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New role for president: Fundraiser in chief

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama broke fundraising records during general election
  • He is appearing at two fundraising events for the DNC on Wednesday night
  • DNC trails RNC when it comes to cash on hand
  • DNC Chairman Tim Kaine says "stay tuned," now that he can raise funds
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By Paul Steinhauser and Peter Hamby
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Obama takes his first stab Wednesday night at the role of fundraiser in chief.

President Obama raised lots of money as he campaigned, but how will he do now that the election is over?

President Obama raised lots of money as he campaigned, but how will he do now that the election is over?

The president is the main attraction at two events in the nation's capital for the Democratic National Committee, making for the first fundraising test for Obama since he took over the presidency two months ago.

As a candidate for the White House, Obama, who was then a senator from Illinois, had little trouble raising money: He broke all fundraising records, raking in nearly $750 million during his two-year campaign for the presidency.

The money raised at Wednesday night's two events -- at the National Women in the Arts Museum and the Warner Theater, where singer Tony Bennett is scheduled to perform -- will come in handy as the Democratic National Committee struggles to keep pace with its Republican counterpart.

Democrats won back the White House and increased their majorities in Congress in November's elections, but when it comes to campaign cash, the national party is not having the same kind of success. The DNC raised about $3.3 million last month, while the Republican National Committee raked in more than $5 million.

Thanks to a larger transfer of campaign cash left over from Obama's presidential run, the DNC was able to report $5.4 million in total contributions last month, slightly edging out the RNC. But when it comes to cash on hand -- the amount of money the parties have in the bank -- the DNC's $8.5 million trails the RNC's $24 million.

DNC Chairman Tim Kaine on Tuesday dismissed the committee's disappointing February cash haul, saying that his fundraising efforts were handicapped by a Virginia law that prohibits officials from raising money during the state's legislative session.

"Fundraising stories don't interest me that much," Kaine said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I was unable to raise any money in February, by law."

Kaine, who is DNC chairman while finishing out his term as Virginia's governor, wrapped up work with the state's General Assembly on February 28.

"That is the reason that the numbers aren't going to be what they're going to be in future months," said Kaine, who became DNC chairman in late January.

Kaine said that observers should "stay tuned" now that he's free to solicit donations.

"Historically, the Republican Party has almost always out-raised the Democratic Party, regardless of who sat in the Oval Office. It wasn't until the 2004 cycle that the DNC was able to barely out-raise the RNC. So the fact that Democrats haven't brought in as much this year as the GOP isn't necessarily a huge surprise," said Robert Yoon, the CNN Political Unit's research director.

The president's appearances at the fundraisers come on the same day he spent some political capital, for the first time since taking over the White House, in an effort to get another Democrat elected.

Obama e-mailed New York Democrats endorsing Scott Murphy, the venture capitalist who is running in the special election to fill the seat in New York's 20th Congressional District that was vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand when she was appointed to the U.S. Senate in January.

Murphy's Republican opponent in next Tuesday's election is is New York assemblyman Jim Tedisco. Though the Democratic and Republican campaign committees in the House of Representatives have pumped resources into the race, the president had so far kept his distance.

In fact, the president has largely avoided overtly political events since his inauguration two months ago. Last week, that began to change: He sent a video to millions of his supporters through the e-mail distribution list of Organizing for America, the remnant of his presidential campaign that is now under the umbrella of the DNC.

With Democrats hoping to defend two governorships this November, the party hopes that the president will be able to bring in the big bucks.

"Controlling the White House is still a big plus when it comes to fundraising. In the last midterms, President Bush raised at least $170 million on behalf of Republican candidates and party committees, even while his personal approval ratings were relatively low," Yoon said. "So there's no doubt that President Obama can give the party a huge fundraising boost if he hits the campaign trail and stumps for other Democrats."

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