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August 9th, 2010
Obama Comes to Texas

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/080910dnmetobamavisit.28139ea.htmlOnly the elite will be enjoying the President's afternoon jaunt to the Lone Star state.  People will be paying thousands for a chance to dine in the same room as him, while politicians wouldn't even take money to have him next to them while out campaigning.

True, Texas has mainly provided a thorn in Barack Obama's side. The governor taunts him. The senators defy him. He lost the state by nearly 1 million votes in 2008.

When the president lands today to raise campaign cash in Austin and Dallas, even the Democratic nominee for governor will make himself scarce.

Yet many Texas Democrats are thrilled. Some are encouraging Obama to take the party's Bush-bashing theme to a new level, by pressing the case against the former president's policies on his home turf. Others are simply grateful for the rare attention, even though most of the money Obama raises will help out-of-state candidates.

But the political realities for Texas Democrats are stark – in part because backlash against Obama and his policies has fueled Republican energy. Democrats had hoped for years that by 2010, demographic shifts would help them regain a statewide office or reclaim the state House, but both goals remain major challenges.

Air Force One is scheduled to touch down in Austin around noon. He is to arrive in Dallas around 3:30 p.m. and depart by 6:35 p.m.

Traveling with Obama is his administration's senior Texan, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk – a former Dallas mayor and the Democrats' 2002 Senate nominee.

The president's first order of business will be a brief tarmac meeting in Austin with Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who has called him a socialist, criticized his spending policies, and sued to overturn the new health care law. They'll talk about border security.

Then Obama will head to the Four Seasons, to headline a Democratic National Committee luncheon expected to raise $750,000 to $1 million. Tickets start at $5,000 per couple.

The Texas party will get $250,000 of the take – a somewhat unusual arrangement. For years, Texas Democrats have grumbled that national party officials swoop in, woo donors, and leave without doing much in return.

"The president's just using Texas for an ATM machine," said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who heads the Republicans' Senate campaign push nationally. "People need to recognize it for what it is."

After an event focused on higher education at the University of Texas at Austin, Obama will fly to Dallas for a dinner at the Highland Park home of plaintiffs' lawyer Russell Budd.

That's just a few miles from the Preston Hollow home of his predecessor, whom Obama routinely invokes to warn voters away from Republicans in November.

"They don't have a single idea that's different from George Bush's ideas – not one," Obama said of Republicans last week at an Atlanta fundraiser. "They're betting on amnesia."

Exclusive crowd

If Obama presses the point on Bush's home turf, only a select few will hear it. Dinner tickets range from $10,000 to $100,000.

Whether he does or not, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer defended the line of attack as pivotal this fall, because GOP congressional leaders would reinstitute Bush-era policies if voters let them.

"We're not trying to relitigate the past. We’re trying not to relive it," Pfeiffer said Sunday. "People try to simplify this as 'Obama versus Bush' but it’s much more than that."

The argument may prove a tough sell in Texas. The unemployment rate is lower than the national rate. Obama is less popular and Bush is more popular. Ominously for Democratic image makers, recent national surveys show about as many voters blaming Obama's policies for economic problems, for the first time.

"They're going to try to run against President Bush one more time," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "The Bush administration ended two years ago. We're moving forward, and not living in the past."

Proceeds from the Dallas dinner go to the Democrats' Senate campaign committee, which has collected $2.5 million from Texans this election – less than half the sum Cornyn's side has brought in, a reflection of Democrats' deficit in Texas.

With no Senate contest in Texas this year, donations will help embattled incumbents in California, Arkansas and other states, and donors say they're eager to help protect the party's 59-41 majority.

"We're talking about the future of America. Do we go back to what we saw during the Bush years?" said Dallas lawyer Domingo Garcia, a co-host of the Dallas dinner.

"If he can put Texas into play in 2012, that changes the Electoral College map," Garcia said. "He's planting seeds all over Texas that he hopes to harvest in 2012."

Critics to rally

Local Republicans have organized a demonstration featuring conservative radio host Mark Davis and Katrina Pierson, one of the nation's most visible tea party activists. The state GOP also is staging a rally at the Capitol.

"We're not happy," Pierson said. "We rally against so many policies on a national level, and now we've got the guy who's the center of all the animosity in the country, coming to our town."

And while Democrats haven't captured a statewide office in years, they take heart from rapid Hispanic growth and increasing urbanization.

The presidential attention, he added, puts a spotlight on the failings of Texas Republican leaders in their handling of the state budget and education.

"This anti-incumbency feeling cuts both ways," he said.

Bill White, Perry's Democratic challenger, apparently doesn't view proximity to the president as helpful and will spend the day stumping in Midland, Abilene and Cleburne.

Today, Texas nominees for attorney general and land commissioner will be scarce, though Linda Chavez-Thompson – a vice chairwoman of the national party who is challenging Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – will attend both Obama events in Austin.

Longtime Texas Democratic strategist Matt Angle sees little impact either way, because other than the Bushes, national figures have little influence on Texas elections. Still, he said, the visit offers welcome encouragement to those working to turn Texas into a battleground.

"They're laying down a marker ... showing faith and trust in Texas Democrats," he said.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S TEXAS VISIT BREAKDOWN:

AUSTIN Obama starts his trip with a private fundraiser at a hotel that is expected to raise up to $1 million for the Democratic National Committee, some of which will go to the Texas party. At 2 p.m, he will speak about higher education policy at the University of Texas at Austin. The audience is expected to consist of UT and local community college students.

DALLASObama lands at Love Field after 4 p.m. and will attend a fundraiser at the Highland Park home of plaintiffs' lawyer Russell Budd and his wife, Dorothy. The event raises money for the party's Senate campaign committee. The president leaves about 6:30 p.m. and will not hold a public event in the area.

It's Obama's third time to Texas as president but his first political trip. He celebrated volunteerism with former President George H . W. Bush at Texas A&M, and returned on short notice for a Fort Hood memorial service. His last stop in Dallas, when he was a senator, was the day before the March 2008 primary en route to a rally in Carrollton. He lost the primary to Hillary Rodham Clinton, but thanks to the party's unusual "two-step" system for awarding convention delegates, Obama came out ahead.

 

(DALLAS NEWS) 


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