Obama jumps in to help Dems bring in big money 

Democrats are banking on the 2010 election cycle resurrecting a dormant version of President Obama -- the prodigious fundraiser whose methods and appeal broke records.

To that end, with control of Congress on the line and Democrats facing tough races, Obama is lately stepping up his money game. On Thursday, he was expected to raise $2.5 million at a pair of Florida events for the Democratic National Committee.

So far this year, the various party committees are roughly matched in fundraising, and polls show the nation either split or slightly favoring Republicans in November. But with Obama's approval ratings around 50 percent and Democrats controlling Congress, the majority party should be way ahead in the money chase.

"As the incumbent party, they should be further ahead in part because donors and [political action committees] like to invest in winners," said Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist. "And in Congress the winners are always the people chairing the committees and subcommittees, they control everything."

Already, Obama's midterm fundraising game is shifting away from the 2008 model, which tapped many first-time and small-amount contributors, with a heavy reliance on raising money over the Internet. His $745 million haul broke existing records.

But first-time and small donors are less likely to contribute in an off-election year. So this time, Obama is focusing on higher-profile, big-money events for maximum effect. One fundraiser this week was at the Miami-area home of singer Gloria Estefan.

He recently headlined a pair of events in Boston that raised $2.5 million for the DNC, and another in Las Vegas at the home of George Maloof, a casino mogul and owner of the Sacramento Kings, where attendees paid $30,400 each.

Next week, Obama heads to Los Angeles to raise money for Sen. Barbara Boxer and the DNC, on a trip that so far is strictly political -- with no so-called policy "fig leaf" event to help cover the travel costs and justify the president's time.

A big test of the coming season will be the fundraising abilities of the various party committees, and especially the skills of Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine.

The low-profile former governor of Virginia said Democrats have put together the largest field operation of any previous nonpresidential election year, and are digging in for what he expects will be "a tough cycle."

"We're not panic people," Kaine said on a conference call with reporters. "We think we've got a good plan, and we've got a lot of people who are very energized about it. Critics will say what they want, but we're going to keep, you know, keep plowing."

Critics of Kaine note the party lost critical statewide races last year in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey -- a gloomy augur for the Democrats in November. Still, Kaine has shown some early fundraising chops -- the DNC raised about $13 million last month, to the Republican National Committee's $11 million.


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