DAVID GREGORY INTERVIEWS JIM MESSINA ABOUT ORGANIZING FOR ACTION

NBC News

APRIL 4, 2013 – In this week’s “Meet the Press” PRESS Pass conversation, David Gregory sat down with longtime Obama adviser Jim Messina to discuss his new role as Chairman of Organizing for Action, a group that is mobilizing the grassroots force behind the president’s re-election around supporting the administration’s second term agenda.

On criticism that OFA is selling access to the president: 

MESSINA: That’s absolutely wrong. This organization is funded and fueled by grassroots people across the country. The average contribution to the campaign was 51 dollars, and that’s about what we’re seeing of OFA. And we’re absolutely a grassroots organization, built to do one thing, David, and that’s help the president pass his agenda to change this country.

On reforming gun laws:

MESSINA: There’s this ten mile square, logic-free zone called Washington, DC. And all across this country there’s consensus on this stuff. … I understand there’s tough political votes only in Washington. But look, if I was a member of Congress, I would not want to go home to my district and in the 2014 elections defend voting against some 90% of my constituents.

On how technology has changed campaigning:

GREGORY: What did 2012 mean for campaigns? Your use of data, your analysis of data in such a sophisticated way — How has it changed campaigning for president?

MESSINA: I think it’s has changed campaigns across the country forever in two very important ways. You know, we spent over a billion dollars to learn one simple truth: that what your friends and family and neighbors say is the single most persuasive thing to you on how to vote. And we hit more doors than any campaign in the history of American politics. What data and new media allowed us to do was make that experience more targeted and more focused.

A full transcript is below and embeddable video is online here: http://nbcnews.to/13UHGwS

# # #

PRESS Pass: Jim Messina
Chairman, Organizing for Action

DAVID GREGORY: I’m David Gregory and this is PRESS Pass, your all-access pass to an extra Meet the Press conversation. This week, I’m joined by the man behind President Obama’s 2012 campaign, Jim Messina. Since the election he’s taken on a new role, as chairman of Organizing for Action, the powerful group that used to serve as the president’s campaign arm, and is now turning its focus to grassroots advocacy, on issues like immigration and gun control. Jim Messina, welcome. Good to have you.

JIM MESSINA: Thanks for having me, David.

GREGORY: Let me first address the criticism of OFA, which is that, in effect, it is going out to donors and selling access to the highest bidder, selling access to the president. Why shouldn’t this organization be seen as just that?

MESSINA: Look, that’s absolutely wrong.. This organization is funded and fueled by grassroots people across the country. The average contribution to the campaign was 51 dollars, and that’s about what we’re seeing of OFA. And we’re absolutely a grassroots organization, built to do one thing, David, and that’s help the president pass his agenda to change this country.

GREGORY: So, what is this a reflection of? I mean this is a campaign tactic now being applied to an agenda, to legislation. Why have it? Why do you need it? Why do you think it will be successful?

MESSINA: We went out after the election and surveyed our supporters and our volunteers. 87 percent of them said that they wanted to stay together, and they wanted to work across party lines to help the president pass his agenda. The agenda was obviously supported in the election; we had a referendum on that agenda. It’s time to act. The time to act is now, and people are using what they learned in the campaign, grassroots campaign technology, to all push for some commonsense pieces of legislation, and actions, that can make our country better.

GREGORY: So how much of this — So you have cohesiveness, you know, you have this social connection among the president’s voters, and you want to keep them engaged, you want to keep them contributing — this is also about helping other Democrats. So where do you begin, and where does the Democratic Party, the DNC, end?

MESSINA: Well, OFA is a nonpartisan organization, it’s going to work with members of both parties, to advocate for the president’s legislative agenda. It’s not political. The DNC is a separate entity that does two very important things for Democrats: Wins elections, and has the best data and technology in the history of American politics. Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz focuses on that every day, and at OFA we’re focused on one thing and one thing only, which is helping the president.

GREGORY: Right, so the notion that this is bipartisan seems like a misnomer; I mean, how many Democrats and Republicans do you have coming together on some of the issues that you’re trying to pass?

MESSINA: Look, we think there’s real consensus on these issues. Ninety percent of Americans support the president’s calls for background checks –

GREGORY: On gun control –

MESSINA: On gun control –

GREGORY: Right.

