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Obama hopes to keep campaign supporters involved
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama may be president now, but that doesn't mean his campaign is over.
Obama hopes to harness the unprecedented army of voters who knocked on doors and made phone calls during his presidential run to help his policies become law now that he's in the White House.
Since the November election, staffers have sent a steady stream of messages to the 13 million people on the campaign's email list, urging them to stay involved even though the next presidential election is four years away.
The new organization, dubbed "Organizing for America," will in effect run a permanent grass-roots campaign out of the Democratic Party's offices in Washington.
What exactly that entails isn't clear yet.
The group could direct its members to lobby their lawmakers to back Obama priorities, such as the $825 billion economic stimulus bill.
It could encourage them to volunteer for candidates who win Obama's stamp of approval.
It could ask them to donate money to the Democratic Party or individual campaigns.
Or it could simply encourage them to spread enthusiasm for Obama's policies among friends and neighbors.
The group's leaders have been tight-lipped about their plans so far.
"In the weeks and months coming we will have a lot of exciting updates for you, but the important thing to know is that we will keep you involved every step of the way," Organizing for America director Mitch Stewart said in a video message sent to supporters.
Details are few because the group is still hiring staff and trying to figure out how it will work with existing Democratic Party infrastructure, Democrats say. It hasn't even launched a website yet.
Whatever emerges will have a substantial foundation to build on. The Obama campaign raised a record $742 million and used an array of new communications technologies, from social networks to text messaging, to mobilize an army of volunteers.
MANY ARE ENTHUSIASTIC
Many are eager to stay involved. Roughly 500,000 responded to a survey about Organizing for America's direction, the group said, and 4,200 hosted house parties after the election to lay the groundwork for the new organization.
Observers say it will be difficult to maintain that level of enthusiasm as the president makes policy choices that will inevitably alienate some supporters.
"Getting the same millions of people who supported Barack Obama's election to agree on what healthcare system we should be using, or whether we should have more carbon taxes or more green electric cars ... you're going to start bifurcating the entire audience," said Andrew Rasiej, an expert on grass-roots politics and technology.
Overreaching is a risk as well. A backlash could develop in Congress if the group lobbies lawmakers too aggressively, observers say. Fatigue could set in among activists if they are asked to donate too much time and money.
Some Democrats worry privately that the organization will pursue Obama's goals at the expense of larger party-building efforts, such as recruiting candidates and building a presence in conservative regions of the country.
But Obama would be wasting an opportunity if he did not try to keep the momentum of his campaign going, said Julie Barko Germany, director of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
"The honeymoon doesn't have to be over if you continue to talk to people, if you continue to instill in them the sense that their actions matter," Germany said.
(Editing by Patricia Zengerle and David Wiessler)
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