News & Politics

State and Local Dems Enraged at Obama Activist Group OFA

State and local Democrats have just about had it with former President Obama’s grassroots group Organizing for America.

First, they blame the group for losing 1,000 state legislative seats over the last 8 years. But now, OFA has “relaunched” to defend Obamacare and state party leaders are livid.

Daily Beast:

“This is some GRADE A Bullshit right here,” Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, wrote in a private Democratic-listserv email obtained by The Daily Beast. Handwerk was reacting to news of OFA’s post-election retooling, which was shared “without comment” to the group of state-level Dems by Crystal Kay Perkins, executive director for Texas Democrats.

“It also to me seems TONE DEAF—we have lost over 1,000 seats in the past 8 years… all because of this crap,” Handwerk continued. “Let’s get through the next two weeks—but then we gotta figure this out and keep the pressure on. WOW.”

Others on the thread shared these sentiments.

“Yes, it sure is,” Katie Mae Simpson, executive director for the Maine Democratic Party, replied. “OFA showed up in Maine, organized a press conference on saving [Obamacare], with one of our Dem legislative leaders speaking, all without ever mentioning that they were in state and organizing. They hired someone I know, which is somewhat helpful, but my god, they don’t have a very good alliance-building process.”

Such grievances, though expressed privately, are nothing new among state Democratic Party leadership.

“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties,” Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb told Politico last week.

“I love and adore everything about President Obama except for OFA,” South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison (who is also running to chair the Democratic National Committee) said at a recent DNC “future forum,” according to The Washington Post.

President Obama, himself a proud community organizer, had long been credited with leading a savvy, vigorous grassroots campaign to win the White House in 2008. However, it wasn’t long after he first stepped into office before state-level Democrats all around the country began sounding the alarm that his formidable grassroots army was being left to wither and rot.

Furthermore, just days after the second inauguration of President Obama, DNC members were still loudly expressing fear that OFA ran the risk of denting the national party’s fundraising and (more importantly) diverting much-needed resources and organizing power.

Too many Democrats started seeing OFA as just another boogeyman. For instance, when reached by The Daily Beast for this story, two Democratic operatives independently referred to OFA as “The Devil.”

When OFA was formed, most Democratic leaders welcomed the new group, but did so cautiously. The more politically savvy among them immediately recognized the danger of a large, amorphous group of activists not tied to the regular Democratic Party in any meaningful way.

And with the president behind OFA, it was impossible to infiltrate and absorb the group as Republicans did with much of the Tea Party. The energy supplied by the Tea Party was spent up and down the ballot, leading to smashing victories for the GOP at the state and local level.

Exactly the opposite happened with OFA. Mr. Handwerk explains:

“If we were having a conversation about state parties, I would say OFA hurt state parties badly,” Handwerk told The Daily Beast, elaborating on his leaked email. “It certainly had an undercutting effort. And there is a lot of work state parties do that isn’t very sexy… and that becomes incredibly difficult when budgets are cut in half because people are trying to curry favor with the president and his allies.”

The effectiveness of OFA as an organizing group was never questioned. Obama’s two victories attest to the manner in which OFA operated. They managed to identify and target millions of Obama voters and then get them to the polls on election day. And they were effective in keeping pressure on Democratic lawmakers to stand with the president on a variety of issues.

But as an adjunct to the Democratic Party, they were a huge failure. Because of them, the Democrats will be many years recovering from their electoral debacles at the state and local level.