DALLAS (AP) — A day before sharing the stage with his Republican predecessor, President Barack Obama raised money for Democrats at a supporter's sprawling home in Texas.
Even as he sought to build up his party on Wednesday, Obama hinted at a more bipartisan tone set to envelop Dallas on Thursday, when the Obamas attend the dedication ceremony for former President George W. Bush's presidential library. He vigorously defended the Republican whose record as president he derided in both of his presidential campaigns.
"One of the things I will insist upon is that whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves his people, and shares that same concern, and is concerned about all people in America," Obama said. "Not just some. Not just those who voted Republican."
Riffing on immigration, education, gay rights and women's issues, Obama likened the Democratic Party's values to those displayed by Americans who rushed to help strangers in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion last week in West, Texas.
"The Democratic Party, at its best, tries to give expression to that," Obama said.
He lamented that the sense of national unity and communal obligation that often follows such tragedies evaporates so quickly. "Wouldn't it be something if we could somehow capture and sustain that spirit beyond tragedy?" he said.
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Dallas on Wednesday, greeting supporters who gathered to welcome him to this heavily Republican state before headlining a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, still millions in debt from fueling Obama's re-election victory in November.
About 60 donors paid between $10,000 to $32,000 per ticket, said a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss party finances. Hosting the event was Naomi Aberly, a major Obama fundraiser and prominent supporter of Planned Parenthood who credited Obama for working to protect women's reproductive rights. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who was Obama's first-term U.S trade representative, also attended.
"Occasionally I may make some of you angry, because I am going to reach out to Republicans. I am going to keep on doing it, even if some of you guys think I'm a sap," Obama said. "But what I also believe in is that when Democrats have the opportunity to set the agenda and we don't have a country where just a few are doing really, really well, we have a country where everybody has a chance to do well."
Obama has made a point on recent trips outside Washington of raising money for his party, following through on a commitment to mount a concerted effort to help Democratic candidates in 2014. With a divided Congress still standing in the way of much of the time, Obama hopes that victory for Democratic candidates next year will shore up prospects for realizing his second-term agenda during his last two years in office.
"Unfortunately, right now, Washington — how do I put this charitably?" Obama said. "It's not as functional as it should be. It could do better."
Before returning to Washington on Thursday, Obama will also travel to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for a memorial service for victims of the fertilizer plant explosion last week in the nearby town of West. The blast left 14 people dead and hundreds more injured.
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