Obama as ATM: Democrats want him as fundraiser, not campaigner

As the election season ramps up in August, President Obama is putting on his fundraiser hat, attending $30,000-a-plate dinners but not spending much time campaigning for candidates.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Obama is embraced by Sen. Harry Reid at a fundraiser in Las Vegas July 8.

It hurts, but it’s true: When you’re an unpopular president, candidates from your own party would rather see you raising money for them than standing beside them at a campaign event. Those photo ops with candidates in tight races often turn into attack ads by the other party.

President Bush went through that, and now it’s President Obama’s turn, in the first midterm elections since his own victory almost two years ago. But no hard feelings. Presidents know that their party’s base of donors will still pony up, even in tough times, and have some fun in the process.

Wednesday night, the president spent an hour apiece at two Manhattan fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee – one at the Four Seasons hotel, the next at the Greenwich Village home of Vogue editor Anna Wintour. (No word on whether the devil wore Prada. Press were not allowed inside.)

About 50 donors came to each event, and the price tag was designer, not knock-off: $30,400 per person, the maximum an individual may legally donate to a political party.

The high-dollar fundraising contrasted sharply with Mr. Obama’s stop earlier in the day at the Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, N.J., where he met with the owners and touted the importance of small business to the economy’s recovery.

It was “one of those days where he’s wearing a couple of different hats,” White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One.

And, Mr. Burton noted, fundraising is what the president “traditionally does.” What he didn’t say is that by combining presidential and campaign duties, travel costs are shared (saving the candidate or party committee money). The events can bring in millions of dollars, central to a high-stakes election season whose result will determine control of Congress – and therefore the future of Obama’s agenda.

Even though some pundits suggest Obama would be better off with a Republican-run House, making the GOP a better foil for his 2012 reelection bid, the White House is making good on its promise to raise money for the House Democrats.

Earlier this month, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledged on TV that Democratic control of the House was in jeopardy, infuriating House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama now plans to head out to Los Angeles on Aug. 16 to headline a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

And as a rule, candidates almost can’t have too much money. The DCCC is playing defense, and has reserved television ad time in 56 districts, costing $49 million. Of those districts, almost all are currently held by Democrats.

Obama’s dance card for August is filling up fast:

On Aug. 5, he heads home to Chicago for two party fundraisers and an appearance on behalf of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.

On Aug. 9, Obama goes to Austin, Texas, for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, then Houston to raise money for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

On Aug. 18, he heads to Columbus, Ohio, for an economic speech and then more fundraisers, including one for Gov. Ted Strickland’s reelection campaign.

Obama’s appearances with candidates show he’s not a complete pariah. In his home state of Illinois, his job approval is still over 50 percent, and he’s hoping to keep his old Senate seat in Democratic hands. Mr. Giannoulias and Republican Mark Kirk are neck and neck. In Ohio, Obama is slightly more popular than Governor Strickland (46 percent to 43 percent), but at fundraisers, where the crowd is friendly, having the president at your side is gold.

Until recently, Vice President Joe Biden has carried most of the water as the administration’s campaigner, appearing at almost 100 events this cycle. The popular first lady, Michelle Obama, is also in high demand for events.


Can Obama, Biden give a boost to Democratic candidates?

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