Hollywood showed its support for President Obama on Thursday, at a series of star-tinged kick-off events for his reelection campaign intended not just to raise millions but to re-ignite the enthusiasm that helped propel him into office.
Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Steven Spielberg and George Clooney were among those who paid $35,800 each at a small fund-raising dinner of about 60 people at the Brentwood restaurant Tavern, and Michael Lynton, Amy Pascal, Roland Emmerich, Berry Gordy and Eli Broad were on the guest list at an earlier high-dollar event at Sony’s executive commissary.
The entertainment industry, and Los Angeles in general, is one of Obama’s most lucrative and loyal sources of campaign cash. No official number was released, a campaign source said that they expected to raise about $5 million for the whole evening.
At the largest event, on a Sony soundstage once used for filming Esther Williams water spectacles and more recently for the latest ”Spider-Man” sequel, Obama appeared at a rally of some 2,500 supporters, drawing some of the biggest cheers as he defending his administration’s ability to repeal ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and, as he cited the painful spike in gas prices, in his call to revoke billions of dollars in subsidies for the oil industry as it makes record profits.
He also addressed discontent among his backers, whether it be in compromises made with Republicans or the slow pace of healthcare reform.
”There are times I have been frustrated just as you have been, but we knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” he said.
Although there’s little doubt that the industry will get behind Obama, what the campaign is hoping for is to recapture some of the fervor of 2008, when stars went on the campaign trail, creative types produced their own videos and executives canvassed in swing states.
At the Sony rally, Jason Mraz sang ”I’m Yours” with special Obama-inspired lyrics of one of his hits, ”I’m Yours,” while Jamie Foxx led the crowd in a re-election chant of ”Let him finish!”
Foxx also made reference to the still emerging field of potential GOP rivals. ”I’m not going to say anything, but we definitely look a whole lot better.”
The goal of the evening was to draw a mix of donors, from younger professionals who paid $100 to get into the rally; to the well-heeled party stalwarts who paid $35,800, with $30,800 going to the Democratic National Committee and $5,000 to the reelection campaign. The latter is the maximum that a donor can give to an individual candidate for the entire election cycle.
Among those at the event was Eli Dansky, part of a group of called Generation for Change, an outgrowth of a grassroots org of young industry professionals who turned out for Obama in 2008, said that, despite dismay at Washington gridlock, the rally showed that ”people want to be back in that mode and that spirit.” ”There is that connection with Obama and getting involved again that is so important to our age group.”
Lynton, who with wife Jamie has supported Obama since the days when he was still an Illinois state senator, said simply after hearing 34-minute Obama’s speech, ”Wonderful. Just wonderful.”
At the two dinners, Obama went table to table, answering donor’s questions and taking what he expected would be some offering advice. ”Because looking around this room, this is not a shy group,” he quipped at the Sony dinner, where he was introduced by Capital Group’s John Emerson, who along with Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon is co-chair of the party’s Southern California finance committee. Also there were Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, political consultant Noah Mamet, Marcy Carsey, Dayna Bochco and David Bohnett. Obama said that he would ”need all of you just as engaged, just as motivated, and taking as much ownership over the campaign as you did then.”
At the Tavern event, Jeffrey Katzenberg introduced Obama by also exclaiming ”Four more years.”
”Technically, it’s actually five and a half years,” Obama said to chuckles, from a group that also included Ron and Kelly Meyer, Ari Emanuel, Gov. Jerry Brown and Nicole Avant, the former music executive who is now U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas. The dinner was organized by Katzenberg and his political consultant, Andy Spahn, who called it ”just a huge success.”
While Obama could face a tough reelection fight in the face of a testy recovery, he joked on how unlikely it was that he got early Hollywood support the first time around.
”You all got involved when the prospect of electing Barack Hussein Obama was slim,” he said. ”None of you asked for my birth certificate. It was a complete leap of faith.”
And as he did earlier in the evening, Obama riffed on some of the Democratic angst.
”We just started, and we’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said. ”And there have been times I’m sure during the past two and a half years where you’re reading the papers or watching TV and you’re saying, ‘Ah Obama, you know, why’s he compromising with the Republicans? Or ‘Aw, why did health care take so long? And I want a single payer plan anyway’ and ‘Golly, you know, if he was just a good a communicator as George Clooney, I’m sure the American people would understand exactly what needs to be done.”
The crowd laughed.
Then, he added, ”What we’ve done here has been historic, and we’re only a quarter of the way through.”