- Associated Press - Thursday, June 14, 2012

President Obama soaked in the support — and the campaign cash — of Manhattan’s elite entertainers Thursday as his re-election team sought to fill its coffers.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama made a rare joint fundraising appearance when they visited the home of actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. The intimate dinner banked about $2 million, with 50 people paying $40,000 each.

The dinner was the Obama campaign’s latest attempt to bank on celebrities for fundraising help in countering the growing donor enthusiasm from Republicans supporting Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.

Speaking in a dimly lighted, art-filled room, Mr. Obama told supporters they would play a critical role in an election that would determine a vision for the nation’s future.

“You’re the tiebreaker,” he said. “You’re the ultimate arbiter of which direction this country goes.”

Among the celebrities on hand to hear Mr. Obama’s remarks were Oscar winner Meryl Streep, fashion designer Michael Kors and Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who moderated a private question-and-answer session between the president and the guests. Mr. Broderick did not attend because he was acting in a Broadway play.

The president and Mrs. Obama were to appear at a second glitzy fundraiser in Manhattan on Thursday night, headlined by a performance by singer Mariah Carey.

While Democrats have long held political and ideological ties to the TV and movie industry, the dynamic is different this time for Mr. Obama. His own celebrity has faded a bit after more than three years in the slog of governing, and some reliable donors have gotten so used to seeing him, they want more - like a real movie star.

What’s more, Mr. Obama’s team is getting outraised by motivated Republicans in a new, freewheeling environment, one in which wealthy donors can give unlimited amounts of money to outside political groups, known as super PACs, that can have huge sway over the presidential race.

As one counterresponse, Mr. Obama is borrowing on the power of entertainers to give big bucks themselves and to encourage others to give what they can.

The strategy holds the potential for peril. It allows opponents to paint Mr. Obama as hobnobbing for dollars with middle-class angst riding high. The Republican Party lampooned Mr. Obama as tone deaf when his campaign promoted the Parker/Wintour event on the same day news broke of climbing unemployment.

Pressed about Mr. Obama’s relationship with the stars, his spokesman, Jay Carney, fired back: “Two words: Donald Trump. Next question?”Mr. Romney has received fundraising help from Mr. Trump, the publicity-hungry real estate mogul and reality-TV host whom Mr. Obama has dismissed as a carnival barker.

In a tough economy, one way Mr. Obama tries to make it work is by raffling access for smaller donors, both to dinners with the president himself and to private affairs such as the one at Ms. Parker’s home.

Robin Hunt of Baltimore won an online contest to attend Thursday’s dinner. She brought her mother, Elvita, a voter in North Carolina, a key election battleground state. The contests typically ask donors to give $3 or whatever they can spare.

The Obama campaign calls it a way to lure donors who may not otherwise be involved in politics at all.

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