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Obama aims to bolster Senate Democrats out West

BEN FELLER
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is intervening out West in a brutal election season for incumbents, trying to bolster two vulnerable senators – one of them Majority Leader Harry Reid – and the morale of his party.

Obama ventures Thursday to Denver to raise money and speak up for Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who was appointed and is now getting challenged within his party. Obama will end up in Las Vegas for another Democratic fundraiser and plenty of prominent time with Reid, the Nevada lawmaker who is a major target for Republicans in November.

The trip has a public agenda, too – a Las Vegas town hall on the economy on Friday and an Obama speech to the business leaders of that city, who feel he keeps slamming their town. But the political element is a big driver of a visit that will mostly be at taxpayer expense.

Obama’s direct involvement comes as the Democrats’ command of the Senate grows shakier, jeopardizing Obama’s agenda as he cannot count on any Republican support. Obama will try to help all year in targeted states he carried in 2008, like Colorado and Nevada, as the margins in Congress will shape his own fortunes on economic, health care and climate legislation.

Democrats took a huge hit when Republican Scott Brown won a Senate seat in Massachusetts last month, dropping their effective majority to 59 votes – one shy of the number they need to overcome Republican delay maneuvers on bills. Retirements are taking a toll, too, including the news just this week that Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana will not seek re-election.

“Every seat at this point is of extreme importance,” said Thomas Whalen, a Boston University professor who studies American politics. “I think the president is trying to go and rally his troops to take a political stand. They just seem to be in disarray and probably overreacting. With 59 votes, you’d think it is the end of the world.”

The anti-incumbency mood affects Republicans, too, in this midterm election season. The public is frustrated by the economy, which is growing again but not creating the jobs that give businesses and families confidence. Almost 10 percent of workers remain unemployed.

And there is the rising source of frustration that Bennet asked Obama about at a Democratic forum earlier this month: partisanship. “What are we going to do differently?” Bennet said to Obama at that nationally televised event. “What are you going to do differently?”

Obama’s strategy: Try to work with Republicans, but campaign to get Democrats elected.

He will attend two fundraisers for Bennet in Denver, an event at the Fillmore Auditorium and then a pricier reception at a nearby downtown hotel. The money raised will be shared among Bennet, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Colorado Democratic Party.

The president came out early for Bennet, who was appointed to the Senate after Obama plucked the incumbent, Ken Salazar, to be the secretary of the Interior. Obama’s involvement has frustrated Bennet’s Democratic challenger, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, and some other party officials who say Obama should stay out of the primary.

Obama pivots later Thursday to Las Vegas, where he will lead a million-dollar fundraiser at a private home for the Democratic National Committee. On Friday, he holds the economic town hall and speaks in the heart of the Vegas Strip to the chamber of commerce.

When the president travels for fundraisers, it is taxpayers, not the benefiting campaign or political party, who pay almost all the huge costs associated with his travel. That is even more so the case when the White House pairs at least one “official” event with the political ones, as Obama is doing on this overnight trip.

Obama’s Las Vegas speech has its own twist. City political and business leaders say Obama has twice singled out Las Vegas – a tourism-dependent destination known as Sin City – as his example when he talks of how people and businesses should not spend wastefully in hard times.

After the last dustup this month, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Obama was no longer welcome in the city, and even Reid told Obama to “lay off Las Vegas.” Obama responded to Reid that he meant nothing negative and that “there is no place better to have fun than Vegas.”

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Associated Press writer Samantha Abernethy in Denver contributed to this report.


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