The first campaign after getting Barack Obama re-elected, of course, but still notable for OFA’s debut performance afterward. Perhaps this is less a reflection on OFA than on the issue they chose to tackle first, but it’s still a high-profile flop. And in part, it’s because they couldn’t even organize themselves:
President Barack Obama’s man in North Dakota couldn’t pitch in to help shame Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for her vote against gun control — he was busy with his new job selling Toyotas.
Organizing for Action’s top Montana official wouldn’t canvass the state to turn up the heat on Sen. Max Baucus because there was no reimbursement for the gas money.
Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski haven’t had to worry about running up against OFA’s influence there, since Obama’s former state director there has turned back to building up her own political consulting business — “I need to get to making money,” she said.
OFA’s pledge to punish senators who voted against gun control was the first big test of the group’s reach – and, undoubtedly, a difficult one, given that many of the senators voting no were in deep-red states where Obama lost badly. Even measured against those odds, there are almost no successes to point to: the group didn’t sway a single vote for the background check proposal, and so far, they haven’t been able to make any of those who voted against it feel any heat.
Even in states Obama carried handily – places like Ohio and New Hampshire – the group couldn’t hold big rallies, blanket the airwaves with TV ads or motivate enough supporters to match the volume of phone calls pro-gun advocates. Asked for demonstrations of the strong effort they were mounting, OFA staff pointed to “tweet your senator” pushes they encouraged in the days after the vote.
Hey, they’re still sending out lots of e-mails, though … and rather creepy ones, too. I received one last night from “[email protected]” that said they’ve been checking up on me, and discovered that I haven’t signed their anti-gun petition yet:
The response to our gun violence prevention petition has been crazy good so far.
More than 700,000 OFA supporters from all over the country have added their names to call forexpanding background checks on gun sales, and we’re getting ready to deliver those signatures to congressional leaders next week.
According to our most recent records, you’ve told us you’re fighting to reduce gun violence — but you’re not yet on this list:
— Petition status: Unsigned
— Suggested action:Add your name here
Please add your name now and then forward this email to five friends, post it on Facebook, tweet the link … get it out there however you can …
With a marketing plan like that, how could OFA have failed to impress people? The numbers themselves tell the story. OFA has been working this issue for months, and yet they could only get 700,000 of their e-mail list of 4 million donors to sign up for it. That’s a success rate of only 17.5% among their own membership — which, we should note, amounts to 3.1% of the electorate that voted in the last presidential election. That’s not a very impressive showing for a petition drive, especially among such a (mainly) self-selecting group. If 80% of OFA’s list haven’t signed those petitions, it calls the “organizing” part of their name into serious question.
On top of that, OFA and the media continue to overestimate the impact of this issue on the public. Even with the full-court press from the White House and the media, the issue of guns consistently ranks among the lowest priorities for voters. In the Gallup series, the percentage of people ranking it the highest priority peaked at 6%, but mostly stayed at 4% — and remember that this would also include people who think protecting gun rights is their top priority for the federal government, too.
The truth is that the effort by the White House and Senate Democrats failed because they (a) demonized gun owners from the start, (b) focused first on an assault-weapons ban that was never going to fly, which led to (c) a demolition of any hope that gun owners would think their push for expanded background checks were benign to traditional gun rights. We can also add: (d) none of the proposed laws had anything to do with what happened in Newtown, Aurora, or Tucson, the tragedies that Democrats continually referenced in pushing their legislative agenda.
Under those circumstances, the effort was doomed to failure — but OFA’s inability to rouse even its own donor base is noteworthy for its futility.