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Obama event at George Clooney's house: Bad to be 'celebrity in chief'? (+video)

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(Read caption) Barack Obama is the first US president to publicly back gay marriage. Peter Grier decodes the politics behind the high-risk move.
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What do you get when you combine Barack Obama with George Clooney? You get a political fundraiser that is quite possibly the most lucrative such event ever. Also, a confluence of the White House and Hollywood that Republican opponents of the administration think they may be able to exploit.

Let’s back up a bit here, shall we? In the wake of his pronouncement that he supports gay marriage, President Obama on Thursday evening is set to attend a sold-out fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney. The appeal of Obama to wealthy Left Coast liberals is such that the star power assembled for the dinner would be able to illuminate a large swath of Ohio, Florida, or any other swing state you choose.

Barbra Streisand. Robert Downey Jr., sans Iron Man outfit. Tobey Maguire. Jeffrey Katzenberg. And so on – they’ve all paid the $40,000 price for the VIP ticket allowing them to cram into Clooney’s undoubtedly superpendous Studio City pad. (Originally, the event was to be at DreamWorks CEO Katzenberg’s house. But it’s being renovated, and the work’s not done. Nice to know that even a billionaire can’t get plumbers to work on schedule.)

Full-price tickets will raise only about $6 million of the $15 million organizers expect from the event. The rest will come from small donations averaging $23 paid by entrants in a raffle for two seats with Clooney and Obama. The offer was worded like this: “For a chance to hang out with President Obama at George Clooney’s house, donate $3 or whatever you can to be automatically entered to win.”

Fifty finalists in this contest have already been identified and run through background checks. The two winners will be announced at some point prior to hors d’oeuvres. Both get to bring a guest. So, not too late to cozy up and try to arrange a date!

But here’s the question: Does hanging out with the Hollywood glitterati make Obama look cool? Or does it make him look like a snob who doesn’t understand the problems of people like you?

The Obama reelection team believes the former, of course. They’ve promoted the event heavily via emails to supporters. The president’s political team has long believed that his savoir faire is a selling point – that’s why he appeared on Jimmy Fallon to “slow jam the news.”

That’s why they’ve passed around clips of him singing a few bars of Obama singing “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. And so on.

But Republicans aren’t ceding this ground. They’ve continued to try to frame Obama as the “celebrity-in-chief,” someone more interested in chatting up Barbra then figuring out how to lower the unemployment rate. Plus, they say the president is just after show biz bucks.

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A Republican National Committee press release depicts Thursday night's event as “The Celebrity-in-Chief Fundraises with Celebrities,” and notes that the dinner will be studded with big names. The word “Hollywood” figures prominently in the release – they must have poll-tested it and found that Hollywood evokes a negative image of la-la liberals among Republican voters, at the least.

It is possible that associating the president with movie stars energizes some portion of the GOP base. It might also make him appear out-of-touch at a time when the economy is still struggling and jobs are issue number one.

It might also be an attempt to address Romney’s empathy gap. In a recent Washington Post/ABC poll, 49 percent of respondents said that Obama “better understands the economic problems the people in the country are having.” Only 37 percent said the same thing about Mitt Romney.

Still, Republicans tried to portray Obama as an out-of-touch celeb in 2008, and he won anyway. It remains hard to see how it helps Romney to highlight that his opponent is having dinner with George Clooney – someone whose approval ratings probably equal Obama’s and Romney’s, combined.

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