WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has committed to holding more than 18 fundraisers to help Democrats this year, putting the full force of his political brand behind his party's efforts to gain seats in the House and prevent Republicans from snatching control of the Senate.
The stepped-up commitment from the president stands in clear contrast to 2010, when Democrats complained Obama did too little to boost the party — and has been paying a heavy price ever since. Democrats that year took what Obama dubbed a "shellacking," losing control of the House and severely impeding the president's ability to move his legislative agenda through Congress.
With no presidential campaign this year to attract Obama supporters to the polls, Democrats are concerned that 2014 could be a difficult year, especially if voters unhappy with Obama's health care law opt to exact retribution in November on the Democrats who supported it. Traditionally, a president's party loses seats during his sixth year in office, but Democrats are hoping to buck that trend.
To pull that off, Democrats will need cash — lots of it. So the party is turning to its top fundraiser to help stockpile the hundreds of millions of dollars that will help determine the outcome of November's election.
Obama has agreed to at least six fundraisers this year for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect House Democrats, and another six for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to Democrats involved in the planning, who demanded of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the events by name.
He'll also headline a reception and dinner on Feb. 20 benefiting the Democratic Governors Association, according to an invitation obtained by The Associated Press.
"It's certainly making up for lost time," said former DCCC Chairman Vic Fazio, who represented California in Congress for two decades. "Unfortunately, a lot of the damage has been done. But now, I'm sure there's a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction coming from the leadership."
His own approval ratings sagging, Obama's value to Democrats on the campaign trail is limited. Raising money for party committees, which in turn assist individual candidates, is perhaps the most effective way Obama can help without risking collateral damage to Democrats who are better off politically keeping their distance.
The party's official committees won't be the only groups benefiting from some presidential attention. Obama will also hold at least one event each for the House Majority PAC and the Senate Majority PAC — outside groups that will spend millions to air television ads boosting Democratic candidates and attacking their opponents.
Obama also has three fundraisers on the calendar for the Democratic National Committee, with several more in the works, a DNC official said. The first will take place later in February in Washington, and Obama will headline two fundraisers in March in Boston.
Vice President Joe Biden and first lady Michelle Obama will be pitching in, too. Already, Biden has booked a fundraiser for the DNC next week in Minneapolis, and Mrs. Obama will host her own event the following day in New York. Both are expected to add many more fundraisers to their calendar in the months ahead.
Top-line fundraising figures from the end of 2013 put Democratic committees, as a whole, slightly ahead of Republicans, but not by an overwhelming margin. If past elections are a guide, spending on this year's campaigns will easily run into the billions of dollars.
With the clock ticking on his presidency, the stakes for Obama this year are high.
Democrats will forfeit control of the Senate if they lose more than five seats — out of 21 they are defending, many of them in conservative-leaning states. Republican control of both chambers of Congress would essentially mean game-over for any second-term legislation Obama hopes to achieve.
Obama's fundraisers for House Democrats, which include a dinner next month at the Miami home of former NBA star Alonzo Mourning, were disclosed to lawmakers by DCCC Chairman Steve Israel on Thursday at a closed-door retreat in Maryland, according to a person in the room for the presentation.
Although many Democrats privately cast doubt on their prospects for retaking the House this year — Democrats would need a net gain of 17 seats — Israel argued the political landscape is favorable for Democrats. He pointed to lackluster approval ratings for GOP lawmakers and urged Democrats to stay on offense while arguing, as Obama did in his State of the Union speech, that Democratic economic policies will better look out for the middle class.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott in Washington and Charles Babington in Cambridge, Md., contributed to this report.
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