WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is accelerating his fundraising pace, inviting Democratic candidates to decide whether the money he draws is worth the Republican attacks that a presidential visit might also bring.
For some, it's no easy choice. Democrats need millions of dollars to defend dozens of House and Senate seats this fall. But Obama's approval ratings are sinking well below 50 percent in several key states.
Obama is headlining four Democratic fundraisers in three days, including one Tuesday night, and hosting another four events next week. For now he's playing it safe, holding the eight events in noncompetitive states or in a competitive place where he's sure to be embraced: his home state of Illinois.
As is true with most presidents, candidates from his party know there's often a political cost to the hundreds of thousands of dollars a presidential visit can net.
In Missouri, Republican Senate candidate Roy Blunt is airing a TV ad showing Democratic opponent Robin Carnahan campaigning with Obama during his July 8 fundraising visit to Kansas City. The ad says Carnahan would be a "rubber stamp" for Obama's policies.
A recent statewide poll for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV found that 57 percent of likely Missouri voters disapprove of Obama's performance as president, while 34 percent approve. Among independent voters, the president's disapproval rate was 63 percent.
The poll showed Blunt leading Carnahan in the race to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Kit Bond.
Having the president visit "is a double-edged sword," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Carnahan raised a lot of money from the event, he said, but it also provided grist for Blunt's new ad.
"We'd welcome him to campaign in states like Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas," Walsh said of Obama. "These are states where his agenda is deeply unpopular."
White House officials say Obama will campaign vigorously throughout the nation. "The fall campaign boils down to a choice between those who want to keep moving forward and those that want to take us back to the policies that got us into this mess," said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. "The President will help make that case across the country."
Obama is clearly the biggest draw for Democratic donors in general, and he's spending significant time this week and next at events where guests have been asked to give the legal maximum of $30,400 per election cycle. Only one of the eight fundraisers is tied to a specific candidate: Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias of Illinois.
The president attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Tuesday night in Washington that was closed to reporters. He was set to attend two DNC events Wednesday in New York City, and a DNC fundraising dinner Thursday in a private home in Washington.
Next week he will headline a Democratic fundraiser in Atlanta, and three events in Chicago: two for the DNC, the other for Giannoulias. He also will attend fundraisers in Dallas and Austin, Texas.
Giannoulias is seeking the seat Obama once held, so he's unlikely to be harmed by being closely linked to the president. In California, which Obama carried easily, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has invited the president to her re-election events. In Nevada, a more closely divided state, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also has welcomed Obama and the money he raises.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who was practically forced out of the Republican Party because he embraced Obama and his stimulus bill, is happy to pose with the president now that he is running for the Senate as an independent.
But in some states, Democratic candidates are wary.
Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, the Democratic Senate nominee, was absent when Obama made two trips to the state earlier this year, although he joined the president and other top Democrats in Columbus in mid-June. A Quinnipiac University poll in late June found that 49 percent of Ohioans disapproved of Obama's job performance, while 45 percent approved. Obama carried Ohio by 4 percentage points in 2008.
Bill White, the Democratic nominee for governor in Texas, said he will not appear with Obama when the president visits his state next week. He suggested Obama's appearances might hurt his bid to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
White said he thinks Perry "will try to run against President Obama because he knows that he can't beat me."
Democratic officials said Obama will campaign next month for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. Other candidates will welcome him also, party officials said, but details are not ready for release.
Meanwhile, events as mundane as Obama's 49th birthday next week are used for fundraising purposes. First lady Michelle Obama is asking Americans to sign an e-mail birthday card, being distributed by the pro-Obama group Organizing for America. It doesn't ask for money, but well-wishers can't forward their messages to the president without including their e-mail addresses, which can be used later to seek funds, votes or volunteers.
Giannoulias' struggle to keep the Illinois Senate seat in Democratic hands is indicative of the party's struggles this year, when conservatives seem far more energized than liberals.
David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, said the president's Chicago visit next week will give Democrats a needed boost.
"You've got Republican enthusiasm at a very high level," Plouffe told reporters Tuesday. "I don't think it can go much higher. Democratic enthusiasm, obviously, is trailing and I really don't see it declining anymore, so the question is how much more can we grow it."
A lot will depend on Obama's reception in coming months not just from voters, but from Democrats on the Nov. 2 ballot.
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