Tim Kaine and the Future of Obama For America
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's installation at the head of the Democratic National Committee sends a strong signal that President-elect Barack Obama will seek to keep the massive grassroots organization built during his national campaign almost entirely under his control as he moves into the White House.
Kaine is considered one of Obama's closest friends among elected officials and is seen as a major figure within the party -- as evidenced by the fact that he was one of the three finalists in the vice presidential search.
Initially reluctant, Kaine was heavily courted by Obama in the final weeks of 2008; the president-elect along with his senior White House political team and campaign manager David Plouffe dined with Kaine in Washington in mid December and then Kaine flew out to Chicago right before Obama left for Hawaii to meet with the president-elect.
Kaine's appointment -- coupled with the installation of Jen O'Malley Dillon, who ran the battleground states for Obama in the general election, as executive director of the DNC -- is cast by Obama insiders as a clear sign that the massive email list and grassroots capacity (three million donors, 10 million supporters) built under the Obama for America umbrella will stay under the control of those who built it.
The question of who controls the Obama campaign structure and how has been a hot point of debate among Democrats online and offline since the president-elect's sweeping victory in November. Obama, himself, has sent messages -- via Plouffe -- to his email list asking supporters what the next step should be in the transformation of the Obama organization.
Some have cited the transition of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's political organization built during the 2004 presidential campaign -- Dean for America -- into an independent outside group, Democracy for America, as a blueprint for Obama's political machine.
But, for a campaign that went to great measures to ensure its people ran all of the key messaging elements of the party -- even urging its donors not to fund any independent organizations -- it was always more likely that the Obama team would seek to keep its political operation in house.
What does Obama's decision to empower the DNC mean for the myriad outside groups vying to become the main advocates for the new president's agenda?
It's clearly not good news but those closest to Obama caution that much remains to be worked out. Jim Messina, deputy chief of staff to the president-elect, has spent the last few weeks meeting with labor organizations as well as the heads of non-profit 501(c)(4) groups in hopes of streamlining the message delivery system for Obama.
No firm decisions have been made about whether a new group should be formed to help coordinate with the DNC or whether an existing entity -- like Americans United, which Messina had a hand in starting five years ago -- can be utilized to drive Obama's message.
What is clear, however, is that the DNC will be the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to pushing Obama's message -- a development that directly contrasts the role the national committee played over the last four years when much of the message-creation came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
January 5, 2009; 10:56 AM ET
Categories: Democratic Party , White House
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