President Obama sets stage for Democratic political donors to wade into 2016 presidential race

FLORIDA FUNDRAISING: President Barack Obama comes out from the Oval Office prior to his departure from the White House on Wednesday. He traveled to Miami to attend two Democratic National Committee fundraisers before visiting the National Hurricane Center on Thursday
FLORIDA FUNDRAISING: President Barack Obama comes out from the Oval Office prior to his departure from the White House on Wednesday. He traveled to Miami to attend two Democratic National Committee fundraisers before visiting the National Hurricane Center on Thursday Getty Images

In Miami, the early 2016 presidential campaign has for months played out as the Jeb and Marco Show, starring two Republican hometown candidates with little attention paid to anyone else.

Now it’s Democrats’ turn to vie for the spotlight.

President Barack Obama unofficially kicked off his political party’s own local fund-raising season Wednesday, attending a pair of $33,400-per-person events in Coconut Grove to benefit the Democratic National Committee for next year’s election.

Though he didn’t name her, Obama set the stage for his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to ramp up her own check-collecting from South Florida’s well-heeled donors. Clinton has two private receptions planned for Thursday in the Grove and Coral Gables, followed by two more events Friday in Parkland and outside Orlando.

“An eight-year span in the life of a country is pretty short,” Obama said. “We can get a lot done, but part of what we’re also doing is laying the foundation so that we then pass that baton to the next administration, and we institutionalize some of the progress that we’ve been making.”

The president spoke to about 60 donors assembled for dinner at the home of developer Stephen Bittel and his wife, Sabine. Obama trumpeted his accomplishments in office but said unfinished business remains.

“If we passed immigration reform, that would not only improve our economy, drive down our deficit, but it would make sure that America continued to be a land — a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “If we were serious about rebuilding our infrastructure, we could put people back to work right now.”

Obama had stopped by earlier Wednesday at what was billed as a roundtable-style discussion for about 30 people at the home of mortgage broker Joe Falk. Both Bittel and Falk raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Shutdown highways for the presidential motorcade jammed many drivers’ commutes. More delays are expected Thursday, when Obama is scheduled to visit the National Hurricane Center for a briefing on the storm season that begins June 1.

The big draw in Florida — the nation’s largest swing state — remains Clinton. She has captured the interest of political parties and groups who are more interested in the next president than the current one. Clinton is the Democratic front-runner; she faces challenges from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and, soon, from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

In Clinton’s honor, the Florida Republican Party plans to hold a faux “press conference” Thursday to highlight how Clinton has shied away from answering reporters’ questions. Separately, the conservative political action committee America Rising has targeted Internet users in Miami, Parkland and Orlando to show them an attack video calling her “unethical.”

While Clinton taps donors, Obama will go to the National Hurricane Center for the first time. He has received past season forecasts by phone; this time he’ll meet scientists and emergency managers in person. Forecasters said Wednesday they expect another slow season.

“Even if climate change were not a factor, the president would be urging people to be vigilant,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Florida reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “But what the preponderance of scientific evidence tells us is that climate change is having an impact on more violent and more frequent storms.”

Unsaid was that Republican presidential hopefuls have struggled to find a middle ground, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledging the Earth is getting warmer but questioning how much humans have had to do with that — despite broad scientific agreement that climate change is man-made. Obama cast climate change as an urgent challenge when he spoke last month at Everglades National Park.

Craig Fugate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency chief who used to run Florida’s emergency agency under former Gov. Bush, and senior Obama adviser Brian Deese toured Miami Beach’s Sunset Harbour neighborhood Wednesday with Mayor Philip Levine to take a closer look at pumps intended to fend off sea-level rise. Levine greeted Obama at Miami International Airport, giving the president a handshake and hug.

Taxpayers foot at least part of the bill for presidents’ travel when they tack on political events to official trips. In this case, the Democratic Party must cover only some of the expense of bringing Obama to Miami.

The White House stressed that the president’s visit was all about disaster preparedness — not political donors.

Aboard Air Force One, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told a reporter he was being “cynical” after he questioned asked if the storm briefing was added to the campaign fundraising stops.

“We thought this year it would be appropriate to go down to the hurricane center in person, take a look at a lot of the new technologies they’ve been employing,” Schultz said.