President Barack Obama, mixing fundraising appeals with diplomacy while in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, is seeking to reenergize his Democratic Party base by melding the personal with the political and even including a bit of marital romance.
Addressing 400 donors at Gotham Hall last night, Obama praised the official end of the military’s 18-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces. He said he had just met offstage with former members of the military who were forced out because they were gay.
“As of today, that will never happen again,” he said to roars from the crowd.
Obama included some standard fare for fundraisers, including his plans to create jobs and increase taxes on the wealthy to help pay for the employment program. He called himself a “warrior for the middle class.”
At the same time, he weaved in a more personal thread, talking about the promise of meritocracy in the U.S., including for “a little mixed kid in Honolulu” raised by a single mom. The audience listened in silence as he lowered his voice.
He was introduced by his wife, Michelle, who teased him about his graying hair and called it “quite sexy.” She spoke to the audience about falling in love with him years ago in his community organizer days.
“I still see that connection, that fire,” she said. Both spoke of their need for more “date nights,” and Obama said his wife is “getting cuter” as time goes by.
Earlier in the day, the first lady was joined by author and activist Gloria Steinem to rally a group of 400 donors, most of them women, at a fundraiser luncheon in Manhattan. Michelle Obama drew a standing ovation and she told the women she needed them “fired up and ready to go,” a catch phrase from the 2008 campaign. Tickets for the event started at $500, according to the pool report distributed by the White House.
The first lady told the women that “in the end, we’re not fighting these battles for ourselves. We’re fighting them for our daughters and our granddaughters.”
Fundraising tickets at this week’s events ranged from $500 to $35,800 per person, with a portion going to Obama’s re- election campaign and most to the Democratic National Committee. While singer Alicia Keys performed last night, singer Jon Bon Jovi was among those at a 60-guest event on Sept. 19 at a dinner hosted by Ralph Schlosstein, chief executive officer of Evercore Partners Inc., and Roger Altman, who is chairman of the New York-based investment bank.
Obama is heading into his 2012 re-election campaign with an economy that administration forecasters project will grow just 1.7 percent this year and with a jobless rate that will average 9.1 percent in 2011 and show little change next year.
A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Sept. 9-12 found 62 percent of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy. The president’s overall job-approval rating was 45 percent, the lowest since he was inaugurated in January 2009.