By Bernie Becker - 05/24/12 10:27 PM EDT
President Obama’s campaign manager huddled with Democratic senators on Thursday to brief them on the campaign’s grassroots strategy, according to lawmakers in attendance.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, a former top aide to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said he walked the lawmakers through what the campaign was doing on the ground, and senators said the meeting did not spend much time on other hot-button issues — like the private-equity experience of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
The subject is sensitive with some Democrats because they could be viewed as critiques of private equity, a source of campaign contributions for both Obama and congressional Democrats. Obama has said his criticism is that Romney has learned the wrong lessons from his background and his ads are not an attack on the private-equity sector.
Tensions also exist between congressional Democrats and Obama over the degree to which Obama will raise funds for Democrats. Obama has only signed on to do one fundraising event for each of the House and Senate Democrats’ campaign committees. In some swing states, Obama and congressional Democrats are sharing resources.
Senate Democrats face a difficult political background to retain the Senate; they are defending 23 seats and Republicans are defending only 10.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said Messina outlined how the Obama campaign could help Senate Democrats this fall, but declined to discuss the specifics of what the campaign manager said.
“Of course,” Begich said when asked if the topic of campaign assistance came up. “But do you think I can say that?”
Messina said the Democratic lawmakers understood that the Obama campaign was facing free-spending outside groups as the president sought a second term and suggested that the Obama team’s success would trickle down to the congressional level.
“They understand that we’re building the best grassroots campaign in modern American political history, and that’ll help all Democrats up and down the ticket,” Messina said.
The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee has so far been able to outraise the Romney team and the Republican National Committee.
But Democratic-aligned super-PACs have been outmatched by their GOP counterparts so far, and Obama this year started encouraging his allies to help outside groups supporting him.
“We have to battle that,” Messina said after the Senate Democratic lunch. “We’ve got several super-PACs currently spending unprecedented amounts of money against us. And that’s the situation.”
Democratic senators gave few details about the meeting but said it was a wide-ranging talk that covered how the campaign stood in a variety of states.
"It is always interesting to listen to folks who have to analyze the electorate and be prepared for a campaign,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), who’s running for reelection this year. "It was really just a report on where he sees things right now."
“It was a positive report on the campaign and what’s going on,” Klobuchar said. “It was more about different states and what they were doing on the ground.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said there were mutual expressions of support during the meeting. “There was a declaration of brotherhood there,” Lautenberg said. “You know, what happens here happens there.”
Begich said the lunch discussion delved into the campaign’s message, including how to lay out efforts from the Obama administration and Congress to buck up the auto and housing industry.
“You look at all the data, and that’s clearly what it’s saying. And I think that is the message. We have moved the economy from where it was three-and-a-half years ago, which was miserable, to a better shape – while we still’ve got a road to go here.”
Casey also said the plan did seem to be for the Obama re-election team to invest heavily in a grassroots campaign, with those efforts than trickling down to help downballot candidates in individual states.
“I think it’ll impact different states in different ways,” he said. “But they seem to have invested a lot. And that should be good for everybody.”
— Ben Geman and Jeremy Herb contributed to this story.
This story was posted at 3:38 p.m. and updated at 7:27 p.m.