ST. LOUIS (AP) -- President Barack Obama drew a large crowd and landed big bucks for Democrats during a St. Louis fundraiser Wednesday and that could be a boost for U.S. Senate candidate Robin Carnahan -- even though she didn't attend.
Several hundred people attended a $2,400-per-guest cocktail reception and presidential dinner at a downtown hotel, with premier seating going to couples who raised $50,000. About 800 people secured spots for a $25 donation to a "grassroots reception" that organizers said also sold out.
The first cut of proceeds will go to Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was an early supporter of Obama's candidacy and is up for re-election in 2012. But the remaining funds go to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is likely to boost Carnahan's campaign.
Carnahan, who is Missouri's secretary of state, is the leading candidate for Democrats hoping to pick up the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. The GOP's leading candidate is U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt.
Carnahan presents herself as a Washington outsider in contrast to Blunt, whose campaign has attempted to paint Carnahan as tied to Obama.
"A lot of the money from the fundraiser will go to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which obviously is intended to benefit Robin Carnahan," McCaskill said. "They're going to get a huge chunk of money. We're going to raise a lot of money and they're going to get a huge chunk of it."
Carnahan's office said she was in Washington for state government business Wednesday to encourage financial reforms. A campaign spokesman said Carnahan was working to end the "stranglehold that Wall Street has on Washington insiders like Congressman Blunt."
Blunt's campaign said Carnahan has supported the president's policies and, even by not attending the Wednesday fundraiser, she "can't hide from her rubber-stamp support of Barack Obama."
A White House spokesman said Carnahan's trip to Washington was scheduled before Obama decided to come to Missouri and that her campaign has asked Obama to appear with her at an event soon.
The president's visit attracted plenty of detractors and protests in a state that he narrowly lost to Republican John McCain in 2008. There were protests outside the fundraiser, while critics of the president's health care proposals rallied in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles.
David Kimball, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said a potential side effect of Carnahan not attending the fundraiser is to develop some space from Obama. Kimball said Missouri leans toward the GOP.
The fundraiser had a campaign feel with speeches from Gov. Jay Nixon and St. Louis-area leaders praising McCaskill, predicting success for Carnahan in November and chants of Obama's campaign slogan of "Yes we can."
Obama used his remarks to decry the politics of Washington. He said too many lawmakers were hooked to polls as if they were medical monitors and defended his efforts to overhaul health care. The president said that despite "gridlock" and "shenanigans," his administration has gotten things done and pledged to pass health care changes.
"If the goal was just to drive up poll numbers -- I've got really good polls -- we knew that what we were going to do was unpopular," Obama said.
Democrats said they came because they wanted to hear the president's plan for health care and donated money to help on Election Day.
Elias Panopoulos, 37, a commercial real estate broker from Olivette, acknowledged that Obama had a challenge in winning over Missouri voters. But he said Missouri Democrats needed to follow Obama's lead.
"I think we all need to stand behind this president as Democrats," Panopoulos said. "I think having a unified force is going to help everybody."
An Associated Press-GfK Poll released Tuesday found that approval for Congress has dropped to 22 percent -- the lowest point in Obama's presidency. The president's job-performance standing held fairly steady at 53 percent.
Before the fundraiser, Obama's made his pitch on overhauling health care during a speech at a high school in St. Charles. Health care legislation has ignited backlash from Republicans and tea party supporters, and highlights one of the problems facing Democratic candidates in November.
More than 2,000 people came to the Republican rally several hours before Obama's speech and cheered while state and federal elected officials condemned the health care bill as unfair and too costly.
U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, in whose district Obama spoke, appeared by video conference along with GOP congressmen from several states.
"It is a clear and present danger to America," Akin said. "It is a threat to our nation -- a threat from within and a danger from Washington, D.C."
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