Obama helping Democrats in close Senate, House races

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President Barack Obama and Democratic Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto wave to the crowd during an event at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. He was in Nevada to boost Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and help Democrats in their bid to retake control of the Senate. | Susan Walsh/AP

LOS ANGELES — Entering the last two weeks of the campaign, President Barack Obama is putting more emphasis on helping Democrats in close Senate and House races with a strategy that ties their Republican opponents to Donald Trump — regardless of whether they support the GOP nominee.

With Hillary Clinton leading in the polls, Obama said Monday that Republicans are arguing they need to provide a check on her agenda in Congress. Obama said Democrats need to recognize that would lead to more gridlock.

“It is really important that we push back and defeat this argument that somehow the duly elected president of the United States should simply be blocked from doing anything by the opposition party,” Obama told donors at a fundraiser in San Diego. “They’re not making the argument that they want to work with her to get things done. They are saying we are going to say no to everything.”

About 350 guests contributed up to $2,700 to attend Monday’s fundraiser at a home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hosts contributed $33,400. The money will support Clinton’s campaign and efforts around the country to generate Democratic turnout.

Obama also argued that the country was able to get things done when he enjoyed a Democratic majority in both chambers.

But with Republicans in control of Congress, he said, “The frustration, the anger that we are seeing in our politics is a direct result not of doing too much, but because we don’t seem to just get basic stuff done.”

The San Diego fundraiser was part of a three-day swing through Nevada and California. After that event, Obama flew to Los Angeles to appear on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

Then he attended another fundraiser for Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. About 30 donors paid $100,000 to attend a dinner with Obama at the home of Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former CEO of DreamWorks Animation.

The president’s strategy of focusing more on congressional races was on full display Sunday in two separate events. In Las Vegas, Obama said it was too late for GOP Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada to say he could not support Trump. Heck is seeking the seat now held by five-term Sen. Harry Reid, and a Heck victory would make it much harder for Democrats to gain the majority in the Senate.

Obama pointed to statements in which Heck previously had said he had high hopes that Trump would be president and said he trusted him with the nation’s nuclear code for launching a strike.

“Now, I understand Joe Heck now wishes he never said those things about Donald Trump. But they’re on tape. They’re on the record. And now that Trump’s poll numbers are cratering, suddenly he says, well, no, I’m not supporting him,” Obama said. “Too late. You don’t get credit for that.”

Later, the president singled out GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who once said Obama’s administration was perhaps one of the most corrupt in history.

“This guy has spent all his time simply trying to obstruct, to feed the same sentiments that resulted in Donald Trump becoming their nominee,” Obama said, then noting that somebody had told him “Darrell Issa was Trump before Trump.”

On Monday, Issa said he was disappointed but not surprised by Obama’s comments, arguing that the president “continues to deny accountability for the serious scandals that happened under his watch where Americans died overseas and veterans have died here at home.”

Obama’s zingers at the two GOP candidates come as the president broadens his focus beyond the White House race to include Democratic candidates for governor, Senate and House, including 30 House candidates Obama was expected to endorse.

In an unusual move for a president, Obama is looking even further down the ballot to state legislative races. All told, Obama has or plans to endorse 150 candidates for statehouses across the U.S. before Election Day, according to Democratic officials.

Though state lawmakers don’t vote on federal policies, they play an outsize role in most states in determining the way congressional lines are redrawn every 10 years. Republicans control most statehouses, and Democrats argue districts have been carved in ways that put their U.S. House candidates at a disadvantage.

After leaving office, Obama plans to throw his efforts behind a Democratic campaign led by former Attorney General Eric Holder to make the next round of redistricting, in 2020, less tilted toward Republicans.

For much of his presidency, Democrats griped privately that Obama was less enthusiastic about devoting time and resources toward building up his party than they had wanted him to be. This year, just as he prepares to leave office, he seems to be approaching the task with newfound interest.

On the federal level, Obama has already cut TV ads for 10 U.S. House and Senate candidates, including in states like Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania where Democrats are hoping to oust incumbent GOP senators.

Lederman reported from Washington.

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