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Obama's sober tone at fundraiser signals a tough fight ahead

May 11, 2012|By Seema Mehta
  • Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times
Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times (m3u7mvpd20120510195909/600 )

President Obama’s fundraiser Thursday night at George Clooney’s house was marked by the glitz of celebrity attendees and jokes about the president’s graying hair and wrinkled visage. But the tone of the president, less defiant than prior visits, more sober, was a reflection of the headwinds he faces going into the general election.

Obama highlighted the challenge of wooing an electorate that is still struggling in the nation’s slowly recovering economy.

“This is going to be harder than it was the last time -- not only because I'm older and grayer and your "Hope" posters are dog-eared,” Obama said to laughter. “2008 in some ways was lightning in a bottle.  That's not going to be replicated.  And we shouldn’t expect it to -- I've been president for three and a half years.  But part of the reason it's going to be harder is because folks are still hurting out there and those frustrations with Washington and the nonsense they see on the news is making them more cynical than they were in 2008. 

PHOTOS: President Obama's Studio City fundraising event

"So we're going to have to fight against cynicism and a belief that maybe things can't happen and maybe the game is rigged, what's the point. That's what we're going to be fighting against this time.”

Obama, speaking to 150 people who paid $40,000 each to his re-election effort including bold-faced names such as Barbra Streisand and Robert Downey Jr., said this means he and his supporters must redouble their efforts.

“That means we're going to have to be more determined. That means that that passion that we brought to bear in 2008 is going to have to express itself maybe not in such flashy form, it's going to have to be steady, but we're going to have to keep those fires burning all the way through November and beyond,” Obama said.

“Because I'm not interested in just winning the election; I'm also interested in making sure that we can finish what we started in 2008.  We've still got a lot of work to do.

“So bottom line is I still believe in the American people, and I still believe in you. And I hope you still believe in me,” he concluded, to applause. “Because I'm as determined as I've ever been to make sure that this country stays on the right path -- we're moving forward; we're not going backwards.”

It was a marked change in tone from other fundraisers Obama has held in Southern California since taking office, and reflects the transformation of the fresh-faced candidate calling for hope and change four years ago to the president who has spent that period struggling at times to implement his vision, leaving some of his most die-hard fans disenchanted.

When Obama spoke at a fundraiser last year in Culver City, it was during a period when the president frequently said he was “frustrated,” both by hypocrisy in politics and the lack of recognition of some of his administration’s accomplishments, even among his supporters.

"I know there are times when some of you felt frustrated because we haven't gotten everything we wanted to get done right away," he told supporters packed onto a sound stage at Sony Picture Studios. "I know who you all are. I know the conversations you've been having: 'Oh, I don't know. I don't like that compromise with the Republicans. I don't know, that healthcare thing — why did it take so long? I don't know, Obama, he's older now. He used to look so fresh and exciting. I still have that poster, but I don't know.' ”

That was also a change from the prior year, when he was defiant. During 2010, Obama frequently likened the economy to a car that Republicans had driven into a ditch, and said that they were complaining that he was not pulling it out fast enough.

"Here's the main message I have for all of you — change is coming, change has come," Obama told guests at a reception at the California Science Center in Exposition Park at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer. "We made a series of decisions that were not always popular but were the right thing to do.”

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