Obama heads to New York for campaign fundraisers

Nearly one year removed from his own election, President Barack Obama is dashing into campaign mode again, devoting coveted time toward getting Democrats elected in November and generating cash for his party in 2010.

The concentrated push begins Tuesday and is shaping up, at least to some degree, as a gauge on Obama’s political influence.

At separate events in New York City, the president will raise money both for Bill Owens, a Democrat trying to win a special election in an upstate New York congressional district, and for the Democratic National Committee. The national party fundraising event alone is expected to generate between $2 million to $3 million.

Beyond a $30,400-per-couple dinner for the DNC, Obama will attend a health care rally with tickets starting at $100. His comments at that event will be pumped live via webcast to house parties around the nation, where supporters plan to call voters and ask them to lobby Congress to pass a health care reform bill.

Obama’s New York sprint also includes a visit with counterterrorism workers to thank them for their efforts. By holding an official event along with his fundraising, Obama dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that’s charged to the political campaigns. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.

And that’s just Tuesday.

By week’s end, Obama will also go to a New Jersey rally for Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who is trying to fend off a tight Republican challenge; visit Boston to raise money for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is up for election in 2010; and travel to a Connecticut fundraiser for Sen. Chris Dodd, who is seeking another term next year. And in one week, Obama will campaign for Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, who is trailing in the race for Virginia governor.

Several factors beyond Obama’s control will shape next month’s races, but he puts his political standing on the line by investing his own time, and the White House is carefully calculating when he can afford to spare it.

Obama plans a final burst on behalf of candidates right before the Nov. 3 election.

He remains highly popular within his party and serves as the Democrats’ best fundraiser and motivator.

Most eyes are on the hard-fought elections in Virginia and New Jersey, the only two gubernatorial races in the country. In New York, Owens is running in a special election to represent the sprawling, rural 23rd district, which Republican Rep. John McHugh vacated to become secretary of the Army under Obama.

Already looming are next year’s midterms. Democrats need to stockpile a ton of cash as they seek to defend their majorities in Congress and pick up governor’s seats next fall. The party in power typically loses seats in the first midterm election of a president’s term.

Republicans have taken notice, and aim, at Obama’s plans this week. The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of House conservatives, juxtaposed Obama’s schedule with a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for more U.S. troops; Obama is conducting a war strategy review before deciding on troop levels.

“The clock is ticking in Afghanistan,” the Republican committee said Monday. “Hopefully the president can still hear it over the ringing of the cash register.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press