(New throughout, adds public opinion poll)
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s supporters will knock on doors this week to build public support for his record $3.55 trillion budget, in the first test of a grassroots group built from his army of campaign volunteers.
In an e-mail message on Monday, a former Obama campaign official asked volunteers to gather signatures from neighbors who support the budget and to tell their congressional representatives to pass it.
“We can’t leave this important debate up to a Washington establishment that doesn’t welcome change,” wrote Mitch Stewart, who heads Organizing for America, the grassroots group that evolved from Obama’s presidential run.
Obama’s budget proposes a $1.75 trillion deficit to lift the country out of recession and lay the groundwork for healthcare reform and other big initiatives.
Republicans and some conservative Democrats are concerned about the record spending and many fear that the lower farm subsidies, new tax provisions and environmental regulations it contains will hurt their constituents.
As public anger has mounted over bailouts for banks, automakers and struggling homeowners, Obama’s public approval rating has slipped from 64 percent to 59 percent, according to a poll released by the Pew Center for the People & the Press.
The grassroots group, which is being run from the Democratic Party’s national headquarters, aims to overcome lawmakers’ objections through a massive show of support from the 13 million campaign volunteers who helped Obama win the presidency last November.
Volunteers were asked to go door to door on Saturday to gather signatures supporting the budget proposal. The signatures will be organized by congressional district and sent the relevant lawmakers, according to a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Participants will also be encouraged to contact their congressional representatives directly.
Democratic officials were encouraged by the response to their first event in early February, when thousands of groups met in every congressional district to discuss the economy.
Though some meetings were sparsely attended, that first event generated 50,000 responses about how participants were coping with the recession, the Democratic official said. (Editing by Chris Wilson)