Former president Barack Obama waves at the audience after delivering his speech during the Fourth Congress of the Indonesian Diasporas in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 1. (Achmad Ibrahim/AP)

Former president Barack Obama will formally reenter the political fray this week less than six months after leaving office, headlining a fundraiser for a group that could prove critical to the Democratic Party’s rebuilding efforts.

Obama’s appearance Thursday before a few dozen people at a closed-door event in the District on behalf of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) highlights the balance he is trying to strike as his party seeks to regain its footing at both the state and national levels. Obama does not want to cast “a long shadow,” in the words of Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, but he remains a central figure for a party that has yet to settle on a single strategy to combat President Trump.

Perez said in an interview Sunday that while some Democrats have urged Obama recently, “You’ve got to get out front on issue X or issue Y,” the former president wants instead to “build the bench” for the party. Democrats suffered a greater loss of power during Obama’s tenure than under any other two-term president since World War II.

“Because tomorrow’s president is today’s state senator. And he knows that very personally,” said Perez, referring to Obama’s experience as a state senator in Illinois. “When you lose 900 state legislative seats, those are people who could have been the next governors and senators and Cabinet positions, and that is something that he’s very committed to.”

The NDRC’s executive director, Kelly Ward, would not say how much the fundraiser is expected to bring in. But she said Obama “still has such a microphone” to help convince donors to invest in state-level races and help in “shining a light” on a phenomenon that influences the outcome of elections year after year.

“That bully pulpit still very much rests with him,” Ward said.

The NDRC aims to influence how state and federal legislative districts are drawn and hopes to create “a centralized, strategic hub for a comprehensive redistricting strategy,” she said. The group’s chairman, former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also are scheduled to appear.

Corry Bliss, the Congressional Leadership Fund executive director whose super PAC is affiliated with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), said in an interview that Democrats’ efforts to regain ground will be hampered by the fact that “people in the middle think they are out of touch with the problems of ordinary Americans.”

“It’s a brand that is beholden to Nancy Pelosi and liberal, Left Coast elitism,” Bliss said. “The Democrats couldn’t find real America with Nancy Pelosi’s chauffeur and a map.”

Bliss added that the GOP already has multiple groups working on redistricting, “and I am confident they will be well funded and well run.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post – Juliet Eilperin

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