Actor Will Smith and basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson for dinner and Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas for post-meal canapes. President Barack Obama waded into the domain of the stars Monday as he hit the California fundraising circuit in one of his busiest donor outreach trips of the season.
Smith, in an elegant three-piece suit, and Johnson, the standout former point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, were guests at the home of producer James Lassiter and his wife, Mai. About 40 contributors, including actress Hilary Duff, contributed $35,800 each for a cozy dinner and a chance to chat with the president. Obama, eager to reinvigorate his supporters, ticked off his administration’s accomplishments. “Sometimes I think people forget how much has gotten done,” the president said as he urged his backers to rally once again, at the same time joking, as he often does, that he is older and grayer now. “This election won’t be as sexy as the first one.”
The Lassiter dinner, followed by a larger affair at the home of Griffith and Banderas, were part of a three-day, fundraising-rich swing through Nevada, California and Colorado. California, however, is his biggest donor state and he raised about $1 million in the Los Angeles area alone during the past two fundraising quarters, according to an Associated Press review of contributions above $200.
At Banderas’ and Griffith’s house, its entrance path lined with rose petals and votive candles, Obama told about 120 mostly Latino contributors that he has kept a list of his campaign promises and that, by his count, he has accomplished about 60 percent of them. “I’m pretty confident we can get the other 40 percent done in the next five years,” he said to loud applause.
The Griffith-Banderas event was the first Latino fundraiser for Obama’s candidacy, with donors giving at least $5,000 per person to attend. It featured guests such as actress Eva Longoria, comedian George Lopez, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and mayors Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Julian Castro of San Antonio. Obama drew the loudest applause when he vowed to tackle an overhaul of immigration laws, a promise from 2008 that has gone unfulfilled in the face of Republican opposition.
Testing a re-election theme, Obama is also telling donors that the country is suffering from an economic crisis and political crisis. “People are crying out for action,” he says. Pointing to elements of his $447 billion jobs plan that was rejected by Republican lawmakers, Obama said they likely would linger as campaign issues in 2012.
“This is the fight that we’re going to have right now, and I suspect this is the fight that we’re going to have to have over the next year,” Obama told about 240 donors at a fundraising event earlier Monday at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas. “The Republicans in Congress and the Republican candidates for president have made their agenda very clear.”
The Las Vegas fundraiser attracted about 240 people who paid from $1,000 to $35,800 toward Obama’s re-election campaign and to the Democratic National Committee. The bigger donors met the president personally.
Others at Lassiter’s Hancock Park home included Troy Carter, the manager of Grammy award winner Lady Gaga. The singer herself was a guest at a fundraiser last month at the Atherton home of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
While in Las Vegas, Obama spelled out a plan to help homeowners refinance their homes even if their home values had dropped dramatically below what they owed on their mortgages. Obama ventured into a working class development in the Las Vegas suburbs that benefitted from a community revitalization program like one he is pushing Congress to approve now. But the president displayed campaign-style vigor, wading into the neighborhood crowd to shake hands and even lift a baby. His handlers reminded him it was time to leave, but Obama strode to yet another group of residents for one last handshake, autograph and photograph.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Obama headed to a diverse neighborhood minutes from Lassiter’s home south of Hollywood and stopped at Roscoe’s, a popular Los Angeles chicken restaurant chain. Obama roved through the dining booths greeting customers, leaving at least one awestruck young boy holding his hand aloft after shaking the president’s hand. One man gave him a hug and a Hispanic man told his daughter that if she studied hard “you’ll be like him.”
Most of his remaining time during this three-day Western swing is being spent raising money. On Tuesday he will tape an appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, his second as president and fourth appearance overall. He also will attend fundraisers in San Francisco and Denver.