Obama urges AIDS hecklers to protest Republicans

NEW YORK (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, heckled on Wednesday by AIDS activists at a Democratic event, urged them to aim their protests at Republicans, who he warned would cut AIDS funding if they win November 2 congressional elections.

A handful of protesters created enough of disruption in a crowded ballroom at a Manhattan hotel that the president parted briefly from his remarks to address them. Obama spoke at two events that raised $1.4 million for Democratic candidates.

When a woman at the first event shouted a demand for more AIDS funding, Obama told her: “You don’t need to yell. Apparently you’re interested in funding AIDS. ... We have increased AIDS funding at a time when the budget is going down.”

He urged the protesters to make their case at Republican events.

“The people who would take over if we don’t win this election, I promise you they’ll cut AIDS funding,” he said.

The protesters quieted down but held up signs complaining of “broken promises.”

Many opinion polls show Republicans likely to win control of the House of Representatives in the November election and gain Senate seats amid voter anger at Washington over a 9.6 percent jobless rate and a record federal deficit.

Obama arrived in New York to meet world leaders and address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday.

Obama’s message to fellow Democrats, including a dinner that featured movie star couple Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, was that Democrats needed to buck up and focus on winning on November 2.

“The last election was about changing the guard. This election is about guarding the change,” he told them.

Greeted by cheers of “Yes we can,” his signature campaign slogan from 2008, Obama acknowledged that “people are frustrated and so am I” about the struggling U.S. economy.

But he said the policies Democrats had put in place had established a foundation for growth and, his voice rising to a shout, he urged patience.

“Progress took time, progress took sacrifice, progress took faith, but progress came, and it’ll work for us if we work for it and if we fight for it and if we believe in it,” he said.

Obama’s task is motivating Democrats to turn out to vote in November and try to limit electoral losses. A greater number of Republicans in Congress would complicate his legislative agenda next year.

“When I see all the polls, hear all the pundits, here’s what I take away from it,” Obama said. “The single biggest threat to our success is not the other party. It’s us. It’s complacency. It’s apathy. It’s indifference.”

Editing by Peter Cooney