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Obama launches fund-raising blitz to help Democrats in Congress

U.S. President Barack Obama announces his administration's BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative
U.S. President Barack Obama announces his administration's BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) initiative

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will launch a fund-raising drive for the 2014 U.S. mid-term elections on Wednesday with addresses to deep-pocketed donors in California, hoping the Democratic Party can defy the odds and gain congressional seats in the polls.

The party in power in the White House usually loses seats in election years in which the presidency is not up for grabs. This means Democrats have their work cut out for them in trying to win a majority in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and add to their majority in the Senate.

"An off-year is always tough for the party in power," said Democratic strategist Bud Jackson. "But never say never, and I think it's possible that you could swing some seats. At the very least you make the attempted grab."

The president has an interest in making the effort, because without a significant change in the make-up of Congress, he faces possible paralysis for many of the initiatives laid out in his inaugural address and State of the Union speech.

His second term, won decisively in the election last November over Republican Mitt Romney, has opened with a repeat of the partisan tensions that marked his first term and with an unrelenting stalemate over taxes and spending.

A bid to tighten gun regulations, which Obama will address at a stop in Denver on Wednesday, is in danger as pro-gun groups pressure lawmakers who for decades have been reluctant to take on the powerful gun lobby. Only an immigration overhaul looks promising as Republicans smarting over Hispanic vote losses in 2012 need a victory on it as much as Obama does.

This does not mean Obama is abandoning his priorities until after the mid-terms. His team in general sees the need for action as soon as possible before the country's attention turns to the 2014 and 2016 elections.

OBAMA MAY TEMPER MESSAGE

As a result, Obama may offer a more restrained message when he speaks at fund-raising events in San Francisco, talking up his party's agenda without antagonizing political opponents.

Some Republican senators told Obama when he visited Capitol Hill in March that it did not help their fiscal negotiations with him when he traveled around the country criticizing them.

Obama aides said Obama can both support his own party's campaign apparatus while still seeking compromise with Republicans.

"There's plenty of work to do here in Washington D.C. before we turn our attention to the midterm elections," said White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest.

Obama's San Francisco stop will kick off 14 events he intends to stage this year to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, its Senate counterpart or the Democratic National Committee. The party is still trying to pay off its debts from the last election.

In San Francisco, Obama has two evening events planned to help House Democratic campaigns. California Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi, the top House Democrat who was dethroned as speaker in 2010, is expected to attend.

Democrats need to win 17 seats in 2014 to win control of the House.

"The confidence that the president is showing by dedicating his efforts to our efforts is a shot in the arm for House Democrats," said Jesse Ferguson, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The first event - a cocktail reception priced at $5,000 a person - is at the home of billionaire former asset manager Tom Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor. After that, a $32,500-per-person dinner will be held at the home of billionaires Ann and Gordon Getty.

The next day Obama will attend two DNC fundraisers.

Obama's trip is all the more important because of the need to pay off debt hanging over party organizations since the 2012 election. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee owed $10.8 million as of the end of February, according to Federal Election Committee disclosure forms, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee owed $15 million.

Republicans note that Obama's electoral sway is not so powerful when his name is not on the ballot. Democrats lost 63 seats and control of the House in 2010 midterms, as well as six Senate seats.

"There's something to his appeal when he's on the ballot. I'm not sure they can deliver the same vote when he's not," said Republican strategist Charlie Black.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and David Brunnstrom)

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