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POLITICS: PennAve

Obama lobbying organization silent on unfolding Syria debate

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Even as some congressional leaders expressed support for President Obama’s proposal to launch limited military strikes against Syria, many of them also insisted that it is up to the president to sell the plan to other lawmakers and the American people.

Despite the high stakes, however, the president has not activated one of his most powerful tools of political persuasion to help him win approval for the strike: Organizing for Action.

The political group, which inherited a well-oiled infrastructure and network from Obama’s re-election campaign, has at its disposal roughly 2 million volunteers, 17 million email subscribers and more than 36 million Twitter followers.

The group has proved its effectiveness by boosting public support for other Obama priorities, and presumably it could do the same for military action in Syria, something the public generally opposes and some lawmakers are reluctant to support.

Organizing for Action's campaign-style messaging could also provide some cover to vulnerable Democrats for whom the vote carries political risk.

One such Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, who is running for re-election in Arkansas, said this week that “the president needs to be very clear ... on the front end” about what a mission in Syria would accomplish. “I’m not satisfied in that area yet,” he said.

A Pew Research poll this week showed many Americans also are skeptical about another military mission in the Middle East, with just 32 percent saying the president has sufficiently explained his support for military intervention in Syria.

But OFA and its vast resources have not been tapped to communicate the president’s message, with only about one week until lawmakers start voting on the issue.

OFA's Twitter account on Wednesday — the day a Senate committee approved the resolution — instead reflected other issues on which the group has worked for Obama, including Obamacare, immigration reform, climate change and gun control. There were no words of support for a military mission in Syria.

Some strategists say Obama's powerful lobbying arm may just be sitting out a fight on which Democrats themselves are divided.

"It would actually seem a little odd to me if they got involved in the Syria discussion," one Democratic strategist said of OFA. "It's not necessarily something that there is consensus within the progressive community on, and it’s not been an issue that they've commented to supporters on."

"I think what the White House is doing is the right approach," the strategist added. "They’re going member-by-member, senator-by-senator, sitting down with them, answering their questions. They’re not trying to turn this into a political issue."

OFA did not respond to a request for comment.

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