Under a tent on George Clooney’s basketball court, the cheers were loud and warm for President Barack Obama.
“I want to thank Clooney for letting us use his basketball court,” Obama quipped to a glittery crowd that included Barbra Streisand, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Salma Hayek and Tobey Maguire. “This guy has been talking smack about his basketball game ever since I’ve known him.”
Though many of the guests Thursday night at Clooney’s home in the Studio City area of Los Angeles were, like their host, longtime supporters, there was no question the president was feeling some special love at this fundraiser. He had, after all, thrilled the community a day earlier with the support for gay marriage they’d long awaited.
Only months ago, it seemed uncertain whether Obama would get the same kind of loving embrace from Hollywood that he did in the 2008 campaign. Actor and former supporter Matt Damon in particular voiced his displeasure last year, saying the president had “misinterpreted his mandate” and that he needed guts, though he used a blunter term. will.i.am, creator of that “Yes We Can” viral video that ended with the word “HOPE,” said: “I don’t want to hope anymore.” Even Obama’s top fundraisers acknowledged the mood was more muted — unavoidably, they said — than during Obama’s first campaign.
To be sure, the issue was also one of timing — during the GOP primary season, when a different candidate seemed to be on top each week, there hadn’t yet emerged a clear opponent to the president.
“Last year there was no sense of urgency,” says Andy Spahn, a political adviser to entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who organized the Clooney event, as well as a top Obama fundraiser himself. “As the race came into focus and the choice became clear, people have been rushing to support the president.”
But the gay marriage decision, he says, “will certainly add to the enthusiasm behind the president’s campaign. It translates into more energy.” And hopefully, dollars: “Funds are critical as we enter the summer months,” he says, to counter the “super PAC” money flowing to Republican Mitt Romney. “The re-election is going to need these resources.”
He and other fundraisers in the community, though, hasten to note that Obama events had been selling out even before Obama’s gay marriage announcement — as Clooney’s did, raising nearly $15 million, a record for a single fundraiser.
But does all the enthusiasm come at a cost? Obama’s opponents tried as hard as they could in 2008 to make the candidate’s Hollywood connections a liability, painting him as a celebrity darling hopelessly out of touch with ordinary Americans.