The hottest property to emerge from Barack Obama's lopsided victory over Mitt Romney is not the president's much lauded campaign team. Nor is it the shrewd turnout operation that catapulted him to victory.
It is something far more valuable that's being guarded as zealously as the Pentagon: Obama's unprecedented database of an estimated 16 million voters, volunteers and donors, which gave the Democrat an indisputable edge in November.
From the candidates running in 2014 to the state Democratic parties to progressive advocacy groups, there is an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign afoot to pry from Obamaland its groundbreaking voter database. The data is rich with intricate layers of information about individuals' voting habits, television viewing tastes, propensity to volunteer, car registration, passions, email address, cellphone numbers, and social media contacts. The historical trove enabled Obama to connect with voters on a highly personal level and get them not only to vote but to actively persuade their neighbors to do the same.
Now that Obama has been reelected, other Democrats are falling over themselves to get their hands on these sophisticated indicators for their own campaigns.
Several top Obama campaign officials, who asked not to be quoted by name, said that no decisions have been made about the data, including where to house it and how to use it to benefit the party.
Those decisions likely won't be made until closer to the president's inauguration next month. Among the prime options being discussed by president's political hands: setting up an independent, not-for-profit entity, run by Obama aides, to manage and keep the electronic files updated so the contacts could be used to further the president's agenda. Handing over the names to campaigns is not high on the list right now.
Nonetheless, this hasn't stopped Democrats from beating at the vault's door.
So excited was Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran about the prospect of getting the database for next year's governor's race that he announced last week that he already had it. He doesn't.
So intent are Senate incumbents to get their hands on the voter files that, at a private meeting with Senate leaders and incumbents up for reelection in 2014, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tom Harkin of Iowa led the group in imploring Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to lead the charge.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has also prodded the Obama campaign to make the database available to House and Senate candidates to avoid a midterm bloodbath like the party saw in 2010.
"It's just on everyone's radar screen," said a Democratic strategist involved in House races. "We want the volunteers, we want the donors."
In fact, the database is not going anywhere anytime soon and very likely will not been turned over to individual candidates, say Obama sources.
Instead, Obamaworld -- in an effort similar to the post-2008 campaign period -- is attempting to leverage its campaign data to generate support for legislative initiatives.
On Sunday night, for example, a mass mailing went out from senior Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter updating Obama supporters on the fiscal cliff and urging them to post to www.barackobama.com a personal story articulating what losing a $2,000 tax break would mean to them. When the president turns his attention to immigration, the database -- brimming with hundreds of thousands of new Latino supporters -- could be tapped to stir up support. Similar efforts had limited success when tried after Obama's 2008 victory.
Obama could also turn over the data to the Democratic National Committee, but that's unlikely at this point. One senior Obama adviser fretted that the data is very costly to maintain and update -- and could very easily become obsolete. Obama officials further believe that the president's supporters are unique to him, and therefore the voter list contained in the data is not easily transferable to another candidate. They emphasize that the complex data algorithms they created -- such as matching voters' TV viewing habits with their voting history -- isn't like a simple mailing list of the 1990s, or an email list from 2000 that can just be handed over, but rather a complex set of metrics tailored to an electorate that they cultivated.
"We were building the best grass-roots campaign in modern American political history," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
The community Obama built, concurred one operative close to the president's team, "has never been about the party or other candidates -- it's been about the president and is just not effectively transferable to the party or another candidate. People who look at it like a list that can be turned on and off for any cause or candidate really don't understand how it came together and grew."
Messina was emphatic on the point in his first post-election on-camera interview last month.
"The important thing to note is -- and I want to be firm about this -- you can't just hand this to the next candidate for president," he said at a POLITICO Playbook breakfast last month.
"You know, this organization was built for people who supported this president and who were involved. We had over 32,000 neighborhood team leaders who basically volunteered full time, and those people were involved because of the issues and positions the president took, and ... you can't just hand it to the next candidate. They have to have their own relationship with [voters]. ... Look, we learned from our shellacking we took in 2010: Too many Democrats thought they could put Barack Obama's picture on a piece of literature and his supporters would turn out magically for them. It doesn't work like that."
