“This is my last election,” President Barack Obama assured Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last year, but the president’s post-reelection schedule suggests he has never stopped campaigning.
Since his second term began, Obama has headlined at least 15 fundraising events, according to an analysis of presidential events by The Daily Caller. That’s three times as many as President George W. Bush attended in the first six months of his second term, and a few more than President Bill Clinton — an inveterate campaigner who was widely condemned for spending too much time on politics during his presidency — attended in the same period of his second term.
Among the political events Obama has attended: a dinner at Alain Ducasse’s Adour restaurant to benefit Organizing for Action, the 501(c)(4) political organization that evolved out of Obama’s Organizing for America campaign nonprofit; a series of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee events at “Millionaire’s Row” residences in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff district, followed by fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee in Atherton, California and Dallas, Texas; a $10,000-a-plate luncheon [pdf] for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Atlanta, Georgia; and this week, two DCCC fundraisers in Chicago, the second one at the Streeterville home of longtime Obama backers Bettylu and Paul Saltzman, during which the president expressed sympathy for the unemployed and joked, “We’ve got kind of an Obama cabal in this room.”
According to CBS, Obama has committed to attending at least five more DCCC events and a similar number of DSCC events. Also this week, First Lady of America Michelle Obama raised $600,000 in Boston for Democratic Senate candidate Ed Markey and what reporter Keith Koffler estimates to be more than half a million dollars for the DNC at a New York City event featuring haute couture icons Anna Wintour and Vera Wang.
By contrast, Bush attended just five political events by this point in his second term, according to records at an archive of the Bush-era White House web site. Clinton — who, unlike Obama, was facing Republican control of both houses of Congress — attended 13, according to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.
The president’s perpetual campaign mode has begun to attract unwanted attention. Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer in March estimated to the New York Times that Obama had spent “the equivalent of five workweeks” on fundraising. MSNBC’s Chuck Todd has called new tactics by Organizing for America “selling access” to the White House. On Wednesday The New York Times wrapped Obama’s fundraising trips — many of which involve long-distance travel — into a general critique of Obama’s $180,000-an-hour use of Air Force One for less-than-vital business.
While Obama’s methods have been called into question, his goal — to win House and Senate seats for Democrats in 2014 — is clear.
“My job is to move the country forward, and I think we can best do that if Nancy Pelosi is Speaker,” Obama said in April during his appearance at the Sea Cliff mansion of Ann and Gordon Getty, addressing guests who according to a pool report were seated in “golden bamboo chairs” in a “two-story columned room with large French doors and ornate gold decoration.”
This week in Chicago, Obama reiterated that point, telling guests at the Saltzman home, “I could not be prouder of Nancy Pelosi and the work that she’s done and I could not be more anxious and eager to have her back as Speaker of the House.”
Obama’s logic may be sound. While it’s true that Bush (whose party had comfortable congressional majorities) gave less attention to legislative seats in his second term, it’s also true that he paid the price. The 2006 midterm elections ended in a rout for the Republicans, with Democrats taking both houses and ushering in the era of Pelosi dominance for which Obama now pines.
On the other hand, Clinton’s politicking, which was almost as energetic as Obama’s, didn’t achieve much. Although Democrats picked up handfuls of seats, the 1998 midterms left Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress. The divided government that resulted led to a period of relative piece, tax cuts, balanced budgets and the last economic boom in American history.
Obama’s position today is superficially better than Clinton’s was in 1997. The Democrats’ House minority (201 seats) is slightly less dire than it was in 1997 (198 seats), and the party has a majority in the Senate of 51 seats plus two independents who generally vote with the Democrats.
But the president is also facing a cascading series of scandals around the Benghazi terrorist attacks, IRS targeting of nonprofits opposed to the Democrats, an apparent fundraising shakedown of private companies by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and campaign of spying on journalists ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder.
None of these scandals are under control by conventional crisis-management standards, and in several cases the administration is still in headlong retreat, with new details surfacing on an almost-daily basis and no counternarratives coming out of the White House.
The White House press office did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Kate Grise and Richard Thompson contributed to this report.