SEATTLE (Reuters) - President Barack Obama kicked off a West Coast fundraising tour on Sunday with harsh criticism of his Republicans opponents, accusing them of “ideological pushback” at a time of national crisis.
The newly combative tone of the Democratic president is a strategy to fire up core supporters whose enthusiasm and financial backing helped him capture the White House in 2008 and who he must motivate again in his 2012 re-election bid.
“From the moment that 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,” Obama said at his first stop in Seattle.
Speaking at the home of former Microsoft executive Jon Shirley, Obama said he had hoped “because we were in a crisis, the other side would respond by saying now is the time for all of us to pull together ... That was not the decision they made.”
Republicans won big in 2010 congressional elections by campaigning against his policies, which they blame for driving up the U.S. deficit without providing promised jobs. They have fought Obama all this year to curb federal spending.
A congressional spat over disaster relief funding threatens to shut down the government on September 30 if it is not resolved.
“What makes it worse is some of the Republicans opposing this disaster relief, (it is) their constituents who have been hit harder than anyone,” Obama said.
Obama was greeted enthusiastically as he began to speak, surrounded by art in Shirley’s ultra-modernist home before an intimate crowd of around 65 people paying $35,800 per couple. At his second stop, 1,750 supporters paid to listen to him at the Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle.
Several hundred Democratic activists, frustrated with Obama, held a rally to call for job creation, higher taxes on the wealthy and protection of Social Security and Medicare.
“I voted for him. I walked the streets for him. But now I’m confused,” said Karen Pooley, 48, who is fighting to ward off foreclosure on her two-bedroom home in Seattle.
The president is building an impressive war chest to finance what is shaping up to be a tight and expensive race for the White House next year.
He is cramming in seven fundraisers during the West Coast swing that began in Seattle and descends on Silicon Valley later on Sunday to spend time with the high-tech and venture capital crowd. He hits San Diego and Los Angeles on Monday.
Obama’s approval ratings have been hurt by worry over high unemployment and fears the country faces another recession. His numbers have even sagged somewhat in California, which went for him heavily in the 2008 election.
So far, this has not dented Obama’s ability to raise amounts that dwarf the fundraising of his Republican foes at this point in the election race.
Obama chalked up $86 million in the second quarter on behalf of his own campaign and for the Democratic Party.
That was nearly five times as much as Mitt Romney, the top Republican fundraiser who, together with Texas Governor Rick Perry, is the frontrunner to win their party’s backing to face Obama in November 2012.
Campaigns do not have to release third-quarter fundraising totals until October 15 but the president’s campaign team has announced a more modest third quarter goal of $55 million.
The lower amount partly reflects the impact of Obama being grounded in Washington during July by budget battles, limiting his ability to get out and raise money.
It could also show the pinch of the tough economy over the summer, as stocks slumped out of fear the government would fail to raise the debt limit and default on its obligations.
On Monday, Obama will sample Hollywood glamour at two events in Los Angeles, which feted him during his 2008 run, although some top celebrities have voiced frustration that his presidency has not lived up to their expectations.
Shaking the Californian money tree hard makes sense for the president, who raised $78 million in the state for his 2008 campaign — 10 percent of all his donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.