President Barack Obama returned to California today for the third time in a month, his push for campaign cash and Democratic seats in the House of Representatives overriding concerns he may turn off swing voters with a focus on gay rights advocates and celebrities.
The president scheduled five fundraisers today and tomorrow in the reliably Democrat-voting state, bringing to 29 the number of California fundraising events his campaign has announced since he began his re-election bid 14 months ago.
Obama spoke about the economy, the dominant issue in the presidential campaign between him and Republican Mitt Romney. He criticized Republican plans to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and loosen regulations.
“We’re not where we need to be yet,” Obama told donors at the Julia Morgan Ballroom, the second of two events in San Francisco. “We’ve got to finish what we started.”
Obama heads later to Los Angeles for a gay-rights gala featuring television personality Ellen DeGeneres, followed by a dinner at the home of Ryan Murphy, creator of the television series “Glee,” and Murphy’s fiancé David Miller.
Tomorrow, Obama holds a breakfast fundraiser in View Park, California, then departs for the swing state of Nevada, where he’ll give a speech on college costs at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He’ll return to Washington from there.
Asked whether time spent with celebrities detracts from Obama’s message that he’s looking out for middle-income voters, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president has “vast numbers of small donors.”
“The president is happy to have the support that he has, but the bedrock foundation of his support are the millions and millions of Americans” Carney told reporters traveling with the president.
Obama’s California trip follows a visit to the state last week by Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the presumptive Republican nominee. Obama and Romney each are making the case that the other will take the U.S. down the path of Europe, as the euro region’s debt crisis threatens the U.S. recovery.
“This is going to be a tough race precisely because the economy’s not where it needs to be yet,” Obama said.
Jobs in the U.S. grew by 69,000 in May, the fewest in a year, and the unemployment rate increased to 8.2 percent, the first rise since last June, the Labor Department reported June 1. Other reports released last week showed the U.S. economy grew less than initially estimated during the year’s first quarter, and business activity in May expanded at the slowest pace in more than two years.
California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton said in a telephone interview that, while “clearly the president’s out here to raise money” and isn’t at risk of losing California, his return trips may keep the Democratic base in the state enthusiastic and raise money to help congressional campaigns.
Burton said Obama’s engagement may translate to higher Democratic turnout in California in November and allow Democrats in the state to pick up as many as five congressional seats -- or one-fifth of the total the Democrats need nationally to regain control of the House.
That’s in Obama’s interest, Burton said, because if Republicans keep control of the House it is likely that “very little will get accomplished” if Obama wins a second term.
Stephen Weatherford, a professor of political science at the University of California Santa Barbara who specializes in the intersection of politics and the economy, said Obama also has to look out for himself in a year in which Romney is poised to benefit more than Obama from unlimited donations to so-called super political action committees.
Obama’s campaign had raised $19 million in California, compared with $10.6 million raised by the Romney campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data released May 21 and compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based campaign research group.
Through April 30 of this year, Obama raised a total of $222 million to $100 million for Romney, and the Democratic National Committee brought in $169 million to $135 million for the Republicans.
At the same time, Democrats are expressing concerns Romney is benefiting more than Obama from unlimited donations to super PACs and pro-Republican nonprofits that can keep their donors secret, such as Crossroads GPS, which is spending $25 million on anti-Obama ads.
Obama’s latest California swing follows his May 10 dinner at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney, where he collected an estimated $15 million, and a May 23 visit with events at the home of philanthropists Lisa and Douglas Goldman of Atherton and at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre with singer Ben Harper.
The San Francisco events included a campaign roundtable with tickets at $35,800 apiece for 25 guests, and a luncheon for 250 donors with general admission tickets priced at $5,000, according to the campaign.
The LGBT Leadership Council Gala at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills is set to draw 600 donors, with tickets starting at $1,250. Another 70 donors are invited to attend the dinner at Murphy’s home, with tickets at $25,000.
The breakfast is to draw 300 donors paying $2,500 apiece to the home of real estate developer Charles Quarles. Quarles is president of Los Angeles-based Bedford Group, which specializes in urban development.
Quarles, reached by phone, declined to talk in detail about Obama’s re-election prospects or the role the economy may place. He said that “if I didn’t think he was doing a great job I wouldn’t be doing this,” and that Obama is “doing the best he can given the constraints he has to work under.”