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A group that helped elect the president is being reshaped to push healthcare legislation.
By Peter Wallsten
August 10, 2009
Reporting from Washington -- To win the White House, Barack Obama and his political team built a vast grass-roots network of supporters and volunteers that came to be considered one of the most valuable assets in American politics. Their ambition after the election was to reshape the network, with its trained organizers and 13 million e-mail addresses, into a ground-level force to push the new president's policy goals.
But now, entering a crucial congressional re
In Farmington, Mo., Obama backer Craig Hartel wonders why the movement has balked at pressuring centrist Democrats who are wavering on whether to support a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers.
In Chester, Va., Beth Kimbriel often volunteers 40 hours a week to persuade locals to support Obama. But with critics of the healthcare plan so prominently grabbing headlines and spreading what she calls misinformation, Kimbriel finds that "it's difficult to be believed" when she lays out the president's position.
And in Cary, N.C., Murray Silverstone, inspired by the election and eager to pitch in on the healthcare fight, wonders why staffers didn't arrive in his area and begin trying to reconstruct the campaign system until five weeks ago.
"It wasn't clear to us why there was such a delay," said Silverstone, an astronomer who fits in volunteer work amid his research and college teaching.
Organizing for America's website displays hundreds of upcoming events, ranging from tiny house parties to solicitations to match the conservative presence at town hall meetings. With new online tools, supporters can tell their own healthcare stories to be distributed to lawmakers, and network members can monitor their colleagues' calls to Capitol Hill.
Staffers have been hired so far in 42 states, said the group's deputy director, Jeremy Bird, and he expects to have paid workers in every state in a matter of weeks.
The fate of Obama's health and energy plans rests, in large measure, with wavering lawmakers within Obama's own party.
And some of those Democrats are unhappy at the prospect of being pressured by a group that is funded with party money and housed at the Democratic National Committee. They raised concerns at a pre-recess meeting of freshman lawmakers and Organizing for America officials.