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In speech, Obama seeks to unify Democrats for 2014

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 3:42 p.m.CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — Setting the tone for the election year, President Barack Obama is urging Democrats to coalesce behind a populist economic message that his party has concluded offers the best prospects for fending off Republicans in November.

Obama was to rally the party faithful Friday at a Democratic National Committee meeting just blocks from the White House. Turning decidedly partisan despite his ongoing commitment to find common ground with the GOP, Obama will seek to define the 2014 midterms as a choice between a Republican vision of "opportunity for a few" and a Democratic vision of "opportunity for all."

"The Republican Party can keep telling the country what they're against — whether it's the Affordable Care Act, or the minimum wage, or equal pay laws, or commonsense immigration reform or the very existence of climate change. But Democrats will keep telling America what we're for — from giving America a raise to getting America covered," Obama will say, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the White House.

In an effort to show the president was fully committed to bolstering his party's cause, the White House said Obama was actively looking for ways to help.

Obama has committed to hold nearly three dozen fundraisers for Democratic political committees by the middle of 2014 — including an eye-popping 18 events for the DNC, whose millions of dollars of lingering debt more than a year after the last presidential election has Democrats fretting.

In a twist from previous midterms, Obama will even headline fundraisers for super PACs, which he once disparaged but has more recently embraced, arguing Democrats mustn't be steamrolled by GOP outside groups even if the flood of largely unregulated donations leaves a bitter taste for those who hunger for cleaner American elections.

And as Democratic incumbents seek to position themselves for the election, Obama's aides are working with Democratic leaders in the Senate and House to coordinate votes that will bolster the themes they'll be pressing during the campaign, said a White House official, who demanded anonymity to discuss internal Democratic deliberations. Obama also plans to do what he can to boost Democratic turnout, while his campaign's vaunted voter data and technology will be made available to all 2014 candidates, the official said.

At the same time, Obama will seek to quell the notion that the encroaching election will make progress on his policy agenda impossible for the rest of the year. After all, 2014 offers Obama potentially the last opportunity to secure legislative achievements before attention turns to the 2016 presidential election and Obama's future successor.

"Obviously, this is an election year. But an election that's eight months away shouldn't stop us from making progress right now," Obama will say, echoing his State of the Union refrain that he'll work with Congress wherever possible but will act unilaterally to expand economic opportunity however he can.

In his remarks, Obama was also to offer Democrats a preview of the budget he plans to send to Congress next week. To the delight of Democrats, Obama has dropped a proposed reduction in annual increases to federal benefit programs that was in last year's budget, wary of providing fodder for Republicans to argue that Obama and Democrats want to make life harder for seniors.

At the same time, Obama will make a renewed push for new spending that he says can spur new jobs in manufacturing, energy and infrastructure.

"And we'll pay for every dime of it by cutting unnecessary spending and closing wasteful tax loopholes," Obama will say.

With an eye toward avoiding the type of intraparty squabbles that have caused problems for Republicans, Democrats from the White House and Congress on down appear to have united behind "expanding economic opportunity" as their driving mantra for the midterms. A memo from Obama pollster Joel Benenson and obtained by the AP makes the case that Democrats can gain an advantage by casting Republicans as out of touch with all but the wealthiest Americans and obsessed with repealing Obama's health care law that, despite its unpopularity, many Americans believe shouldn't be repealed.

But Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Americans are still waiting for the opportunity and jobs that Obama keeps talking about. He pointed to Obama's proposed minimum wage hike and health care law as examples of policies that do nothing to help Americans who are out of work.

"Maybe it's time to give up on the speeches that include a lot of promises but not a lot of action," Priebus said.

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Follow Josh Lederman on Twitter: http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

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