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CAMPAIGN '08: RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE

Obama raises millions among the stars

TV crews are kept from two Beverly Hills fundraisers as McCain mocks his connection to celebrities.

September 17, 2008|Dan Morain and Michael Finnegan | Times Staff Writers

It was clear why Barack Obama's campaign barred television crews from a Beverly Hills mansion at twilight Tuesday as the Democratic presidential nominee mingled with movie stars on a giant terrace overlooking Los Angeles.

The cocktail reception was part of Obama's biggest night of Hollywood fundraising so far, an evening capped with a live performance by Barbra Streisand at the Regent Beverly Wilshire.

But it came fraught with risk. As if on cue, John McCain used the Illinois senator's lucrative detour from battleground states to Beverly Hills to mock Obama's professed solidarity with working people "just before he flew off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends."

"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," McCain told cheering supporters in Vienna, Ohio, with running mate Sarah Palin at his side.

McCain, too, raised money in Beverly Hills last month, but with a smaller cluster of stars, including actors Robert Duvall and Jon Voight.

Even before the likes of actors Jodie Foster, Will Ferrell and Leonardo DiCaprio paid tribute to Obama at the landmark Greystone Mansion -- setting for numerous films, including "Ghostbusters" and "Air Force One" -- the entertainment industry had given Obama more than $5.6 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

McCain's take from the industry has reached $885,000, the center said.

Tickets to Tuesday's reception and dinner at the mansion went for $28,500 apiece; about 300 people attended. Entry to the hotel event cost $2,500; about 800 were in the audience.

The campaign relied on Hollywood moguls David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, among others, to raise money. To comply with federal donation caps, it planned to split the proceeds with the Democratic National Committee.

David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, suggested that voters would ignore McCain's attacks on the Democrats' ties to Hollywood.

"I think they've heard the whole Republican whoop-de-do before, and this time, I don't think they're going to subscribe to it, because there's so much at stake," Axelrod said.

At Greystone, a 55-room Tudor-style mansion famous for the 1929 murder of oil heir Edward Lawrence "Ned" Doheny Jr., Obama told dinner guests that he knew many were "nervous and concerned" about his chances of winning.

"I know that a lot of you, just in conversations while we were in the photo lines, had all sorts of suggestions," he said.

But the crisis on Wall Street "has suddenly focused people's attention, and it's reminded people of what's at stake. It's reminded people that this is not a game. This is not a reality show, no offense to any of you," Obama said as the crowd erupted in laughter. "This is not a sitcom.

"We always knew this was going to be hard, and this is a leap for the American people," he continued. "And we're running against somebody who has a formidable biography, a compelling biography. He's a genuine American hero, somebody who served in uniform and suffered through some things that very few of us can imagine. And so he is a worthy opponent."

Obama told the crowd that there was "enormous work to do because of the enormous resistance out there -- resistance because people have been fed cynicism for a long time."

"So when my opponent and the operation that they've put together start feeding into that cynicism and start feeding into that resentment, it's not always clear which way things are going to tip," he said.

But Obama said he was "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."

The crowd laughed.

"They don't have answers to our economic problems," he said, "and they don't have answers to our foreign policy problems."

He urged his supporters to "keep steady" in the days ahead and never forget what his candidacy is about. In case they did, he offered a reminder: The campaign "is about those who will 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."

Lest anyone be diverted by the Hollywood spectacle Tuesday evening, Obama's campaign denied TV crews access to the mansion and hotel events -- perhaps mindful of the political damage wrought by TV images of celebrities at Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's fundraisers in 2004.

Other stars attending included comedians Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman, actors Tobey Maguire and Pierce Brosnan and director Ron Howard.

Obama's team also barred the entire press corps from hearing Streisand, who hugged Obama and walked offstage at the Regent Beverly Wilshire as the band played "Happy Days Are Here Again."

After thanking Streisand, the candidate struck a somber tone in his remarks.

"This should be a celebratory evening," he said. "We've got 48 days to go in a campaign, a campaign that started 19 months ago, at a time when a lot of folks thought we might not get here."

But, he added, "I'm not in a celebratory mood." He ticked through the series of crises that had taken place in recent days, including the hurricane on the Gulf Coast and the deadly train crash in Chatsworth.

--

dan.morain@latimes.com

michael.finnegan@latimes.com

Times staff writers Tina Daunt and Noam N. Levey contributed to this report.

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