President Barack Obama pressed donors for contributions during his third visit to California in a month as Republican Mitt Romney looked to Wisconsin election results for signs his presidential bid is gaining ground.
Raising campaign cash at events yesterday in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Obama told supporters that he needs more time to right the economy, seeking to counter criticism from Romney on the election’s central issue that the president’s policies have failed to spur growth and lower unemployment.
“This is going to be a tough race precisely because the economy’s not where it needs to be yet,” Obama told donors in public remarks at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, the second of four fundraisers in California. “We’ve got to finish what we started.”
Obama dropped his recent rhetoric blaming the economy’s vulnerability on Europe. He also made no mention of Republican Governor Scott Walker surviving a June 5 recall election in Wisconsin -- a win that prompted Democratic and Republican strategists to reassess whether the state will be a battleground in the presidential race.
Romney, 65, who has clinched enough delegates for the Republican nomination, said yesterday the Wisconsin results may boost his chances nationally as well as in a Midwestern state that has voted Democratic in the past six presidential elections, albeit narrowly at times.
“Yesterday was won by the people of Wisconsin doing the right thing and voting for conservative principles,” Romney said at a fundraiser in San Antonio, Texas. “I think people recognize we just can’t keep going down the same path that we’re on. It ends up in calamity.”
Until earlier this week, target states listed by Obama’s campaign didn’t include Wisconsin.
In a campaign video released on June 4 -- the day before the recall vote -- Obama campaign manager Jim Messina listed Wisconsin as “undecided,” along with Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia.
If Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, were able to make Wisconsin competitive, it could make a major difference in the election. Winning a Midwest industrial state such as Wisconsin or Michigan, which both backed Obama in 2008, would provide him an easier path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Obama, 50, in the 2008 election beat Republican John McCain in Wisconsin 56 percent to 42 percent. An exit poll of recall election voters conducted June 5 showed Obama beating Romney 51 percent to 44 percent.
“I certainly wouldn’t read much into yesterday’s results,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Obama’s Wisconsin win four years ago was boosted by a surge in support among younger voters, a demographic that remains more supportive of him than Romney and yet, polls show, is less energetic about his campaign than it was four years ago.
Romney said during a telephone town hall meeting with members of the National Federation of Independent Business that Wisconsin voters “said we’ve seen a conservative governor; he cut back on the scale of government and has held down taxes and stood up to the public sector unions and we want more of that, not less of it.” Romney added: “I think you’re going to find that in the decisions being made in November.”
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.
Yesterday’s fundraisers took in at least $4.6 million for the president’s re-election bid. The San Francisco events included a roundtable with tickets at $35,800 apiece for 25 guests, and a luncheon for 250 donors with tickets priced at $5,000, according to the campaign.
In Los Angeles, Obama attended a gay-rights gala at the Beverly Wilshire hotel 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. The gala was for 600 donors, with tickets starting at $1,250. Another 70 donors were invited to attend the dinner at Murphy’s home, with tickets at $25,000.
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.
During the California events, the president touted his signature initiatives, including the auto industry bailout, health-care overhaul and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” -- the ban on gay people serving openly in the military. Obama said his administration’s support for gays, including hospital visitation rights, is “just part of a broader fight on behalf of all Americans.”
“There were those who said we should let Detroit go bankrupt,” Obama said. He said because of his administration’s intervention in an auto industry bailout, General Motors Co. is “back on top.”
The president’s prospects for a second term suffered a blow with a U.S. Labor Department report on June 1 showing payrolls expanded by 69,000 jobs last month, fewer than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg News survey of private economists, while the unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent.
Obama called German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti from Air Force One during his flight to California from Washington to discuss the euro zone debt crisis. In yesterday’s public remarks, he refrained from the rhetoric he and former President Bill Clinton used in recent days: blaming Europe for threatening the U.S. economic recovery and suggesting that Romney and Republicans would take the U.S. down the same road as Europe.
At last night’s gala, Obama said Americans are “anxious” about the economy and “that anxiety can be tapped into.” He criticized Romney’s calls for tax cuts for the wealthy, less regulation and more spending reductions.
“I don’t think that’s how you grow an economy,” Obama said. “The other side’s not offering anything new.”
The president is to hold a fifth California fundraiser today, a breakfast at the home of real estate developer Charles Quarles, before heading to the University of Nevada in Las Vegas to talk about extending a freeze on student-loan interest rates.
Quarles, president of Los Angeles-based Bedford Group, which specializes in urban development, declined to talk in detail about Obama’s re-election prospects or the role the economy may play in the campaign.
“If I didn’t think he was doing a great job I wouldn’t be doing this,” Quarles said in an interview. Obama is “doing the best he can given the constraints he has to work under.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Margaret Talev in Los Angeles at firstname.lastname@example.org; John McCormick in Chicago at email@example.com
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