MESSINA: Congressman Heck of Nevada, a Republican, switched his position. The next day OFA was out there saying ‘great job,’ highlighting him, because we aren’t political. We’ll work with members of both parties if they do the right thing.

GREGORY: But here’s — guns is such an interesting topic, right? Because the argument is that the president has effectively won this issue in the minds of voters — background checks, about 90% approval, even a high number percentage of approval among gun owners.

MESSINA: Yeah.

GREGORY: And yet the zero sum politics of Capitol Hill means chances are even background checks won’t get passed — it seems like it faces a very difficult journey. How do you explain this disconnect, in the age of getting all these supporters together, getting their money, getting their activity, getting their activism to advocate for a cause.

MESSINA: Look I understand, that there is real — this is a tough political vote. I’m from Montana; I understand the politics of this. This is why OFA was founded. We want to change the politics on some of these issues. The president took a lot of grief in the campaign when he said, ‘Look, you can’t change Washington from the inside. You have to do it from the grassroots.’ We believe that. We are an organization that says we need to change the politics on the ground and say to members of Congress, ‘Look, there’s real support for these things’ – and, David, ‘There is a political price to be paid if you oppose it.’

GREGORY: That’s interesting, because right now you don’t seem to be changing much on the ground. Again, public opinion may be with the president on gun control measures. The zero sum politics of the House and Senate mean: He may get, if anything, a much more watered down set of legislation. He may get drug trafficking, maybe background checks, not an assault weapons ban, not a magazine ban — that’s not what the president said was so important. And particularly after an event like Newtown which seemed to change everything.

MESSINA: Look I think it has, but there’s this ten mile square, logic-free zone called Washington, DC. And all across this country there’s consensus on this stuff. As you just said in the numbers we both cited. I understand there’s tough political votes only in Washington. But look, if I was a member of Congress, I would not want to go home to my district and in the 2014 elections defend voting against some 90% of my constituents — David, what issue do you and I work on where there’s 90% support?

GREGORY: No, no and so that’s really the thesis isn’t it — I’ve talked to Mayor Bloomberg of New York about this — That ultimately the 2014 election will be big on the issue of guns. You think it will be decisive in a lot of these races.

MESSINA: Look, here’s what I think. The Republicans just went through an autopsy about what happened in the 2012 elections. And they talked about tactics and they talked about some of the technology stuff. I think a lot of that was right. But they’re rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic if they don’t understand that they lost women voters by double digits because they’re so far out of the mainstream on issues like gun violence, on issues like contraception. They lost Latino voters by historic numbers — 71 to 27 — because they campaigned in their primary for a year against immigration reform. They have to go through a discussion about, not tactics, about getting right on some of these issues that a majority of Americans have already decided on.

GREGORY: Do you think — Ron Brownstein writes about this week in National Journal — for really the first time, certainly since Bill Clinton, Democrats are now on the offensive on some of these cultural wedge issues. Now it’s gay marriage, abortion, guns, immigration. Do you agree with that? Do you see that sea-change and where does it end up benefiting the party?

MESSINA: Absolutely. Look, take marriage equality. Ten years ago, 37% of Americans supported it. Now, ten years later, 57% of Americans support it. The youth number is in the high seventies. That’s been a sea change on that issue. I think Republicans are going to continue to struggle with young voters if they continue to deny climate change, be against marriage equality, be against education. All those things are major problems for Republicans going forward, and all the tactics in the world aren’t going to fix that.

GREGORY: But you see, in a lot of the Republican-dominated state legislatures, you see more restrictive abortion laws or regulations. Alabama in the news this week — the Chairman of the Republican Party taking on the abortion issue this week — really sort of appeasing the conservative base. You know, as a political professional, how do you size up the primary challenges that they’re going to still face, where they’ve got a strong evangelical base in the party that’s gonna want to hear their candidates be squarely on the side of life, on abortion, in particular.

MESSINA: Look, I’m a student of political history, and I think that they’re in for a long road if they can’t fix their base problems. Because, they continued — and this was true with Governor Romney as well — they continued to only appeal to their base in the 2012 election, and suffered historic defeats with some of these groups we talked about. You know, the Republicans across this country continue to want to fight contraception, an issue that the majority of Americans thought was settled 40 years ago. That’s one of the reasons that they lost women by 11 points nationally. And they’re going to continue to struggle if they’re saying to women, you know, ‘We’re going to go after your reproductive rights in very troublesome ways.’ You know, part of the presidential campaign revolved around transvaginal ultrasounds — an issue you and I wouldn’t have thought a year before we’d be talking about. Funding of Planned Parenthood — issues that a majority of Americans are decided on, but the Republican base continues to want to fight these things. And they’re paying a huge political price.

