Obama talks gay rights before Clooney fundraiser
SEATTLE (Reuters) - President Barack Obama drew cheers and applause for his endorsement of same-sex marriage during a fundraising spree on Thursday that will culminate in a multimillion-dollar extravaganza at the home of Hollywood movie star George Clooney.
Obama's campaign revved up supporters with teases about Clooney, encouraging fans to donate as little as $3 online for a chance to dine with the Oscar-winning actor and the president in Los Angeles.
Excitement over that event, however, predated Obama's announcement on Wednesday that he believes gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry - a position likely to go over particularly well with the Hollywood crowd expected to fill Clooney's Los Angeles residence.
At an earlier fundraiser in Seattle, Obama was applauded for his line that Americans should be able to succeed no matter who we are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name, no matter who you love."
The picked up the theme of gay rights again, saying citizens of Washington state would have a chance to influence the issue.
"Here in Washington you'll have the chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated fairly," Obama said to loud applause.
Washington state lawmakers have passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage but opponents are pushing for a referendum to allow voters to decide the matter and are on their way to gathering enough signatures to get the referendum onto the ballot.
Obama's support of gay marriage could help boost donations from supporters in his Democratic base who have been pressing him to make clear his position, which he had long described as "evolving."
Obama's Chicago-based campaign released a video about gay rights and issued an email in the president's name discussing his decision and encouraging supporters to make a donation.
Tickets for the fundraiser at the Oscar-winning actor's house cost $40,000 and 150 people - including Barbra Streisand, Salma Hayek, Tobey Maguire and Jack Black - were expected to attend, a campaign official said. That puts the haul from those attending at $6 million.
Organizers say the star-studded gala may gross as much as $15 million overall as a result of the flood of interest from supporters who gave an average of about $23 each to enter the online sweepstakes for a last-minute invitation to the dinner, a source close the event told Reuters.
The winners were Beth Topinka, a science teacher from New Jersey, and Karen Blutcher, who works at a public utility company in Florida. Both women were to bring their husbands as guests to the dinner.
A campaign official would not release the total sum to be raised from the raffle, saying any projections above $6 million were speculative.
At his first fundraiser in Seattle, Obama did not address same-sex marriage in his introductory remarks to a luncheon with 70 supporters who paid $17,900 each to attend. That event was expected to gross $1.25 million.
Musician Dave Matthews was due to perform at a second and larger Seattle event, where 1,800 guests paid at least $1,000 per ticket, which could bring in another $1.8 million or more. Proceeds from all of the fundraisers will go to Obama's campaign as well as Democratic party funds.
Obama has spent months raising money for his re-election to build a huge war chest to fight the presumed Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, in an election on November 6.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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