Obama's online army could wield new power

A powerful new lobbying force is coming to town: Barack Obama's triumphant army of 3.1 million Internet-linked donors and volunteers.

In a mass e-mail thanking them, written moments before his Grant Park victory speech, Obama put them on notice. “We have a lot to do to get our country back on track, and I'll be in touch soon about what comes next,” he wrote.

Many are eager. “I'm going to be sitting at the phone, asking, ‘What do you want me to do next? I'm ready,'” said Courtney Hood, 37, a mother of three from Owings, Md.

How Obama will use his ardent laptop-armed cadres is unclear. So is the extent to which they'll rally behind his priorities, press him for their own or both.

Joe Trippi, the Internet politics guru whose computer geeks made Howard Dean a contender in 2004 and who went on to design Obama's socially networked campaign machine, offers a provocative and educated guess.

Trippi predicted that Obama would use his forces, first and foremost, to intimidate congressional foes of his agenda, rally his allies and forge “one of the most powerful presidencies in American history.”

Certainly, Obama reaches the White House with the biggest, best organized, fastest-acting grass-roots army in the history of presidential campaigning.

Moreover, because his Internet operation was miles ahead of Republican John McCain's, Obama's liberal-to-libertarian electronic activists are in a position to dominate the new political medium much as conservative Republicans dominate talk radio.

As for political utility, many thousands of volunteers such as Hood will be deployable within hours, with great precision and at almost no cost, thanks to the campaign's state-of-the-art information-management systems.

The president-elect's political operatives know, for example, the ZIP codes and hence the congressional districts of each of Obama's million most active campaigners, those who volunteered via his Web site It's a social network that the campaign set up to communicate needs, events and assignments to volunteers.

The profiles that Obama campaigners submitted to the site also reveal which supporters in each district are environmentalists, concerned about health care or keen on government reform.

Moreover, because the so-called “MyBO” site quantified volunteers' participation and fundraising totals digitally, there's a numeric score for each participant's success. It's even adjusted to give more credit for recent help.

“We really know who Obama's community leaders are,” issue by issue, said Thomas Gensemer, the managing director of Blue State Digital, the Washington-based mobilizer of online communities created by four Dean campaign veterans.

Instead of e-mailing members of Congress, Gensemer said, Obama's most effective supporters will meet with them in their district offices and press them at local town hall meetings.

Trippi offered a more dramatic scenario: “Obama will be able to say these are the 10 members of Congress standing in our way on health care. Basically, it'll be the president and the people united, with some members of Congress in between, which won't be a very comfortable place to be.”