A painful Democratic rift over Barack Obama’s political legacy is finally bursting into the open.

For years, the former president’s popularity among Democrats stifled any public critiques of his stewardship of the party — a period in which the party suffered tremendous losses at the state and local levels.

But now that Obama and the political operation that succeeded his campaign, Organizing For Action, have expressed interest in playing a role in the task of rebuilding, it’s sparking pitched debates over how much blame he deserves for the gradual hollowing out of a party that now has less control of state-elected positions than at any other time in nearly a century.

That degree of mistrust — rooted in the idea that OFA was always primarily interested in advancing the president’s political interests, often at the expense of the party — is already showing signs of hampering Obama’s former Labor Secretary Tom Perez as he pursues the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. And the wariness — expressed by nearly three dozen Democrats in interviews — also threatens to create a divide between Obama’s loyalists and the rest of the party.

“[With] all due respect to President Obama, OFA was created as a shadow party because Obama operatives had no faith in state parties. So I hope the OFA role is none. I hope OFA closes their doors and allows the country and state parties to get to the hard work of rebuilding the party at the local and grass-roots level,” said Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb, echoing a sentiment that has dominated private chatter among state party chairs for months. “OFA had no faith or confidence in the state parties so they created a whole separate organization, they took money away and centralized it in D.C. They gave us a great president for eight years, but we lost everywhere else.”

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