- Associated Press - Friday, October 25, 2013

NEW YORK — President Obama is opening a six-week burst of fundraising for Democrats, offering an early look at how he’ll frame the messy health overhaul rollout and recent government shutdown for donors and voters ahead of next year’s pivotal midterm elections.

After putting political events on hold for about a month, Obama was returning to campaign mode Friday in New York, first at a top-dollar fundraiser for House Democrats, flanked by film producer Harvey Weinstein and prominent CEOs before another, closed-door event benefiting the national Democratic Party.

Before the fundraisers, Obama visited a Brooklyn high school to showcase a rare partnership among public schools, a public university system and IBM that lets students finish high school with an associate’s degree in computers or engineering. With budget talks set to resume next week, he urged Congress to put more money into education.

“I don’t want to hear the same old stuff about how America can’t afford to invest in the things that have always made us strong,” Obama said. “Don’t tell me we can afford to shut down the government, which costs our economy billions of dollars, but we can’t afford to invest in our education systems. There’s nothing more important than this.”

Accompanied by Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayoral candidate who is leading in the polls going into the Nov. 5 general election, Obama made a campaign-style appearance at Junior’s, a Brooklyn landmark known for its cheesecakes. He shook hands, gave out hugs, posed for photos and bought two cakes to go, one plain and one topped with strawberries.

His fundraising schedule condensed, Obama will headline at least nine fundraisers from Florida to Texas to California before the end of November for Democratic campaign committees. Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are holding their own events.

Traditionally the president is a party’s most potent fundraising tool, and the effort isn’t without potential reward for Obama. A return of Congress to full Democratic control next year would open the door to sweeping policies Obama would love to enact, but Republicans refuse to consider.

In sporadic fundraisers earlier in the year, when Obama was actively seeking better relations with Republicans, he avoided overt partisanship in his pitch to donors. His message was: I’ll work with fair-minded lawmakers from either party, but the more power Democrats have in Congress, the better my chances for success.

But any semblance of comity between Obama and Republicans evaporated during the standoff over government funding and the debt ceiling, when the White House was accusing the GOP of holding hostages and threatening to burn down the house. Republicans’ insistence that the government shut down unless Obama agreed to debilitating changes to his health care law made the lack of common ground all too clear.

So the immediate crisis averted, Democrats and Republicans alike looked to the president’s words Friday for signs of how Obama and his party will cast the bitter fights in Washington as they gear up for 2014 races across the country.

“I recognize that the Republican Party has made blocking the Affordable Care Act its signature policy idea,” Obama said this week at the White House. “Sometimes it seems to be the one thing that unifies the party these days.”

More Americans blame Republicans than Obama for the 16-day shutdown, giving Obama and Democrats a new bludgeon to hammer Republicans and argue they must be voted out. Just 32 percent of Americans view the Republican Party favorably, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Oct. 17-20, compared to 46 percent who view Democrats favorably.

The political blow to the GOP from the crisis has made some Democrats more bullish about retaking the House next year — an incredibly tall order that, if successful, would bolster Obama’s prospects for achieving his second-term goals.

But at the same time, Obama is weighed down by the calamitous debut of the website for new insurance exchanges, raising the prospect that Obama’s health care law will be more of a liability than an asset in 2014 even for Democrats who supported the law.

“I would take our position over theirs any day of the week,” said Mo Elleithee, the Democratic National Committee’s communications director. “We have been working to give people more benefits and increase their access to affordable health care, while Republicans shut down the government.”

After winning re-election last year, Obama vowed to go all-in for Democrats by holding at least 20 fundraisers ahead of the midterm elections. Although Obama had planned to spread events out over many months this fall, Democratic officials say he was forced to put politicking on hold — first by the crisis over Syria’s chemical weapons, then by the shutdown-and-debt debacle.

By and large, Democrats have been more successful than Republicans in leveraging the fiscal showdown to raise money, according to fundraising reports released by campaign committees for House and Senate. But Republicans say that’s where Obama’s usefulness to his party ends. After all, the nation’s new health insurance program remains a tough sell even with independent voters, and Obama is personally unpopular in many of the southern, conservative-leaning states holding critical Senate elections next year.

“There’s still not one Democrat candidate in a toss-up race who wants him visiting their district, because they know he’s not wanted anywhere other than New York, San Francisco or Chicago,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a National Republican Congressional Committee official.

AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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