In an exclusive backyard soiree at George Clooney's house in Studio City, President Obama headlined a star-studded fundraiser Thursday night that pumped nearly $15 million into his reelection effort, believed to be the largest one-night campaign haul ever.
The dinner party took place one day after Obama announced his support for gay marriage, a popular issue with the Hollywood crowd and one that he highlighted.
"Obviously yesterday we made some news," Obama said to applause. "But the truth is it was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be. It grew directly out of this difference in visions. Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly and is that going to make us stronger? Are we welcoming to immigrants? Are we welcoming to people who aren't like us — does that make us stronger? I believe it does. So that's what's at stake."
The gathering took place under a tent on the basketball court in Clooney's backyard, and was hosted by DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. About 150 people paid $40,000 each to attend, and gathered around circular tables decorated with gold tablecloths and yellow and purple flowers.
Wolfgang Puck cooked for the attendees, including Robert Downey Jr., Diane Von Furstenberg, Trina Turk, Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Billy Crystal, Jack Black, Salma Hayek, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village).
But not all the attendees were bold-faced names. The Obama campaign held a contest for supporters across the nation, asking for donations of as little as $3 for a chance to win airfare to Los Angeles and a spot at the dinner.
The contest proved wildly successful — tens of thousands of people contributed an average of $23, with their donations making up two-thirds of the $15-million haul. The winners were Beth Topinka, a science teacher from Manalapan, N.J., and Karen Blutcher, a utility company worker from St. Augustine, Fla. Both women brought their husbands.
Obama, who spoke for 19 minutes, thanked Clooney and noted that they had known each other for some time; Clooney was advocating for Darfur when Obama was a senator. The famous stylized "Hope" picture of Obama was cut from a photo of both of them, the president said.
"This is the first time that George Clooney has actually been Photoshopped out of a picture," Obama said to laughter. "Never happened before, will never happen again."
"We raised a lot of money because everybody loves George. They like me; they love him," he added.
Obama laid out a familiar argument about the perils facing the nation when he took office, and the progress that has been made, such as job creation and the rebound of the auto industry. He noted that he ended a war, pursued Al Qaeda, and kept the "basic promise" of the 2008 campaign by enacting healthcare reform. "Not because it was popular, but because it was right."
He also cited work on Wall Street reform, reforming education, "sometimes offending folks in our own party," and increased investments in clean energy.
Obama never mentioned Mitt Romney or Republicans by name but alluded to them.
"We're not finished. We have a lot more work. As we look forward to the next campaign, the choice between the path I've set for this country and that of my opponent could not be starker and the stakes couldn't be higher," he said. "They have a different vision about how America works. See, I think we work best when we are all in it together, when we've all got a stake in each other."
He joked that he had aged. "People have commented on the fact I've got gray hair now. There was a blog post about look how wrinkly Obama is getting. Sort of distressing. George doesn't have to go through these things," Obama said.
Clooney interjected: "You look good to me!"
Obama ended with a sober recognition that 2012 is far different from 2008.
"This is going to be harder than it was last time, not only because I'm older and grayer and your 'Hope' posters are dog-eared. 2008 in some ways was lightning in a bottle," he said.
Hollywood has always been a generous benefactor for Obama, with bundlers in the industry having already raised several million dollars for the campaign.
Republicans pounced on the glitzy affair, using imagery of Obama hobnobbing with celebrities to argue he is out of touch with struggling Americans.
"While he's noshing with notables, courting celebrities, and soliciting stars, the middle class is being squeezed," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote on Redstate.com, noting that unemployment is 8.1%.
"With middle-class Americans reeling from the effects of Obama's failed leadership, not even Hollywood magic can cover up the truth," Priebus wrote. "With a first term this disastrous, we can't afford to see the second — because if we've learned anything from Hollywood, it's that the sequel is always worse."
Earlier Thursday, speaking to 2,000 supporters who paid $1,000 each to attend a fundraiser at Seattle's Paramount Theater, the president drew a burst of applause when he said Americans ought to be able to provide a better future for the next generation, "no matter who you love."
In Wednesday's interview with ABC News, Obama said he had not intended to reveal his new stance on gay marriage quite so soon.
Vice President Joe Biden's comments Sunday that he was "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage hastened the announcement.
Biden apologized to the president before Wednesday's interview for getting ahead of him on the issue. "The president has been the leader on this issue from Day One, and the vice president never intended to distract from that," spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said.
Washington Bureau staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report from Seattle.