Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Obama does Hollywood

Hollywood A-listers paid big bucks to see Sen. Barack Obama at a Beverly Hills dinner on Tuesday night, where Obama focused his remarks on easing Democrats’ jitters about the close race ahead. Obama spoke for around 15 minutes in an outdoor courtyard at the Greystone Estate, a Tudor-style mansion on 16 acres overlooking Los Angeles. Attendees at the $28,500-per person dinner included Will Ferrell, Chris Rock, Tobey McGuire, Leonardo diCaprio and Jodi Foster.

“A lot of you, just in conversations while we were in the photo lines, had all sorts of suggestions,” Obama said. “…And a lot of people have gotten nervous and concerned. Why is this as close as it is? And what’s going on?” The Illinois senator said that the race was always going to be a hard-fought contest because he represented a “leap” for voters, especially when running against John McCain, a “genuine hero” with a “compelling biography.” Obama said that there was “enormous resistance … because people have been fed cynicism for a long time” but he said that he remained “confident about winning because I’ve looked at John McCain, I’ve looked at Sarah Palin, I’ve looked at their agenda, and they don’t have one.”

Despite the lavish setting, the gourmet meal (filet of beef and asparagus), and the exclusive crowd, Obama said his campaign was being fought for people who would “never see the inside of a building like this and don’t resent the success that’s represented in this room, but just want the simple chance to be able to find a job that pays a living wage.”

Sen. McCain took his own shot at Obama on Tuesday, as the presidential hopefuls jockeyed over who would best lead during a financial crisis like the one that had seized Wall Street last weekend. “He talks about siding with the people just before he flew off for a fund-raiser in Hollywood with Barbara Streisand and his celebrity friends,” McCain said during an Ohio rally. “Let me tell you, my friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here with the working men and women of Ohio.”

For his part, Obama told the audience Tuesday night that the recent Wall Street turmoil would help clarify the choices facing voters. “It’s reminded people that this is not a game. This is not a reality show, no offense to any of you,” Obama said to laughter. “This is not a sitcom.” Between 250 and 300 attended the fund-raiser, according to the campaign, and was set to attend a second event featuring a performance by Streisand later Tuesday night.

Obama’s decision to forego public financing means that he’s still able to solicit private donations for his campaign; McCain has accepted public financing and can no longer solicit campaign contributions. Both candidates can also continue to raise money for their respective political parties, though there are greater restrictions on how that money can be used.

Obama raised $66 million in August, a new campaign record, but McCain set his own record by drawing a $47 million haul. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, top strategist David Axelrod played down the idea that the Obama campaign believed that its “very large and dynamic fund-raising base at the grassroots” would ever translate to “some huge fund-raising advantage.” “We knew we were going to be up against the Republican fund-raising machine,” Axelrod told reporters. “Our ability to draw on the grassroots has been helpful so I don’t think we’d be in a better position” if the campaign had accepted public funding.

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