- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Obama technological and organizational dynamo, hobbled in its early White House days by old computers and e-mail systems that didn’t work, is beginning to hit its stride.

Thursday’s “virtual town hall,” where President Obama will discuss the economy with regular Americans at the White House and field questions submitted online and through YouTube, is just one part of a multilayered, tech-savvy effort to create support for his ambitious agenda at the grass-roots level.

“Lately, we’ve been more aggressive in seeking out opportunities to deliver the president’s message to a large number of Americans,” said deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest, who said the goal has been to create a “higher platform” for Mr. Obama as the budget fight heats up.

Mr. Obama has used his communications 2.0 team in the past week to deliver through both conventional and innovative message-delivery systems. He has appeared on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” and on “60 Minutes,” written an editorial that appeared in more than 31 newspapers around the world, held a prime-time news conference, visited with lawmakers on Capitol Hill for some traditional elbow-rubbing and arm-twisting, and appeared in an online video promoting the virtual town hall.

He’ll also meet with bank CEOs on Friday to discuss his plan to unfreeze credit markets.

It’s a far cry from the first few days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the young Obama crew, when staffers had to use Gmail accounts to communicate and complained that the older White House computers did not have instant messaging.

And, as expected, the White House is using Mr. Obama’s already strong pre-existing support - including the 13 million names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers collected during the campaign - to cycle the grass roots back into Washington and put pressure on Congress.

Organizing for America, the new group formed to communicate directly with the Obama campaign’s supporters, sent “personalized” e-mails on Wednesday asking them to contact their Capitol Hill representatives in support of his budget.

The OFA e-mail also provided the names and phone numbers of the lawmakers and asked Obama supporters to register with OFA after they had called and include any feedback.

“As the budget debate continues, OFA will provide supporters with additional tools to help them send a strong message to Washington that the time for a new direction is now,” said OFA spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth.

It was the second time in a week that OFA has mobilized the army of Obama supporters behind his $3.6 trillion budget. Last weekend, volunteers fanned out in neighborhoods across the country to ask neighbors and friends to sign a pledge in support of the budget, spurred on by a video message from Mr. Obama late last week calling on them to go forth and organize.

The pledge drive also doubled as an effort by OFA to expand its huge database of names and personal information.

The White House also used its vast grass-roots resources, in coordination with OFA and the Democratic National Committee, to give a Democratic congressional candidate a boost in a special election taking place next Tuesday.

Mr. Obama’s endorsement of Democratic businessman Scott Murphy was sent by e-mail Wednesday morning to about 60,000 people on OFA and DNC e-mail lists who live in or near New York’s 20th Congressional District, where Mr. Murphy is challenging state Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco, a Republican.

Mr. Earnest said that although the plans to construct “the higher platform we’ve created” for the president were in place before the uproar over the bonuses given to AIG executives last week, the White House feels that the president’s presence on mass-consumption programs helped minimize the political damage.

“It’s our sense that this has reinforced in the minds of the American public his attention to addressing the economic crisis,” Mr. Earnest said.

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