The clunky rollout of President Obama's signature health care law has taken a toll on the president. But so far it has done nothing to dampen his ability to raise campaign cash.
The Obamacare debacle has dragged the president's public approval ratings down to all-time lows, hitting 39 percent in one recent poll. And it's given his Republican foes more ammunition to make the case that they had been right all along about the massive new entitlement program.
Even some of Obama's fellow Democrats have tried to distance themselves from his unpopular health care law, taking up Republican calls for changes in the law or a delay of its implementation after millions had trouble signing up and many more were confronted with canceled insurance policies or higher premiums or both. At least one Democrat, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, called for a federal investigation into the botched rollout.
But the president continues his run of fundraisers for the party ahead of the 2014 mid-term congressional elections and, as he demonstrated at a recent private gathering in Dallas, he's even found a way to turn the touchy political subject into a punchy laugh line in his fundraising speeches.
“Now, I think it’s fair to say that right now I am not happy with some IT people in Washington,” Obama told an intimate crowd of high-dollar Democratic donors, who responded with laughter.
“The website has not functioned," Obama admitted. "Nobody is angrier than I am about it. And we’ve got to make sure that we get it fixed, and we’re going to get it fixed by the end of this month.”
He then pivoted back to more political messages more popular with his supporters — calling for immigration reform and hitting Republicans for a 16-day government shutdown.
Checkbooks still popped open.
The president was in Dallas to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose chief mission is to protect Democratic incumbents and elect new ones to boost the party’s Senate majority. It was Obama's fourth fundraiser of the year for the senatorial committee alone, and a fifth was already planned for Philadelphia.
The Democratic campaign committees for which the president is raising money won't comment on how much he's been able to attract on their behalf. But they said the cash has continued to flow even as the president battled winnowing approval ratings amid high-profile political and policy challenges.
The Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog group, reported that the Democratic Party has so far raised $250 million for the 2014 campaigns while the Republican Party raised $171 million.
The president is not the only one lending his political celebrity to Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden, who may be weighing a presidential run of his own for 2016, has appeared at a handful of fundraisers this year. First lady Michelle Obama also is helping, raising $1 million per appearance, authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin noted in their new book, Double Down: Game Change 2012.
The Democratic campaign committees at every level have continued to out-raise their Republican counterparts. The Democratic National Committee posted its best overall fundraising for the year in September, and its best online fundraising ever in September and October.
Beyond the president's fundraising influence, many Democrats credit congressional Republicans for creating a fundraising bonanza when they pressed for the defunding of Obamacare to the point that it shut down the government and threatened to put the nation's credit at risk. That's been particularly effective for Senate Democrats, who use that crisis to argue that the Senate's Democratic majority is a critical firewall to preventing a Republican takeover of both chambers of Congress.
“There’s a clear choice,” said Michael Czin, a DNC spokesman. “There’s a clear area of contrast with Republicans right now, and you’re able to see the alternative very clearly.”
Those Republicans are often invoked at Democratic fundraisers, and the man at the forefront of the defunding effort, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, might be raising as much for the opposing team as he is for his own.
But the president is doing his part, too. In addition to his fundraisers for the DSCC and a few for its House counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Obama's dance card is full of obligations for the DNC. By the end of November, the president will have appeared at 21 fundraising events across the country to benefit the committee, including four yet to be held.
Independent of the president’s outreach to big-ticket donors, Democrats say their overall fundraising has not stalled in light of the health care law’s clunky rollout — to the contrary, they say, the cash flowing into party coffers is more than they expected.
“Folks are motivated, they want it to work,” Czin said. “Republicans are drawing a contrast of what’s at stake.”