President-elect Obama will take office in January with a weapon no president has ever had at his disposal: an online army of more than 10 million supporters who can now be put to use to help carry out a sweeping agenda.
The vast lists of e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers compiled by the Obama campaign represent an opportunity for the incoming administration to establish a digital presidency that takes advantage of both new technologies and the wide enthusiasm that greeted Obama's candidacy.
In the six days since Election Day, Obama's transition team has taken a series of initial steps intended to turn Obama's online networks of supporters into governing tools.
Obama aides set up a new Web site, www.change.gov, to keep backers engaged through Inauguration Day and beyond, and have made contact with key local volunteers to keep them in the fold.
The supporters -- including more than 3 million people who gave money to Obama's campaign -- provide Obama the opportunity to communicate directly with supporters in new ways, in real time and at little cost. He'll be able to solicit input from a wide range of voters -- and, potentially, pressure members of Congress to follow Obama's lead on key legislation.
"We're in completely uncharted territory," said Micah Sifry, a co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, which tracks the uses of new technologies in politics. "You've got all these people connected. Maybe they go to the White House Web site not just to tour the China Room, but to be guided to where the pressure points are in politics. That's huge."
But any effort to turn a political operation into a governing one raises legal issues. Privacy concerns may limit the White House's access to the lists built by the campaign, and overtly political communications will need to be kept separate from official administration activities.
Rush Limbaugh told his listeners shortly after the election that he fears that the Obama administration will use its lists to conduct a permanent campaign -- with Obama trying to assert near-total control of Washington.
"The Obama presidency will continue in campaign mode just as Clinton's did," Limbaugh said. "Here comes the Internet onslaught."
With no real precedent from previous administrations, Obama aides and Democratic Party leaders are weighing several options for turning the voter contact information and social networking communities maintained by the campaign into vehicles for enhanced governance.
Among the possibilities being discussed, according to party officials: a new White House communications team focused on using new technologies; the creation of a new entity outside the White House to advocate the Obama agenda -- a move that would answer concerns about using government resources for political gains; or having the Democratic National Committee -- led by an Obama-selected team -- administer the voter-contact lists and connectivity tools.
Chris Hughes, who helped run the Obama campaign's new media operation after helping to found Facebook.com, wrote a short post on his Obama campaign blog last week that has generated wide buzz among the president-elect's online supporters.