We need to become one of the interest groups. Right, there are a lot of groups that exert influence on government. The labor unions exert influence. The pharmaceutical companies exert a lot of influence. And we need to be our own independent group that exerts influence.

Unidentified Man #1: We're like a citizens' union.

Ms. DILLON: Yeah, exactly.

LIASSON: All this is music to the ears of David Plouffe as he tries to figure out exactly what to do with Mr. Obama's army now that there's not an election to win for another two years.

Mr. PLOUFFE: For those of us that have been involved in politics for a long time, it could not be more refreshing. You know, it is kind of your ideal of political utopia, right, that you've got these millions of people out there knocking on doors and taking ownership of the campaign. And I'm not sure any of us thought we'd see it again. And so now the question is, over the next few years, you know, how impactful can that be in a non-electoral standpoint? Because, you know, it's not an election.

LIASSON: Plouffe recently sent out a survey to supporters asking them to rank their priorities: passing legislation, working on local issues, or electing like-minded candidates. But the survey didn't say Democratic candidates, and there's a reason for that. Many of Obama's core supporters are not traditional Democratic Party activists. Just listen to the folks at the carrots and sticks house party.

(Soundbite of D.C. Progressives for Obama house party, Brookland, Washington, D.C.)

Unidentified Woman: We exist as an organization now. I mean it's basically happened.

Unidentified Man #2: But isn't that the Democratic Party?

Unidentified Woman: I don't think it is the Democratic Party, actually, no. I would emphatically disagree that it's the Democratic Party. I think...

LIASSON: Most winning campaigns simply morph into the national party structure after they come to Washington, but not this one. President-elect Obama will staff the DNC with his own people eventually. But Obama for America will continue as a separate political entity that helps Democratic causes, but maintains the inclusive, post-partisan aura of the Obama campaign. And the Obama team is hoping that will help keep volunteers like Ernest Johnson(ph) feeling engaged and empowered.

Mr. ERNEST JOHNSON (Obama Campaign Volunteer): I've never seen this level of activism after any presidential election in my lifetime. I have attended two Obama "Change" meetings already today and have four scheduled for tomorrow.

LIASSON: In just 36 days, Barack Obama will become president. And he's coming into office with more grassroots support and the tools to mobilize it than any other modern president.

(Soundbite of D.C. Progressives for Obama house party, Brookland, Washington, D.C.)

Mr. JOHNSON: We're building an organization, if this is what this is. And I don't think you can underestimate it...

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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