NEW YORK — Melding 2014 needs with 2016 hopes, President Barack Obama is teaming up with an ally and fundraiser of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to help the Democratic Party erase a worrisome debt.
Obama was in New York Tuesday to raise money for the Democratic National Committee at a high-dollar fundraiser at the home of Alan Patricof, the founder of a New York venture capital fund. Patricof is a longtime Clinton friend and fundraiser for her Senate and presidential campaigns, and the event aligns the Obama and Clinton orbits as the former first lady considers a White House bid in 2016.
It also illustrates the overlapping fundraising draw that Obama and Clinton represent at a crucial time for the cash-strapped DNC. And it helps bridge some internal party tensions between donors who are merely interested in presidential politics and the Democrats' needs during this year's midterm elections.
Patricof wrote in a February email to contributors that he and his wife, Susan, had been "relatively quiet on the political front" following Clinton's loss to Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary.
"The most effective way that we all can be helpful to Hillary, and the Democratic Party in general, is to make sure that the Democratic National Committee is as strong as possible if Hillary should decide to run in 2016 and, for that matter, if any other good candidate appears on the scene if she decides not to be in the race," Patricof wrote in the email, first reported by Politico.
He called the fundraiser with Obama a "fireside chat" that would include 13 couples — 26 people — paying up to $32,500 per person. Obama's conversation with donors will be private. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama's talk will not be public because he is not making formal remarks.
The DNC has been trying to pare millions of dollars in debt accumulated during Obama's re-election campaign; through the end of January the DNC owed more than $15 million.
Obama also made a brief stop to browse the sweaters at a midtown Gap store to show support for the chain's decision to increase wages for U.S. employees to a minimum of $10 an hour by next year. Obama wants Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10, but lawmakers have resisted.
Obama will make public remarks later Tuesday at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser at the home of Hamilton "Tony" James, an Obama fundraiser and president of Blackstone, the multinational private equity firm. Tickets are $32,400. Among those expected to attend are senatorial campaign chairman Michael Bennet, a senator from Colorado, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Obama has been warning in his fundraising pitches that Democrats run the risk of losing control of the Senate if the party doesn't have the resources to motivate voters this November.
The president's cash-raising comes amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine and a fast-approaching health care sign-up deadline that have been preoccupying the White House. It also comes as Obama is struggling with tepid approval ratings. Recent Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research polls place his job approval at 45 percent and 43 percent respectively. Over the past year, Obama's approval ratings as measured by Gallup have fluctuated between a high of 51 percent last April and 39 percent in January.
If Clinton runs and wins the party's nomination in 2016, the DNC would serve as a platform of continuity between the Obama White House and a future Clinton campaign. The DNC already has plenty of Clinton connections. Committee members include Harold Ickes and Minyon Moore, both longtime advisers to Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. One of its top fundraisers is Michael Kempner, a New Jersey public relations executive who served as co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 national finance committee and was a top fundraiser for Obama in 2012.
For many Clinton backers, the DNC is a natural place to offer help while the former New York senator mulls her future.
"It's a clear signal that the Clinton faction of the party is seeking to help the president any way possible," said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist who advised Bill Clinton's campaigns. "Money is still the mother's milk of American politics."
The fundraiser is the latest in a series of steps that have helped bring together the Obama and Clinton camps after the bitterness of the 2008 primary fight.
A Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, recently brought Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, on board to lead the group. It made clear that it will back Clinton if she seeks the nomination. The super PAC's executive director is Buffy Wicks, a former top Obama campaign staffer.
Ready for Hillary, a grassroots group aiming to lay the groundwork for a Clinton campaign, is advised by former Obama campaign aides Jeremy Bird and Mitch Stewart.