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March 19, 2013

Have political parties lost their purpose?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"What we don't want to do is repeat the mistake I think that I believe in 2008 we made, where some of that energy just kind of dissipated and we were only playing an inside game," Obama told a dinner gathering of about 75 big donors to the new endeavor, a comment that rankled some at party headquarters.

Though some Democrats fear that OFA will be competing with party organizations for resources, its officials insist that the new operation is designed not to win elections, but to ensure the success of Obama's agenda. They add that the president is committed to ensuring the party's success in 2014, including assisting with its fundraising.

Political parties are nearly as old as the republic itself, performing the basic roles of putting forward candidates for election, explaining their philosophy and then organizing people to vote for them.

But old tools such as patronage jobs do not provide as much influence in a mass-media era in which fewer Americans claim a party label. For the past two years, the Gallup organization has reported a record 40 percent of Americans identifying themselves as independent.

"Parties have to continue to redefine themselves to be relevant to the future," said Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager and head of the new OFA operation.

The decline of the parties and their battle to remain relevant are forces that academics and journalists have been chronicling for more than half a century. As far back as 1972, the late Washington Post reporter David Broder wrote a book titled "The Party's Over: The Failure of Politics in America."

"In the political science field, scholars have had a hard time defining a political party for a very, very long time," said Daniel J. Galvin, a Northwestern University professor who wrote a 2010 book on the sometimes-fraught relationship between presidents and their party organizations.

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