SEATTLE — President Barack Obama took his newly combative message to the liberal West Coast on Sunday, aiming to re-energize faithful Democratic voters who have grown increasingly disenchanted with him.
The three-day trip, ending Tuesday in Denver, comes as Obama has shifted from seeking compromise with Republicans in Congress to calling out House Speaker John Boehner and others by name. The president has criticized them as obstructionists and demanded their help in passing his $447 billion jobs bill.
This approach is a relief to Democratic activists fed up by what they viewed as the president’s ceding of ground to the Republicans on tax cuts and other issues when the economy has stalled and unemployment is stuck above 9 percent.
At his first fundraiser in Seattle, Obama mixed frontal attacks on Republicans with words of encouragement intended to buck up the faithful as the 2012 campaign revs up.
“From the moment I took office what we’ve seen is a constant ideological pushback against any kind of sensible reforms that would make our economy work better and give people more opportunity,” the president said at an intimate brunch fundraiser at the Medina, Washington state., home of former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley.
About 65 guests were paying $35,800 per couple to listen to Obama at the first of seven fundraisers he was holding from Seattle to Hollywood to San Diego on Sunday and Monday.
Obama said 2012 would be an especially tough election because people are discouraged and disillusioned with government, but he also said he was determined because so much is at stake.
The Republican alternative, Obama said, is “an approach to government that will fundamentally cripple America in meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”
Obama got a friendly welcome from invited guests at his first stop. But elsewhere liberal activists were making plans to greet the president with demonstrations criticizing his policies or reminding him they want him to do more.
“We want to see Obama stand up as strongly as he can to fight for the people of this country who are working out there to make ends meet,” said Kathy Cummings, communications director for the Washington State Labor Council. The council was helping organize a demonstration outside Seattle’s Paramount Theater, the site of an Obama fundraiser later Sunday.
On Saturday night, Obama tried to shore up support among a key Democratic constituency when he spoke at the annual awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., saying passage of his jobs plan would help African-Americans,
Black congressional leaders remain fiercely protective of the first African-American president, but in recent weeks they’ve been increasingly vocal in their discontent — especially over black unemployment, which is nearly double the national average at 16.7 percent.
He acknowledged blacks have suffered mightily because of the recession, and are frustrated that the downturn is taking so long to reverse. “So many people are still hurting. So many people are barely hanging on,” he said, then added: “And so many people in this city are fighting us every step of the way.”
But Obama said blacks know all too well from the civil rights struggle that the fight for what is right is never easy.
“Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”
Obama and the Republican presidential candidates are working overtime to raise campaign cash ahead of an important Sept. 30 reporting deadline that will give a snapshot of their financial strength. Obama’s West Coast visit was heavy on fundraisers: two each in Seattle and the San Francisco area Sunday, followed by one in San Diego on Monday and two in Los Angeles.
He’s meeting with the Silicon Valley and Hollywood elite, including an event Sunday night in Atherton, California, at the home of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
The expected haul from all seven events: $4 million or more.
In addition to the fundraising, Obama scheduled a town hall-style event Monday in California’s Silicon Valley, hosted by the social networking company LinkedIn. The trip ends Tuesday with a speech to supporters in Denver, where he accepted the Democratic nomination three years ago.
Obama was pushing throughout for his job proposal, which combines tax cuts, unemployment benefits and public works spending. The bill faces a hostile reception on Capitol Hill, particularly because Obama wants to pay for it with tax increases on wealthy Americans and corporations opposed by Republicans.
A top aide, David Plouffe, said the White House expects a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate in October. “I think it’s got a very good chance” of passing, despite reservations even from some in the president’s own party, he told ABC television’s “This Week.”
If he can’t persuade Congress to pass the bill, Obama has said he wants to make sure the public knows who’s standing in the way.
Jobs are a major concern in California, where unemployment stands at 12.1 percent, highest of any state except Nevada.
Mark DiCamillo, director of California’s Field Poll, said that’s contributed to a softening of support for Obama among Democratic and independent voters. Obama’s job approval rating dropped to 46 percent among Californians in a Field Poll this month. Among Democrats it was 69 percent, but that was down 10 percentage points from June.
“Californians voted for him by 24 points in 2008 and the Democrats and nonpartisans were the backbone of his support and he’s losing some of that now,” DiCamillo said. “I think there’s a lot of frustration in California about Washington. … They’re looking for Obama to do something.”
The summer’s nasty debate over raising the government’s borrowing limit turned off voters. Many liberals bemoaned the deal that cleared the way for a higher debt ceiling, with Obama agreeing to Republican demands for steep budget cuts without new taxes.
But Democratic supporters are heartened by the jobs plan and Obama’s insistence that Congress must raise taxes to pay for it. Now they’re hoping that the confrontational Obama they’re seeing now is the same one they’ll see through the 2012 campaign.
“We wish that his fighting spirit had been there a few months ago, but it’s here now,” said Rick Jacobs, head of the Courage Campaign, a progressive online organizing network in California.