04/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Jindal Spurns Obama's Jobless Aid as Mayor Pleads 'Help Me Now'

ouisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, cited fiscal responsibility when he turned down about $98 million in unemployment aid that was part of President Barack Obama's $787 billion federal stimulus package.

That doesn't make sense to Clarence Hawkins, the mayor of Bastrop, Louisiana. An International Paper Co. mill closed in November as pulp demand fell worldwide, leaving the town without one of its biggest employers.

By evening, Obama headlined two fundraisers in Washington expected to bring in an estimated $3 million for the Democratic National Committee. The party is struggling to keep financial pace with its Republican counterpart despite coming off a successful election in which Democrats won the White House and expanded power in Congress.

The country's new chief executive has been ramping up his dual role as the Democratic Party's leader in recent days after largely shunning campaigning and fundraising over the past two months as he focused on a country struggling through economic recession and two wars.

During remarks at a high-dollar fundraiser, Obama tied his record to Democrats' hard work on an economic stimulus package. He specifically noted his pending budget proposal, which faces skepticism from some inside his party and hostility from Republicans. Obama made clear that his fellow Democrats should fall in line.

"It's a vision of what the Democratic Party stands for," the president said, citing his budget's plans for health care and education.

Obama has shied from overtly partisan activities since taking office, mindful that engaging in Democratic politics while the country was ailing would leave him vulnerable to criticism and, perhaps, run counter to his call for bipartisanship in Washington.

But, over the past week, Obama activated his grass-roots campaign apparatus, Organizing for America, and its almost 14 million e-mail address list to put pressure on Congress to back his budget proposal. And, now, the party's standard-bearer is jumping with both feet into the game, largely out of necessity.

With the election Tuesday, polls show a tight race between Murphy, a political newcomer and a venture capitalist running in a heavily Republican district against the well-known Jim Tedisco, the GOP leader of the state Assembly. At the same time, the DNC significantly trails the Republican National Committee in fundraising as both parties start raising money for upcoming elections.

Democrats hope to avoid losing the upstate New York seat where Republicans outnumber Democrats by 70,000. It became vacant when New York Gov. David Paterson appointed moderate Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand to serve the remainder of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's U.S. Senate term.

Obama said in the e-mail that Murphy "has the kind of experience and background we desperately need right now in Washington" and asked voters to send him to Congress, "where we'll work together to get our economy moving in the right direction."

"He's created jobs by building and growing small businesses while bringing people together to address difficult challenges," Obama added. "He supports the economic recovery plan we've put in place, and I know we can count on him as an ally for change."

Democrats aren't ruling out top administration officials, perhaps Obama himself, participating in some form of advertisements or phone calls in the coming days. The DNC also sent $10,000 to New York for the homestretch; the RNC has poured $200,000 into the race.

Later Wednesday, Obama headlined his first pair of DNC fundraisers. He's a guaranteed draw, having raised nearly $750 million during his presidential campaign and shattering fundraising records.

He addressed a big-donor audience _ with tickets costing $30,400 per couple _ at the National Women in the Arts Museum before appearing at the Warner Theater, where singer Tony Bennett was to perform. Tickets for that event range from $100 to $250 to $1,000.

Democrats said both events were sold out.

"You are here to support the Democratic National Committee, the political arm of the White House," DNC chairman Tim Kaine told high-dollar guests, who ate dinner and listened to jazz before Obama spoke.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs defended Obama's political fundraising in tough economic times, saying: "We haven't seen politics by either party stop in this period, though I think the president fully understands the situation the American people face."

"It's also safe to assume that the president wants to see a strong party system in this country," Gibbs added.

The party is seeking to fill depleted campaign coffers for special congressional elections and governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey this year, as well as congressional elections in 2010.

Republicans are in healthier financial shape than Democrats.

The DNC raised a relatively paltry $3.2 million in February despite Obama's proven powerhouse fundraising, while the out-of-power RNC brought in $5.1 million. Overall, the DNC reported $8.6 million on hand and $7 million in debt, while the RNC reported $24 million in the bank and no debt.

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