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Organizing for Action struggles to move the needle on Obama’s agenda

Washington Post
Juliet Eilperin

President Obama’s supporters are discovering that winning a national election is easier than winning over Congress.

Organizing for Action, an advocacy group born from the remnants of Obama’s victorious 2012 reelection campaign, has struggled in its attempts to help the president push through legislation on the economy, guns and other issues central to his second-term agenda.

JOHN GRESS/REUTERSThe fledgling nonprofit group has spent its first four months staging rallies and generating local news coverage in an unsuccessful effort to get the Senate to strengthen background checks for gun sales.

It deployed technological efforts familiar from the 2012 campaign, collecting 1.4 million signatures on a gun-control petition delivered to Capitol Hill last week and producing a widely viewed Internet videomocking congressional Republicans for questioning humans’ contribution to climate change.

The group also raised $4.9 million through March and is awaiting an influx of cash from liberal donors connected to George Soros’s Democracy Alliance to expand its staff beyond the few dozen now on its payroll.

But despite its extensive voter-data files and White House connections, OFA has yet to make much of a mark on the nation’s political landscape. Many of its efforts have been centered in liberal strongholds and Democratic-leaning swing states, with little impact on more conservative areas.

“A real, sustained grass-roots movement — you can’t make that up in a minute,” said Marshall Ganz, a community-organizing expert and public policy senior lecturer at Harvard University. “It’s a long-term investment in grass-roots leadership.”

But OFA Executive Director Jon Carson said that while the group itself is young, many of its members are longtime political activists. “Our volunteers did not hatch out of an egg in 2008,” he said. “They’ve been fighting on issue campaigns for their whole lives.”

OFA is focused on promoting the president’s agenda to reform immigration, strengthen gun control, strike a budget deal and address climate change. Carson said the combination of OFA rallies and local news coverage is helping change voter attitudes, which in turn places pressure on lawmakers to back Obama’s legislative goals.

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