By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Amid grappling with crisis in Ukraine, President Barack Obama made a pitch for women's pocketbook issues Thursday, calling for legislation requiring equal pay for equal work and saying Congress would get more done if it had more women.
Obama left for the event at Orlando's Valencia College after announcing additional sanctions against Russian officials from the White House's South Lawn, a public juggling of his duties as the country's chief executive and the Democratic Party's leader.
With Obama and his health care law a political liability in some parts of the country, the president is trying to help his party's effort to win November elections by leading a debate on economic issues and bringing in campaign funds.
Florida has one of the country's most competitive gubernatorial races with incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott facing Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist. But Crist did not appear publicly with Obama and only planned to see him at a private fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee.
Crist spokesman Kevin Cate would not say whether Obama would campaign with Crist later in the race. "It's well known that the president and Gov. Crist are personal friends. He enjoys spending time with him — will today, and will in the future," Cate said.
The DNC fundraiser was one of two the president was headlining Thursday evening in Miami with tickets costing up to $32,400. The other, at the home of former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning, benefits the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. About 75 people are expected to attend that reception and dinner, versus around 25 supporters attending the earlier DNC roundtable discussion at the home of Univision Spanish television host Lili Estefan.
Crist, a former Republican, has been effusive in his praise of Obama and embraced Obama's health care program, which Scott and the GOP have been using against him. Health care also has been a touchy issue for Scott, who favored expanding Medicaid last year but dropped it after the GOP-controlled legislature shot it down.
"Today, President Obama is coming to Florida to raise money and do a campaign-style event," Scott said in a statement as Obama departed Washington. "No one knows specifically what he's going to talk about, but it's safe to say he won't be addressing the 1.3 million Florida seniors who are in danger of losing their health care benefits, doctors and hospitals as Medicare Advantage plans are being raided to fund Obamacare."
Obama's Valencia College event was the first in a series of regional forums planned in the lead-up to a Working Families Summit he's hosting in Washington on June 23. Others, which will be headlined by various administration officials, were being planned for Denver on April 11, Chicago on April 28, San Francisco on May 5, and for Boston and New York on dates to be announced.
White House aides say turning out female voters, particularly single women, will be a key to Democratic performance in November so Obama is putting extra emphasis on financial challenges facing that demographic, including equal pay.
"I've got a personal stake in seeing women get ahead," Obama said from a Valencia College stage filled with 25 women of diverse ages and ethnicities. "First of all, women make up 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law, and I always count my mother-in-law." He also noted he was raised by a single mother, with the support of a grandmother who he said hit a "glass ceiling" at the bank where she trained men to become her boss.