OFA 2.0 is the most direct precedent for the current effort — and a cautionary tale. Organizing for America was largely blamed for having squandered the momentum of Obama’s first victory, allowing the president to get mired in D.C. deal-making and leaving his rank-and-file supporters out in the cold.

Veterans of the group bristle a bit at this characterization, but most acknowledge that Organizing for America took too long to get started, lacked a focused mission, didn’t play well with other actors (such as local Democratic parties) and, because of its affiliation with the DNC, suffered from conflicting imperatives. Was its job to push Obama’s plans, or was it to get more Democrats elected?

“The biggest problem with being inside the DNC was that we couldn’t put pressure on Democrats,” one Organizing for America veteran told me. Though Democrats commanded a 54-seat House majority and 60-vote Senate supermajority, it became clear early in Obama’s first term that they would need some cajoling to go along with plans like the stimulus bill and especially the health-care legislation…

“In 2005, President Bush tried to privatize Social Security, and Democrats basically did what the Tea Party did in 2009 — organized people and flooded town halls,” said Sutton, who now works for the New Organizing Institute, a progressive training group. “Bush didn’t have anything to apply pressure back the other way, and as a result, the party backed off the issue and it died.”

If Organizing for Action works, then, it could be the difference between the downward slide, in effectiveness and popularity, of Bush’s second term and a more successful forecast for Obama’s.