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Barack Obama returns to South Florida on Monday for Democratic fundraising

Hoping to retain Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, President Barack Obama returns Monday for his third Miami-area fundraiser of the year — this time to benefit House races, including an increasingly competitive South Florida contest.

The reception and dinner at the Coral Gables home of retired Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Ron Klein, whose tea party-backed challenger, Allen West, is nearly matching him dollar-for-dollar. The pair squared off in a debate Sunday.

The visit comes just 22 days before the November election that could give Republicans control of the House and Senate, and Obama has spent the past week warning Democrats at a string of fundraisers and rallies that a Republican sweep could imperil his agenda. The Coral Gables event comes on the heels of a rally Sunday in Philadelphia.

“We’re not finished unless we lose sight of that long game and we start sulking and sitting back and not doing everything we need to do in terms of making sure that our folks turn out,” Obama told Democratic donors Wednesday at a New Jersey fundraiser.

GOP goals

Republicans are gunning to pick up at least 39 Democratic seats to claim a 218-vote House majority and have energetically targeted four Democratic-held districts in Florida, including Klein’s seat. In 2006, Klein won by ousting veteran Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw.

Despite sagging poll numbers that have some candidates keeping their distance, Democrats say Obama remains a formidable force for firing up the base and raising money, an important factor in a year when independent groups are pouring millions into campaigns, particularly on the Republican side. The groups, many of which aren’t required to disclose their donors, include the WeLoveUSA political action committee, which has run billboards targeting Klein.

No estimate was available for the Monday fundraiser, but Obama’s last fundraiser in Miami in August raised an estimated $700,000 for the Florida Democratic Party. In April, he raised $2.5 million for the Democratic National Committee at Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s house in Miami Beach. Picking up the pace as the election approaches, he headlined four DNC fundraisers in September, helping the party raise $16 million — its best monthly haul.

Tickets for the Coral Gables event are $17,600 per couple for dinner and a photo with the president, $5,000 per person for the dinner or $1,000 per person for the reception. The first $2,400 of each contribution will go to Klein; the next $30,400 will be designated to the DCCC and donors can earmark contributions for candidates.

Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek is expected to attend; Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink, whose opponent has sought to tie her to Obama, will not be there. Sink, who distanced herself from Obama at the August event, has a “full schedule” in Tampa on Monday, a spokeswoman said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been listed as a host for the event, but is not expected to attend.

“We’re just spreading out,” said Broward Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the DCCC’s efforts to keep incumbents in their seats. “We’ve got the president; we probably need the speaker somewhere else.”

Mourning has been an enthusiastic Obama supporter: He contributed to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and attended the inauguration and a State of the Union address. In August, he played a game of pickup basketball with Obama and a dream team of college and pro basketball players.

West ad

Klein’s opponent is also looking to benefit from the presidential visit. West has launched an online fundraiser, asking donors to “drop an O-bomb in honor of Obama.” He’s also up with a 30-second television spot, “Welcome,” in which he criticizes Klein and Obama for treating South Florida as a money machine.

“Welcome to South Florida, Mr. President,” West says in the ad. “You and Ron Klein should leave that closed-door, high roller fundraiser and drive by our shuttered businesses and foreclosed homes. I’ll go anywhere you wish to debate your failed big-government policies … ”

Melissa Silverman, a spokeswoman for Klein, noted the congressman has disagreed with Obama on several issues. The congressman is among nearly 40 Democrats backing an extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts; Obama supports extending tax cuts for all but the richest.

“When [Klein] agrees with the president he will say so and when he disagrees with him he’ll be very clear about that, too,” Silverman said.

Democrats see opportunity in another South Florida district: the open seat battle between Democrat Joe Garcia and Republican David Rivera for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s former seat in South Florida. Republicans criticized Garcia for planning to attend Monday’s event.

Elsewhere in Florida, Democrats find themselves defending one long-held seat and two districts that the party took from Republicans in 2008.

North Florida Democrat Allen Boyd is facing a significant challenge — his first since he was elected in 1996 — from businessman Steve Southerland.

And Orlando-area Democratic Reps. Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson — who defeated Reps. Tom Feeney and Ric Keller, respectively — are locked in tight races. The DCCC last week reduced spending in Kosmas’ district and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report on Friday shifted the rating in both contests from “toss up” to “leaning Republican.”


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