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In California race, a test run for the Obama campaign

July 13, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli

While the political community focuses on President Obama's record fund-raising haul -- all $86 million of it -- his reelection campaign is just as bullish about the massive ground game that money will help build, an operation that came to bear in Tuesday's special election in Southern California.

On a conference call with reporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina discussed the transition of Organizing for America from a movement that supported the president's agenda in the first half of his term to one working now toward helping him secure a second term.

One aspect of that is a summer organizer program, which accepted 1,500 supporters from a field of nearly 12,000 applicants nationwide to begin the effort. Some of that grass-roots army was deployed on behalf of Janice Hahn in the special election in the 36th District, which amounted to a test run.

Even in a Democratic-leaning seat, Hahn's path to victory was not an easy one. In a contentious race against "tea party" challenger Craig Huey, Hahn had to weather nasty attacks, the most prominent one based on a discredited report linking her to gang members.

According to a Democratic official, Organizing for America's California operation organized 41 phone banks during the get-out-the-vote phase, 33 of which were run by volunteers. All told, the official estimates, volunteers worked 1,509 hours making calls on Hahn's behalf. On election day, 394 people signed up through the group to work on phone bank and canvass events.

In a low-turnout race in a district suffering voter fatigue, that effort was crucial, the Hahn campaign said.

"They have such a vast grass-roots network of volunteers all across the state, so it was incredibly helpful to have their assistance in not only identifying our voters early on, but getting out the vote," said Dave Jacobson, Hahn's campaign manager.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the California Democratic Party also assisted Hahn's campaign, making nearly 410,000 live voter calls along with organizing group in the last 20 days of the campaign.

The Democratic official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the party's efforts, signaled that similar efforts by Organizing for America may be made in other off-year elections, including the recall campaigns in Wisconsin targeting Republican legislators who backed controversial budget reforms.

Messina, the Obama campaign manager, told reporters that the strength of the grass-roots campaign is crucial to preserving Obama gains in states like Indiana, which turned blue for the first time in 44 years in 2008.

The campaign and the Democratic National Committee now have 60 state offices open, with more planned. Organizers, both paid and volunteer, have had 31,000 face-to-face conversations with supporters, the campaign said.

"Part of our goal in 2011 is to build a great grass-roots campaign across the country in states on the ground.... The show of numbers today is proof of what we're building," he said.

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