This week, the Entity Formerly Known As The Obama Campaign transformed itself into a lobbying/grassroots activist group, intending on leveraging its microtargeting and marketing success into generating a groundswell of support for Obama’s political agenda. Their first project — frighten legislators into backing Obama’s gun-control proposals by touching off a deluge of phone calls and communications to Capitol Hill offices. So far, though, the genius of the campaign seems to be somewhat lacking, according to Buzzfeed’s John Stanton (via Instapundit):
Call in campaigns can be a powerful tool in lobbying Congress: when done right, lawmakers’ offices are inundated with thousands of constituents demanding to speak with the senator or congresswoman about a particular issue. Well-orchestrated campaigns can even result in the congressional switchboard going down for hours at a time, disrupting everyday life in the Capitol and giving everyone in the building a sense of a national grassroots surge.
But the Obama email, penned by Former Obama campaign manager and National Chairman for OFA Jim Messina, didn’t seem to be having much of an effect Friday afternoon. Five Democratic and Republican offices contacted by Buzzfeed from Illinois, Kentucky, California, Oklahoma and Tennessee reported either normal or below normal call traffic during Friday afternoon, and no perceptible increase in calls about gun control.
One of the offices indicated it was unclear if it received any calls on the issue at all during the day Friday.
Why might that be? A few explanations come to mind, a couple of which Stanton notes. First, for some reason, the e-mail missive from Messina didn’t go out until Friday afternoon, which means most people probably missed it. Why send it out on a Friday at all anyway? Politicians are usually heading out of town on that day, especially with nothing pressing on either chamber’s legislative schedule. By Monday, that e-mail will be buried by more recent and more personally relevant messages from the weekend and early morning. For an organization lauded for its electoral genius and tech savvy-ness, that’s a rather easy thing to figure out.
There are a couple of other points worth mentioning, too. First, the power of the e-mail list in a campaign doesn’t translate to anything well other than perhaps fundraising outside of a campaign. It’s not nothing, but impersonal e-mails are not going to be all that significant in grassroots organizing; that will take a lot more personal contact than spamming a list that gets at least a couple of messages a day. More importantly, the subject matter is not a slam-dunk for OFA, either. There’s a reason why Democrats refused to renew the assault-weapons ban in 2004 and had stopped talking about gun control between 2000 and last month — it’s not popular. The people who will get passionate about gun control and organize on its basis are its opponents.
They may end up learning that lesson the hard way a second time.