* Work continues for some of the 2 mln Obama foot soldiers
* Pushing for tax hike on the wealthiest
* Trying to keep Obama's grassroots army engaged
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, Dec 13 After a year of knocking on
doors and working the phones to get U.S. President Barack Obama
re-elected, Meechie Biggers had gotten over her fear of talking
politics with strangers.
So when she came to Washington last week, the small-town
real estate agent and a few like-minded Tennesseeans paid a
visit to one of their Republican senators, Bob Corker, to try to
persuade him to back Obama's proposal to raise tax rates for the
Biggers didn't think she had much of a chance of changing
his mind, and perhaps she didn't. But four days later, Corker
became the latest Republican to say his party should consider
Obama's proposed tax hike as part of a year-end budget deal.
"It's a testament to knocking on doors and giving people
your two cents," Biggers said.
The election ended more than a month ago, but the campaign
continues for many of the 2 million-plus foot soldiers who
helped secure Obama's second term.
Flush with victory, many volunteers and staffers are now
mounting a grassroots effort to ensure that any deal that
emerges from year-end "fiscal cliff" discussions includes a tax
increase on the wealthiest households.
It's an open question how many will stick with him if he is
forced to consider cutting popular programs such as Medicare
that enjoy broad support on the left.
But for now, it's a chance to help Obama fulfill one of his
central campaign promises - economic justice - and build on the
momentum of his re-election. It also enables them to maintain
friendships and a sense of purpose that were forged through the
"You can only go to so many celebrations, parties and
lunches. And then you're ready to help the president get done
what he needs to get done," said Lenda Sherrell, a retired
accountant from Monteagle, Tennessee, who visited Corker along
The effort gives Obama added leverage in Washington at a
time when many Republican allies are undergoing a painful
re-examination in the wake of last month's election.
Groups aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement, who
pressed successfully for deep spending cuts in earlier budget
fights, have been less visible in the fiscal-cliff battle, and
business groups have pressed Republican lawmakers to abandon
their no-tax-hike stance.
The grassroots pressure from the left could weaken
Republicans' resolve to hold the line against tax hikes, said
Chris Arterton, a professor of political management at George
Washington University. "It tends to take the wind out of their
sails if their citizens are pushing in a direction that is
absolutely contradictory to the politician's views," he said.
Corker's office said he appreciates hearing from his
constituents but he has not changed his view that increased tax
revenue should come from eliminating deductions rather than
The post-election effort stands in stark contrast to Obama's
first term, when officials did not keep his massive grassroots
organization engaged in battles over spending, health care and
climate change. This time around, campaign officials and liberal
allies have made a concerted effort to harness the network for
inside-the-Beltway policy battles.
ACTIVISTS INVITED TO WHITE HOUSE
One week after the election, Obama thanked 30,000 volunteers
in a conference call and asked them to stay involved in the
budget fight. Top activists such as Biggers and Sherrell have
been invited to the White House for strategy and networking
Even as he tries to hammer out a deal with House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Obama has jetted to
campaign-style rallies around the country to keep up the
pressure. He has encouraged backers to send Twitter messages
describing how they would be hurt by the automatic tax increases
due to kick in if the fiscal cliff isn't averted. On Monday, his
campaign urged supporters in Republican congressional districts
to call their lawmakers to support the tax hike.
Many of the volunteers and staffers who powered the
campaign's massive get-out-the-vote effort are continuing their
work under the banner of The Action, a coalition of labor and
liberal groups that launched three days after Obama's Nov. 6
As Obama's Tennessee state director, Justin Wilkins steered
volunteers in the deeply Republican state to phone banks and
door-knocking efforts in more competitive states such as North
Carolina. Now he is overseeing many of those same volunteers as
part of The Action.
"Nobody had to be called. People literally came running," he
Like both of Obama's election campaigns, The Action combines
cutting-edge digital tools with an emphasis on
boots-on-the-ground action. A slick website directs supporters
to events in their local area and provides the phone numbers of
House lawmakers who have yet to back a legislative maneuver that
would force a vote on Obama's proposed tax hike in the
Republican-controlled chamber. Backers can download distinctive
yellow-and-black signs to wave at local rallies or post online.
Participants have spent the past month mounting
demonstrations outside Republican lawmakers' local offices and
writing letters to local newspapers - a strategy designed to
boost local news coverage and build public support for the tax
Republicans have complained that the campaign-style tactics
are complicating efforts to reach a deal. "A month after his
re-election and weeks before the fiscal cliff, he'd still rather
campaign than cooperate," Senate Republican Leader Mitch
McConnell said on Wednesday.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans
support the idea of raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of
Volunteers see the fight as central to Obama's prospects for
a successful second term. Obama will have a tough time pursuing
priorities like education without additional revenue, they say.
The Action's narrow focus on raising taxes for the wealthy
has allowed the coalition to avoid conflicts over other elements
of the fiscal cliff fight that might prove more divisive, such
as spending cuts or changes to popular entitlements such as
Medicare and Social Security. Participants say they're not sure
whether the coalition will stay intact once the tax-hike battle
"It's relatively easy for the Democrats to coalesce around
this, but there won't be the same united front for the next
issue," said University of Michigan politics professor Michael
Whether the coalition survives, many of those involved say
they intend to keep up the effort to advance Obama's agenda in
the years to come.
"It was kind of a little bit scary to me to go knock on
people's doors and ask them their political stance, but I did
it," Biggers said.
"For me to go to somebody else and say, this is my opinion,
do you want to hear it? That's not me. But maybe it is now."