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Obama vows to help Democrats in 2014 in third day of talks

U.S. President Barack Obama waves before he speaks at McGavock High School in Nashville, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing
U.S. President Barack Obama waves before he speaks at McGavock High School in Nashville, January 30, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Steve Holland and Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama spent part of a third straight day on Wednesday talking to congressional Democrats about an agenda for the year that party leaders hope will help them make gains or limit losses in November elections.

Obama trooped over to the Washington Nationals baseball stadium for a private session with Senate Democrats in a meeting room in a section of the stadium behind home plate. Former President Bill Clinton also addressed the group.

An atmosphere of worry hangs over Democrats as they gird for congressional elections in November in which they will attempt to hang on to control of the Senate and make gains in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Mid-term elections like this year's often bring bad results for the party that holds the White House. Republicans are hoping to snatch control of the Senate from Democrats, which would further stymie Obama during his final years in office.

Optimism that 2014 could be a big year for Democrats, after a 16-day government shutdown was blamed on Republicans, has been tempered by the fallout over the botched rollout of Obama's signature healthcare law in October.

Obama is attempting to keep Democrats united around an agenda directed at helping the middle class and reducing income inequality, issues that were at the heart of his State of the Union address last week.

A source in the room said Obama kicked off the meeting by saying he recognizes that the stakes are high in the upcoming elections.

"He made clear that his agenda, which is focused on expanding opportunity for all, is more likely to advance when the majority of senators support it. So, the president vowed to do what he can to support Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections," the source said.

Some of Obama's key policy objectives for the year are to push for Congress to raise the minimum wage for low-income workers from $7.25 to $10.10, work for equal pay for women, take steps to strengthen U.S. manufacturing and improve education and job training.

"The president looks forward to continue working closely with Democrats in Congress to ensure that every American who works hard and plays by the rules has the opportunity to get ahead," the White House said.

It was the third straight day that Obama talked election issues with Democrats. On Monday he discussed the 2014 elections with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and on Tuesday he talked with House Democrats.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama will be "doing everything he can to assist Democrats" in 2014.

"He's the head of his party. Of course it's on his mind," Carney said. "But it is far from the only thing on his mind."

Democratic Representative Henry Waxman of California was at the Tuesday meeting at the White House and told Reuters: "It was a good meeting."

"Of course, people got up and asked questions that are tough so they can go home and say, 'I said to the president,'" Waxman said with a laugh. "But he came right back at them."

Asked about the relationship between Democrats and Obama, given that some Democrats in Republican-leaning districts may not want the president to appear with them, Waxman said:

"I think the relationship is very good. Whether they want him in their district or not is each candidate's decision.

"But they appreciate the fact that he is going to go out there and raise the money for these campaigns. It is essential. He has the bully pulpit. He will articulate the case to the American people."

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; editing by Andrew Hay)

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