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What Does Obama Do With His Machine?

Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten have a terrific piece in today's L.A. Times mulling over what becomes of Obama's hugely powerful grassroots infrastructure once he's sworn in. Apparently there's some debate in Obamaland:

Traditionally, the new president would blend his campaign operation with his party's national committee. Some of Obama's closest advisors lean toward that pragmatic view.

But others, who built the grass-roots organization, worry that linking it too closely to the party could cause the unusual network to unravel -- and squander an extraordinary resource.

The Obama machinery relied heavily on idealistic political outsiders committed to breaking free from old ways of doing politics. The worry is that these enthusiastic activists might drift away if they are turned over to the Democratic National Committee, where the party might ask them to support Democrats and target Republicans.

Instead, Obama advisors involved in building the force think it should remain an independent entity -- organized around the "Obama brand."

The goal, they say, is to integrate Obama's political organization into his new role as president without damaging its zeal for a candidate who promised to change Washington.

For what it's worth, I tend to share the view of Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager, that the infrastructure will be most effective if it's not folded into the party apparatus:

Hildebrand offered another argument for an independent network: It could be used to challenge Democratic lawmakers if they didn't hew to the Obama agenda. The organization, he said, could "pressure anybody who we would need to build a coalition of votes in the House and Senate."

If nothing else, Obama just hired a chief of staff who's perfectly positioned to bring this organization to bear on the legislative process. It would be kind of a waste if the White House didn't give him the tools to get the job done.

(H/t Ben Smith and First Read.)

--Noam Scheiber