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Presidential campaigns look to Maryland for money

Obama attends fundraising events in Owings Mills, Inner Harbor

By John Fritze, The Baltimore Sun

8:43 PM EDT, June 12, 2012

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President Barack Obama swung through Baltimore on Tuesday for a trio of fundraisers intended to energize the deep-pocketed donors his campaign will need to compete amid the onslaught of money flowing into this year's presidential election.

At a small gathering of wealthy contributors in Owings Mills and a separate event that drew about 600 people to the Hyatt Regency at the Inner Harbor, Obama focused his remarks on the economic recovery while taking jabs at challenger Mitt Romney — at one point suggesting the Republican's campaign message is so thin it could be summed up in a tweet.

"The good news is that the American people generally agree with our vision," Obama told about 100 supporters gathered at the home of Josh Fidler, a Baltimore County developer and longtime Democratic donor. "The challenge is because folks are still hurting right now, the other side feels that it's enough for them to just sit back and say, 'Things aren't as good as they should be and it's Obama's fault.'"

Maryland doesn't have the political clout of neighboring swing states Virginia or Pennsylvania — voters here have reliably selected Democratic candidates for president since 1992. But Obama's fundraising in Baltimore and an event in Linthicum that featured Romney's wife, Ann, underscore that the state has an important role to play in the race for campaign contributions.

The Obama fundraisers were expected to bring in more than $1.5 million. Turnout for the Romney event, Tuesday evening at the BWI Airport Marriott, was less clear because it was not open to reporters. A Baltimore Sun reporter in the hotel's lobby was escorted out of the building by security.

Maryland is ranked 11th in the nation for political contributions to presidential candidates in this election, including $3.7 million to Obama and $1.5 million to Romney, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The ranking is notable because Maryland is 19th among states in population. Candidates have plucked the bulk of their money from the Washington suburbs and the Baltimore region.

Sen. Ben Cardin, who attended the Obama fundraisers, predicted that the president's presence would fire up volunteers in Maryland, who will be staffing phone banks to reach out to voters in battleground states this year. But the Maryland Democrat noted that the state is also a key source of cash for federal candidates, including Obama.

"Maryland is a state that understands the importance of a national strategy, and we know that we are a donor state — that there will be much more money coming out of Maryland than coming in," Cardin said. "We have a pretty sophisticated donor base that understands the importance of the presidency and the congressional delegation."

Marine One landed at the McDonogh School in Baltimore County shortly after noon Tuesday in light rain. As the presidential motorcade zipped through the intersection of Reisterstown Road and Greenspring Valley Road several dozen people stood in the street snapping pictures on cell phones and waving. The route to the Fidlers' home was otherwise empty.

About 100 people attended the first fundraiser, which cost between $10,000 and $50,000 apiece. Most of the state's Democratic leaders, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Cardin and Rep. John Sabanes — who has spent his last several months emphasizing small, grass-roots campaign contributions — attended the event. The Fidlers, who run an Owings Mills company called Chesapeake Realty Partners, are bountiful donors to federal Democratic candidates, personally contributing nearly $200,000 since 2008.

During a 10-minute address to the group, Obama tried to draw contrasts between a second Obama term and a potential Romney administration.

"We've been able to right the ship a little bit," Obama said. "We're moving in the right direction, but this election in many ways is going to be more consequential than 2008, because for all the changes that we've been able to achieve ... we're going to need another term to make sure that we consolidate these gains and we lock in the kind of progress that we need to ensure that America's middle class is growing again."

He argued that Romney's campaign could be boiled down to a simple message — blame Obama. "You can pretty much put their campaign on a tweet," he said, "and have some characters to spare."

Republicans reacted to that remark as well as the president's underlying message on the economy.

"After promising to cut the deficit in half and get the national debt under control, President Obama has done precisely the opposite," Romney campaign spokesman Allie Brandenburger said in a statement. "President Obama saying he's been fiscally responsible is like saying that declining job growth and record-level unemployment shows we're doing fine."

State Republicans also criticized the visit as they sought to link Obama and O'Malley, suggesting both are responsible for the struggling economy. "They just don't seem to understand basic economics," said Louis M. Pope, Maryland's national GOP committeeman and state co-chair of the Romney campaign.

Obama also attended two fundraisers at the Hyatt Regency at the Inner Harbor. The first — which was closed to reporters — was described by a Democratic official as a roundtable with roughly 15 participants. Tickets cost $40,000. He then addressed a much larger crowd that stood in a conference room at the Hyatt. Tickets for that event started at $250.

The president described Romney as a patriotic American who "should be proud of the personal success he achieved as the head of a large financial firm." But, Obama said, "I think he has drawn the wrong lessons from these experiences. He seems to believe that if CEOs and wealthy investors like him are doing well, the rest of us automatically do well."

"No way," an audience member shouted.

The president's fundraisers in Maryland came days after the campaigns disclosed Romney outpaced Obama's fundraising in May, $76.8 million to $60 million. That doesn't include cash that is being spent by loosely regulated third-party groups, where Republicans also hold an advantage.

Obama's day did not end in Maryland. He flew out of Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport for additional fundraisers in Philadelphia.

"I think it was clear and crisp and energizing," Mikulski said of the president's second address. "Baltimore gave the president a rousing welcome."

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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