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Obama warns Democratic donors against 'sulking and sitting back' in midterms

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By Nia-Malika Henderson
Wednesday, October 6, 2010; 9:51 PM

CRESSKILL, N.J. - President Obama returned Wednesday night to his get-off-your-duffs message, warning Democrats at a low-key million-dollar fundraising dinner against "sulking and sitting back."

"One of the strengths of Democrats is that we don't march lockstep. We like to have internal arguments and we're very self-critical. We tend to look at the glass as half-empty. And that makes us better," he said to a dining room filled with donors. "But that's also a weakness, particularly four weeks before an election."

Fifty people paid $15,200 per person to hear Obama in the suburban New York home of Michael and Jackie Kempner, raising money for the Democratic National Committee.

Borrowing a line from Vice President Biden, Obama said that he shouldn't be compared to the Almighty but to the alternative. He also warned of gridlock in Washington, should his party lose majorities in both houses of Congress.

"Unless we are able to maintain Democrats in the House and Senate, then we're going to be stalled for two years or four years, and we're going to start going backwards," he said.

The prospects for Democrats in next month's elections seem to have improved, as voters have focused on the races and candidates have ramped up aggressive ad campaigns. The White House would also credit Obama's increased visibility in venues large and small.

Yet as the president's time on the stump has increased, so has discussion within the party about whether criticizing the base, as Obama and other top Democrats have done, is effective.

Biden said last week that "our base constituency [should] stop whining," and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) said this week that liberals unimpressed by Obama's tenure need to "get over it."

The latter remark sent Democratic strategist Donna Brazile to her Twitter account Tuesday to criticize Rendell.

"These attacks are becoming a nuisance. Stop it," she tweeted, adding, "I consider myself a fiscally sane progressive, but the attacks on 'Liberals' or the 'professional left' will not turn out the vote."

Obama was joined Wednesday in his mission to motivate steadfast Democrats by his wife, Michelle, who took part in a conference call with Organizing For America, the DNC's grassroots arm. Michelle Obama recalled the fervor of her husband's presidential campaign, and she told listeners on the call to get "fired up."

"I would urge all of you out there as you're knocking on doors to remind people that change is difficult and we are just beginning to see the results of our work," she said. "So don't stay home. Don't let frustration keep you from voting."

President Obama returned to the White House after Wednesday's dinner, but he will be back on the road Thursday. He will stump for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) in Bowie, then travel to Chicago to raise money for Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias. On Sunday he will head to Philadelphia, where in 2008 he drew a crowd of 35,000, one of his largest.


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