GREGORY: What role does the president play now in the 2014 campaign? And, frankly, beyond that, in 2016? What unique role does he have an opportunity to play, to keep advancing these issues and to try to create, you know, like Karl Rove talked about a permanent Republican majority with George W. Bush that didn’t come to pass — do you believe you have an opportunity for that now, on the Democratic side?

MESSINA: Well, time will tell. The president is a proud Democrat and will help his party, but he’s the leader of all Americans and he’s going to put politics aside and do what is right for this country.

GREGORY: But there is that tension, right? Because on the one hand, he wants to work with Republicans to get some things through — the White House is signaling that he’ll sign a watered-down immigration bill or gun control bill. But he certainly wants to wants to help Democrats win the House. He’d love to have Nancy Pelosi as Speaker to get some of these agenda items through.

MESSINA: Of course he would. Absolutely. But that’s doesn’t mean he’s not going to work with Congressman Boehner and with Senator McConnell anytime he can to do what’s right for this country. Every president wants his party to do well, but what presidents do is pull people together and get things done, and that is what you’re seeing the president do.

GREGORY: What did 2012 mean for campaigns? Your use of data, your analysis of data in such a sophisticated way — How has it changed campaigning for president?

MESSINA: I think it’s has changed campaigns across the country forever in two very important ways. You know, we spent over a billion dollars to learn one simple truth: that what your friends and family and neighbors say is the single most persuasive thing to you on how to vote. And we hit more doors than any campaign in the history of American politics. What data and new media allowed us to do was make that experience more targeted and more focused. But it didn’t change the fundamental truth: That you and I having a conversation is incredibly important. After hundreds of millions of dollars of television ads and nonstop coverage from the press, people looked at their friends and family and neighbors and said, ‘How do I process all this information and what do I do in this election?’

GREGORY: So obviously message is still important, what you believe is important, what you’re campaigning on is important, but do you feel like you have an ability now to reach precisely who you want to reach, and give it your best shot to persuade them?

MESSINA: We do, and that’s what data is all about, but it doesn’t change the single most important fact and that was Barack Obama. His vision for the country was always going to be the reason why two and half million people volunteered, and an unprecedented amount of people came to his campaign. Bill Clinton once said to me, very smartly, ‘All presidential elections are always about the future’ — and the president laid out a very clear agenda that people wanted to support, and that’s why we had the kind of grassroots support we did. But data allowed us to use that support in unprecedented ways.

GREGORY: To get to them, to use some of your supporters to reach other potential supporters.

MESSINA: Absolutely. We pioneered this application called ‘targeted sharing’ on Facebook which allowed you to match your Facebook friends with our data and said to you, ‘Here’s your friends who are undecided. Contact and push this button and send them a video, call them directly.’ Over 5 million people the final weekend of the campaign used that tool to reach out to their friends. Of their friends, over 70 percent of those people supported the President.

GREGORY: Too much money in politics?

MESSINA: Absolutely.

GREGORY: You didn’t believe there’d be a billion dollar campaign in 2012.

MESSINA: I did not, I did not. And because of Citizens United, which I think is the most difficult and wrong Supreme Court case in the past decade, you know, there was unlimited spending from, you know, shady organizations out there that spend over half a billion dollars against the president. And that is unprecedented. You know, OFA just endorsed a clean-money initiative in New York state that we’re working on because we think there is too much money in politics.

GREGORY: Would you like to do another presidential campaign?

MESSINA: Look I think I got to be a part of the most special campaign, two campaigns, in our lifetime. And, we’ll see. I’m going to go get married and do some other things for a while. It was an amazing campaign and I’m proud to be part of it.

GREGORY: Jim Messina, thank you very much.

MESSINA: Thanks, David.

GREGORY: Appreciate it.

# # # 

 

 

DAVID GREGORY INTERVIEWS JIM MESSINA ABOUT ORGANIZING FOR ACTION