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Obama Swings West to Raise Cash for Sen. Michael Bennet, Other Dems

4 years ago
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President Obama defended stimulus spending and advocated for health care reform Thursday while attending a pair of Denver fundraisers for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

It's the third February in a row that Obama's visited the city. In 2008, he packed a University of Denver auditorium on a campaign stop. A year ago, he signed the stimulus bill in the Colorado capital.

In his remarks, Obama cited Republican criticism of the $787 billion spending bill aimed at rejuvenating the economy during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

"A lot of these guys, when it comes to the ribbon cutting for the projects, they show up. Hold up the check," Obama said. "I'm not going to give 'em hell. I'm going to tell the truth and they'll think it's hell."

The fundraiser at Denver's Fillmore Auditorium, a popular music venue, drew about 3,000 people who paid between $25 and $100 per ticket. Obama then attended a $1,000 per-person reception at a downtown hotel, before flying to Las Vegas to attend a private fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.Coloradans greeted Obama warmly with chants of "Yes, we can!" as the president took the stage and recognized a number of Colorado office holders. He also acknowledged the state's Olympians.

Snowboarding gold medalist "Shawn White's secret training facility up on Silverton Mountain paid off," Obama said. "I want to know how those guys do that. How do you start doing that? How do you get up the guts the first time, to start practicing to start doing that?"

But mostly, Obama focused on Bennet and Democratic efforts during their first year in office. He listed the benefits of the stimulus package, including tax cuts, jobs saved, extended unemployment benefits and more.

"You saved my job," one woman shouted from the audience.

Obama noted the divisiveness in Washington and said Bennet is willing to transcend such divisions.

"He's determined to break through partisan gridlock to get the tough stuff done," the president said.

Earlier this week, Bennet advocated using a procedure called budget reconciliation to pass health care reform with a public option -- an alternative Obama didn't mention Thursday. Instead, the president referred to next week's meeting with Democrats and Republicans to try to iron out a compromise.

"I want to see what their ideas are," Obama said. "We can't afford to wait."

Ultimately, the president asked the audience to help elect Bennet, an appointee who's running a first-time campaign.

"He's facing re-election in a tough political climate," Obama said of Bennet. "He's got one very powerful advantage. He's got you. He's been fighting for each and every one of you in Washington and he needs you to fight for him."

Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Bennet, then the Denver Public Schools superintendent, to replace Sen. Ken Salazar a year ago after Obama named Salazar interior secretary. Ritter passed over several other hopefuls, including former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is now challenging Bennet in a Democratic primary.

Romanoff supporters were among those criticizing Obama's fundraising visit, but they weren't alone.

Jane Norton, the GOP frontrunner in the Senate race, slammed the president for deficit spending in a 30-second spot on Colorado television stations Wednesday and Thursday. The ad made no mention of her two primary opponents or Bennet.

"Let's stand up, Colorado," Norton urged in the ad, which asked viewers to sign a petition seeking a balanced federal budget.

Romanoff called earlier this month for Obama to appear before his supporters as well, an invitation rejected by the White House. Romanoff supporters across the street from the Filmore held signs advocating their candidate.

They were joined by small bands of other protesters, including a group objecting to recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Raids of medical marijuana growers in Colorado.

Earlier in the week, Bennet faced off against his primary opponent in what appeared to be more of a love fest than a debate. Each candidate repeatedly declared his agreement with the other, including attacking partisan bickering and advocating health care reform.

"I love you, and I wish you were running in a primary against one of the people who is causing the problem," Bennet told Romanoff at one point during the debate Tuesday.

Campaign funding and wealth were virtually the only differences Romanoff articulated with Bennet. He criticized his opponent for taking money from political action committees and made references to millionaire senators, a clear poke at Bennet's wealth.

Almost $900,000 of Bennet's $4.8 million raised through 2009 came from PACs. Romanoff raised $629,908, including $37,500 of his own money, after entering the race in September.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall referred to criticism of Bennet's fundraising while warming up the crowd Thursday.

"If anybody thinks successfully raising money is a tradeoff for character, they have not met me, they have not met Barack Obama, and they have not met Michael Bennet," Udall said.

Despite the cash disadvantage, a Rasmussen Poll earlier this month showed Romanoff faring better than Bennet against Norton and other GOP candidates.

While he's behind in the money race, Romanoff ended the week with one less high-priced consultant on the payroll.

The campaign dumped Patrick Caddell, a month after referring to the pollster as "one of the most insightful, strategic thinkers in politics." The exit came after videos of Caddell calling union members thugs (two unions have endorsed Romanoff) and criticizing environmentalists for trying "to deconstruct capitalism" were posted on the popular political Web site ColoradoPols.com.

For Bennet, Thursday's visit by the president offered an opportunity to practice his stump speech. A good portion focused on health care reform, including a challenge to his peers that appeared to be a follow-up on Romanoff's debate suggestion that he forgo government health insurance coverage.

"Members of Congress should lose their taxpayer funded health insurance until we pass health care reform," Bennet proclaimed Thursday.

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