Building the voter list and metrics took an enormous amount of work and money. Sources estimate that the campaign spent $100 million on specially designed software that allowed aides to home in on voters through their connection with other supporters, a process called Targeted Sharing. Data was collected from a variety of sources that included Facebook, voter records, door-to-door canvassing, and information provided by outside vendors.
Messina also ruled out selling other candidates access to the campaign's organizing tools. "I don't think the president is going to get into the business of selling things," he said at the POLITICO breakfast.
Talk like this, of course, drives Democrats crazy. "They think they have some unique voter who won't vote for any other Democrat?," said someone close to the DNC, speaking on background. "Second-term presidents have a unique opportunity to help build a lasting, effective party structure. That is what we are hoping President Obama will do -- for the 2014 races and beyond."
"The Obama campaign had the best get-out-the-vote effort in New Hampshire history, so obviously any assistance we could get as we try to replicate that effort would be very helpful," said Maura Keefe, Shaheen's chief of staff.
In an interview last week, Messina said there are a variety of ways to be helpful to candidates short of handing over the data. He cited Sen. Michael Bennet's 2010 senate race in Colorado, where Obama's Organizing for America -- the grass-roots entity set up in 2008 to manage the database and supporters from that campaign -- helped Bennet identify volunteers and set up the model for creating and building his own database. A Democratic strategist involved in that race acknowledged that OFA did help on a number of fronts, mostly by emailing its own list in an appeal for volunteers, and by asking supporters to turn out for Bennet. But the source added that having the actual database would have been far more useful and saved Bennet time and money. "They could have just turned over the donor list, they could have turned over the volunteer list," the source said. "But they wanted control. Truthfully, [the Obama camp] tends to be reflexively unhelpful."
Andrew Rasiej, founder of Personal Democracy Media, which follows political digital trends, takes the view that any campaign can now do what Obama did.
"Look, most of the techniques and methodologies Obama used in 2012 are now commoditized and easily replicable," he said. "The candidates would be better served just learning what the campaign did and then building their own databases. Obama is not in the business of customizing his list for every candidate. The problem is that most of them still believe it's just an e-mail list and don't understand why it can't just be handed over."
And convincing candidates otherwise could prove challenging. Democratic 2013 Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former national party chairman and mega-fundraiser, has been pressing the Obama campaign for the data from Virginia -- a swing state Obama carried in November. Raised in the political school of quid-pro-quo, McAuliffe believes with some certainty, sources say, that he will get the data because he raised a lot money for Obama in 2012, and because it was under McAuliffe's watch that Obama was given the high-profile keynote address to the 2004 convention that launched his national career. Still, Obama officials were noncommittal in interviews.
After his 2008 victory, Obama came away with 13 million voter contacts, which he turned into OFA -- attached to the DNC but run by Obama's political aides. The plan was to use it to push Obama's first-term legislative agenda, but it fell short. Progressive activists complained bitterly that -- except for a few issues, such as health care reform -- the Obama team dropped the ball in reaching out to supporters. OFA did, however, generate hundreds of thousands of phone calls to members prior to the health care vote.
Messina and others believe health care wouldn't have passed without it.
Several sources say Team Obama is looking closely at creating a new 501(c)(4) organization, an IRS designation for a nonprofit that operates to promote social welfare. It's sole purpose would be to manage Obama's grass-roots supporters. The designation would also allow the group to lobby, endorse or oppose candidates, and donate to campaigns.
"The bottom line," said one Obama official "is that this database is for furthering the president's agenda, and electing more Democrats around the country helps the president further his agenda. We're not walking away."
The Gazette now offers Facebook Comments on its stories. You must be logged into your Facebook account to add comments. If you do not want your comment to post to your personal page, uncheck the box below the comment. Comments deemed offensive by the moderators will be removed, and commenters who persist may be banned from commenting on the site.