Transition officials call it Obama 2.0 – an ambitious effort to transform the president-elect's vast Web operation and database of supporters into a modern new tool to accomplish his goals in the White House.
If it works, Barack Obama could have an unprecedented ability to appeal for help from millions of Americans who already favor his ideas, bypassing the news media to pressure Congress.
“He's built the largest network anyone has ever seen in politics, and congressional Republicans are clueless about the communications shift that has happened,” Democratic strategist Joe Trippi says. The results, he says, “will be amazing to watch.”
Republicans say they'll be watching for White House Web outreach that appears overly political.
“Hopefully, Obama will be a president for all Americans, not just the political supporters on his e-mail list,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Alex Conant.
Obama's people know they'll have to extend their reach.
During his 21-month campaign, Obama built a list of 3.1 million contributors and more than 10 million supporters who helped power his victories over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain. In addition to helping raise a staggering $660 million, the campaign's Web effort reinforced his message and themes, responded to political attacks and created volunteer social networks that served as the basis for his field operation.
Obama's team is determining how best to convert his army of online activists into a viral lobbying and communications machine. For legal and privacy reasons, Obama's campaign list must be kept separate from White House operations. Aides are figuring out if that list should be run through the Democratic National Committee or as a freestanding political entity that will eventually become his 2012 re-election committee.
But transition officials have already begun a new digital outreach effort, based on the campaign model, aimed at supporters and others interested in being connected to the Obama White House.
The transition operation has a new Web site, www.change.gov, designed for anyone who wants to post a message of congratulations, offer suggestions for the new administration or apply for a job.
People are invited to submit their names and e-mail addresses, with the goal of creating a new list for the president-elect to tap when he wants to communicate directly about a program he's promoting or seek help urging members of Congress to support legislation he's proposed.
Such direct online contact with voters could also present a challenge for reporters covering Obama, since the new president will in many ways be able to bypass traditional media while also taking advantage of it to reinforce his online messaging.
“He can do a half-hour YouTube address every Saturday, addressing millions,” Trippi said. “The networks would never give the president that much television time each week, but the press is still going to have to cover what he says on YouTube.”