LOS ANGELES (AP) — George Clooney played the suave host, chef Wolfgang Puck whipped up something for dinner, and President Barack Obama and about 150 Hollywood donors enjoyed a few laughs at Clooney’s good-humored expense.
Obama reminded the crowd that his famed Hope poster from the 2008 campaign was derived from a photograph of Obama sitting next to Clooney when Obama was a U.S. senator. Clooney had been in Washington advocating on behalf of Darfur.
“This is the first time that George Clooney has been photo-shopped out of a picture,” Obama said. “Never happened before, never happen again.”
In this crowd, Obama didn’t even need to mention gay marriage to get vigorous applause. “Obviously,” the president said obliquely, “yesterday we made some news,” referring to his declaration Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage.
“It was a logical extension of what America is supposed to be,” Obama said. “It grew directly out of this difference in visions: Are we a country that includes everybody and gives everybody a shot and treats everybody fairly?”
The event, held under a stretched transparent tent outside Clooney’s sprawling canyon home, raised nearly $15 million, a record for a single fundraiser.
The guests paid $40,000 to attend, accounting for about $6 million of the evening’s financial haul for Obama’s campaign and the Democratic Party. The remainder came from a raffle for small-dollar donors. Two winners got to take part in the dinner and bring their husbands.
“We raised a lot of money because people love George,” Obama said. “They like me; they love George.”
Then he added: “He seems to occupy a constant state of grace, and uses his extraordinary talents on behalf of something truly important.”
For Obama, the A-list party was not only a financial hit, it gave the president the kind of Hollywood buzz a Republican seldom gets. But the glitzy event, with its glamour and wealth, also has its risks, and it set up a stark contrast with Obama’s mission on Friday: to highlight the plight of struggling homeowners in Nevada.
Among those at the dinner were performers including Robert Downey Jr.; Barbra Streisand and her husband, James Brolin; Jack Black; Salma Hayek; and Tobey Maguire, who shared a table with Clooney and Clooney’s girlfriend, Stacey Keibler.
On the route to Clooney’s house, along exclusive canyon roads, families gathered at dinnertime to wave and cheer the presidential motorcade. Children manned a lemonade stand with a sign: “Presidents drink free.”
Around the corner, a boy held up another hand-drawn piece of cardboard: “Will trade Lakers for Bulls if you stop.”
And yet one more: “Our gay family says thanks Mr. President.”
The Clooney party came at the end of a day when Obama’s campaign seemed eager to transform his support of gay marriage into donor enthusiasm and grass-roots vigor.
In a Web video, the campaign portrayed Republican rival Mitt Romney as “backwards on equality.”
Earlier Thursday, when he was in Seattle to attend two fundraisers, Obama witnessed the support firsthand as his motorcade passed a woman holding an infant and a sign that said: “Thank you Mr. President for standing up for my mommys!”
He drew big cheers from supporters at Seattle’s Paramount Theater when he said his vision for a better America applies to everyone, “no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name, no matter who you love.”
Without referring directly to marriage, Obama expanded on the theme of same-sex equality.
“We are moving forward to a country where every American is treated with dignity and with respect, and here in Washington you’ll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly,” Obama said.
“You’ll have a chance to weigh in on this. We are a nation that treats people fairly.”