President Obama opened an aggressive Western fundraising swing Monday, closing out the day in Los Angeles with an appeal to supporters to prepare for a grueling reelection effort.
At an intimate fundraising dinner in Hancock Park, Obama spoke softly to a few dozen supporters who had paid $35,800 each to greet him.
“I’ve said this before — this election will not be as sexy as the first one,” the president said. “Back then it was still fresh and new. I didn’t have any gray hair. Everybody loved the ‘Hope’ posters and all that. This time it’s — we’ve got to grind it out a little bit. We’ve got to grind it out. But the cause is the same. And my passion is the same. And my commitment is the same.”
The gathering, at the home of movie producer James Lassiter and his wife, Mai, was one of six events Obama had planned in three days of stops in Nevada, California and Colorado, as he kept up a torrid fundraising pace that is far surpassing that of the GOP presidential field.
Two Los Angeles gatherings Monday were celebrity-flecked, with the first including actor Will Smith and former Laker Magic Johnson. The second and larger event was at the home of actors Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas, with per-seat tickets starting at $5,000.
In Hancock Park, Obama repeated details of his new mortgage refinance program, unveiled earlier Monday in Las Vegas. The plan would assist homeowners whose homes are worth less than their mortgages, in hopes of easing their financial strain.
The program would allow those who refinance to have more money to “shop, go to Will’s movies” and patronize Johnson’s many businesses, Obama joked. But his pitch for a second term was serious.
“We’ve made great progress but we’ve got so much more work to do,” he said. “Obviously in Washington, the politics that I think people are hoping for is not what they’re getting. It’s still dysfunctional. It’s still perversely partisan.”
Earlier, Obama’s day was one of contrasts, as he pitched the mortgage plan in Nevada, with its soberingly high unemployment rate, then traveled to California, where his first unannounced stop drew adoring looks and requisite cellphone picture-taking at a Roscoe’s chicken and waffles restaurant in West Los Angeles.
After Obama shook hands and chatted with a young boy, the child turned and declared, “I’m never going to wash my hand again.” He held his hand up as he watched Obama walk around the room.
A girl later jumped up to request Obama’s autograph, prompting a man near her to say, as he took their picture, “If you work hard, you can be just like him.”
Earlier, at the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Obama focused on his $447-billion jobs package, now stalled in Congress, as an example of a plan that should receive broad bipartisan approval.
“The question is why, despite all the support, despite all the experts who say the jobs bill couldn’t come at a more important time, when so many are hurting, why Republicans in Washington have said no,” Obama said. “They keep voting against it.
“Now, maybe it’s just because I am the one sponsoring it.”
He cited a provision in the jobs bill designed to keep public employees on the job, and noted that every Senate Republican voted against it.
“Their leader, Mitch McConnell, said that — and I’m going to make sure I quote this properly — saving jobs of teachers and firefighters was just, and I quote, a bailout.
“A bailout!” Obama repeated.
The president criticized Republicans for resting their vision on two dubious principles — tax cuts for the wealthy and minimal regulation — that have been tried with disastrous results, he said.
“Does anybody remember?” Obama asked.
Republicans derided Obama’s visit to Nevada, noting the state’s double-digit unemployment rate and persistent housing crisis.
“I’ve seen things just continue to get worse since President Obama took office,” said one voter in a Web video released by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
California, which gave Obama a landslide victory in 2008 and where he remains politically strong despite his national slump, has been a key cog in the president’s fundraising operation. His efforts raised $70 million in the third quarter for his campaign and the Democratic Party, easily eclipsing the efforts of the Republicans who wish to replace him.
Some Obama supporters have said that raising money for the president is tougher this time around than it was in 2008. But Ken Solomon, co-chairman of the Obama campaign’s finance committee for Southern California, said the president’s fundraising capacity remained strong.
“Without question, the continuum here has been all-out support in California,” Solomon said.