- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

President Obama remains his party’s biggest moneymaker, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars per person at 79 Democratic fundraisers during his second term, but analysts say he has run into the embarrassing situation that also bedeviled his predecessor: vulnerable members of his own party keeping their distance.

Republicans have pounced on the fact that high-profile Democrats up for re-election, such as Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, have opted not to appear with the president even when he is in their own backyard.

Other Democrats, such as Kentucky Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes, appear eager to enlist more popular figures to help raise money. Former President Bill Clinton appeared alongside Ms. Lundergan Grimes at an event in Lexington this month.

Last month, Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, dodged a question about whether he would welcome Mr. Obama on to the campaign trail with him, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Those Democrats publicly deny a rift with the president, although polls show Mr. Obama isn’t popular in many of the states where key midterm races are being held this year.

The phenomenon of avoiding unpopular presidents also appeared in the latter years of George W. Bush’s administration, political analysts say.

The White House and Democratic Party officials have responded by freezing reporters out of fundraisers to avoid unflattering stories, said Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a scholar of presidents and fundraising.

“Even unpopular presidents are in great demand for fundraising, but more of their fundraisers tend to be closed to the press,” said Mr. Doherty, author of “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.” “And you get these occasional embarrassing stories where the candidate for whom they’re fundraising will appear at the fundraiser but won’t appear at the president’s appearance in the state.”

Mr. Udall appeared so determined not to give Colorado Republicans campaign fodder that he skipped a fundraiser in Denver last month with the president.

That event was open to the press, making it easier for reporters to latch onto the story that the Democratic senator opted to remain in Washington rather than be seen with Mr. Obama.

Even on vacation, the president has continued raking in money for his party. While at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, he headlined a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event Monday and was joined by Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and other members of his party.

Mr. Obama blasted Republicans and claimed that Democratic leaders are not the reason for partisan gridlock in Washington.

“If you look at the leadership of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, they’re not ideological, they’re not proposing radical solutions,” Mr. Obama said. “They are common sense. They are pragmatic. That’s how we got health care passed. That’s why we’ve been able to make progress on an issue like climate change.”

Many other times, the president’s words to Democratic donors remain secret.

Mr. Obama has held at least 19 closed-door fundraisers this year, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates greater transparency in government and among federal officials.

Beyond a desire to control the narrative, there is little apparent consistency as to why some events are open and some closed.

“I haven’t figured out a rhyme or reason as to why some of these are open and why some are closed,” said Palmer Gibbs, a reporter with the Sunlight Foundation who tracks presidential and party fundraising.

Mr. Obama has participated in 400 fundraisers since taking office in January 2009. His 79 second-term fundraisers to date put him far ahead of Mr. Bush, who had 50 such events at the same point in his second term.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Bush lag far behind Mr. Clinton, who took part in at least 142 fundraisers at the same point in his second term, Mr. Doherty said.

Throughout his eight years in office, Mr. Clinton appeared at 638 fundraisers. During Mr. Bush’s eight years, he took part in 328 events.

The White House and Democratic organizations declined to say how much money Mr. Obama helped raise at events this year. Ticket prices have varied, but usually were in the tens of thousands of dollars per person.

Tickets to Monday’s fundraiser, sponsored by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, ranged from $15,000 to $32,400.

Mr. Obama this year has attended seven events for the DSCC, six for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and 17 for the Democratic National Committee, along with events for Democratic-leaning super PACs and other groups, according to the White House.

But it’s not the number of fundraisers that has stirred attention.

Republicans have taken aim at some Democrats’ apparent unwillingness to appear alongside Mr. Obama, and transparency advocates have targeted the closed-door nature of some events.

Even fellow Democrats last month criticized the president for agreeing to attend fundraising events in Texas while declining to visit the nearby Mexican border to witness the surging crisis over illegal immigration.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, said of Mr. Obama’s Texas visit, “The optics were terrible.

“As a leader, he can be defiant and say I’m going to roll up my sleeves and see the humanitarian crisis,” Mr. Cuellar told ABC News at the time. “Or he can look detached, appear detached and say I’m doing everything long distance.”

The White House has said consistently that Mr. Obama is fully able to balance a variety of responsibilities, including raising money for his party while dealing with foreign policy and border crises.

“The president, like most professionals, has the capacity to deal with more than one priority at a time. He’s got his own airplane. He’s got dedicated phone lines,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said last month.

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