Obama redeploys his grass-roots network to push budget
Volunteers canvassed door to door over the weekend in the first big test of his ground support.
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Up the street, Michael Sulzbach also didn’t want to sign the pledge – at least not yet. “I don’t know enough about the budget yet. I want to read more about it,” he said.Skip to next paragraph
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But the Kenkares had some successes. By the end of their two-hour walk through the neighborhood under a chilly, spring sun, they had collected eight pledges. Their whole group brought in a total of 30 pledges.
That number was on the low side for most of Connecticut’s canvassers. But that’s partly because it was a door-to-door operation, says Jennifer Just, the statewide volunteer liaison for Organizing for America. Volunteers who stood in front of supermarkets and other busy stores had better luck.
“Overall, we didn’t have as many volunteers as we had hoped, but the number of pledges per person was really quite extraordinary,” says Ms. Just. “We were hoping for 20 pledges per volunteer, [but] we’re doing more like 50 pledges per volunteer. That was unexpected.”
Nationally, the DNC says it “exceeded expectations” in several areas but it is still tallying the weekend’s results. A spokeswoman added that they have gotten “hundreds of thousands” of people to sign the pledge on the Web.
Will grass-roots pressure work?
This kind of grass-roots organizing could alienate some of the very lawmakers it aims to persuade, some political analysts suggest. But Professor Farnsworth thinks that’s a risk worth taking.
“The greatest peril for Obama is if Congress doesn’t do what he wants,” he says. “Obama does not want to be the next Jimmy Carter, who didn’t get very much of what he wanted from Congress even though there were Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.”
But Farnsworth also notes that Obama’s mobilizing strategy could be undermined by the makeup of the current Congress, where there are only a handful of persuadable lawmakers.
By contrast, when President Reagan urged his supporters to call their congressman to support his 1981 tax bill, there were many centrist Democrats representing conservative districts in the House who felt “cross-pressures,” he says.
“These are the people that perhaps will be the most persuadable. [A] strong performance by activists in those states will make a difference in terms of how they choose to vote,” says Farnsworth. “If you’re going to measure the success of this, you have to watch the Senate not the House.”
The Kenkares have already called Senator Lieberman and urged him to support Obama’s budget. They were not pleased with the response they got.
“He says he’s going to support the budget overall, but when it comes to taxes he’s going to raise questions,” says Lois Kenkare. “That will simply slow things up and we need to get this done.”
Her husband, Diva, complains that Lieberman, like most other members of the Senate, has had many years to put his stamp on the economy.
“These people have a lot to say now about how to run the country, but they’ve had their chance and they didn’t do a good job,” he says. “They have to at least give this young guy Obama a chance to implement his ideas.”