But, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to engage in a public dialogue on the matter when they were so focused on Election Day, strategists for Mr. Obama said they were intent on avoiding a situation in which they would have no answer to millions of dollars — if not tens of millions — in advertisements from groups like Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

Maybe not quite the emphatic “sign” would-be Democratic donors want. Yet.

An aside: “They did not want to engage in a public dialogue on the matter when they were so focused on Election Day.” But to have their say on the matter anonymously when they were so focused on Election Day? Engaging!

Another aside: The NYT singles out, high up in its story, the ongoing work of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, noting how these two “new conservative groups…are planning to keep pushing their agenda in the lame-duck session of Congress that will begin in two weeks.” But the Times doesn’t mention, as the Washington Independent’s Jesse Zwick points out, one reason, beyond just “keeping the positive momentum going” into 2012, that the 501(c)(4) Crossroads GPS might want to “keep pushing their agenda” after Election Day. Per Zwick:

[I]t’s also a means of balancing the group’s ledger so that its “primary purpose” doesn’t look like electing federal candidates by the time the group files its tax returns in 2011. By advocating on issues following the elections, in other words, Crossroads GPS can drive down the percentage of its spending on election activities, a percentage that many watchdog campaign finance groups have complained is well beyond the 50 percent mark now. According to the tax code, section 501(c) nonprofits’ primary purpose can’t be to elect candidates for office.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.