Liberal Groups Assert Role In Stimulus Fight
A cadre of liberal interest groups is ramping up its persuasion efforts on the economic stimulus package proposed by President Obama, running television and radio ads in 12 states in an attempt to convince wavering Republican senators to back the bill.
The groups -- led by Americans United for Change, Moveon.org, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union -- is expanding an ad buy announced last week to include television ads targeted at Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.) and Richard Lugar (Ind.) and radio commercials aimed at Sens. Jim Bunning (Ky.), Richard Burr (N.C.), and Mel Martinez (Fla.).
The new flight of ads will hit the airwaves on Tuesday and the entire slate of commercials will cost around $600,000, according to Americans United president Brad Woodhouse.
"House Republicans decided to listen to Rush Limbaugh and put partisan politics ahead of getting people back to work as the Obama plan would do," said Woodhouse. "We are putting senators on notice not to follow Limbaugh off the cliff into the political abyss but to support the Obama jobs plan instead."
The prominent role that outside groups are playing in the selling of Obama's economic stimulus plan is a marked contrast to the campaign when the former Illinois senator went out of his way to cut off funding for these sorts of organizations -- in hopes of keeping his messaging tightly controlled by his political inner circle.
It remains to be seen whether Obama will allow these sorts of groups to grow and prosper as advocates for his agenda or whether he will use his own massive grassroots machine as the principal message driver of his legislative efforts.
Obama's decision to install Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine at the head of the Democratic National Committee and to put "Organizing for America" -- his campaign apparatus -- under the umbrella of the DNC were widely interpreted as evidence that the president wanted to keep his messaging operation in the hands of a small group of political insiders.
And, Organizing for America recently sent out an email to its list (13 million names strong) asking them to help put together "economic recovery house meetings" to help sell the proposal at the neighborhood level.
The debate over whether there is a place for outside groups in the Obama messaging operation is not an insignificant one.
Looked at one way, if Obama decides that he and his related groups can handle the selling of his message on their own it allows him to maintain his "brand," according to Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf. "The branding is important and the branding is Obama," he said.
Seen from the other side, however, Obama would be effectively shunting the universe of outside groups to the side in favor of building his own political and grassroots organization that may well stretch the traditional role of the DNC.
"It begs the question of the partisanship of his agenda," said Hillary Rosen, the former head of the Recording Industry Association of America. "Can the DNC support Republican members who support the agenda?"
To date, the pressuring of those members is coming from these outside groups who are funding ads against moderate GOPers like Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as well as Sens. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and George Voinovich (Ohio).
It's possible that Obama will continue in this vein -- using Organizing for America to play good cop (rallying people to support his agenda) while allowing outside groups like Americans United and Moveon.org to play bad cop and hit GOP members for their opposition to his priorities.
Remember that much of Obama's strength as a politician is wrapped up in the idea that he is above politics -- a post-partisan prophet who is bringing much-needed change to Washington.
Everything he has done to date -- meetings with Capitol Hill Republicans, a bipartisan Super Bowl party at the White House -- is aimed at reinforcing that message.
But, when the rubber hits the road (and it almost certainly will) on the passage of Obama's agenda who will be the partisan enforcer that every president needs? Can Obama do it himself or will these outside groups, who have been surprisingly active to date, be the ones who take on that responsibility?
February 2, 2009; 1:40 PM ET
Categories: Democratic Party , White House
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