Manhattan glitterati event marks study in contrasts for Obama

Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:10pm EDT

* Tickets cost $40,000 for New York fundraiser

* Republicans say president is out of touch

* Obama team cites "support from all income groups"

By Laura MacInnis

NEW YORK, June 14 (Reuters) - Talk about a venue change.

Fresh from giving an economic speech in the heart of the industrial Rust Belt, President Barack Obama headed to Manhattan's Greenwich Village on Thursday to hold a big-dollar campaign fundraiser with rich donors at the home of "Sex in the City" actress Sarah Jessica Parker.

Obama has shaped his campaign message around appealing to middle-class voters, many of whom have suffered from the U.S. recession and slow economic recovery.

But the Democratic president, like his Republican opponent and candidates before them, is also targeting wealthy supporters to help fill his campaign coffers as he seeks to win the White House again on Nov. 6.

The contrast between Obama's message and fundraising practices was especially sharp on Thursday.

During a speech at a community college in Cleveland, the president charged that Republican Mitt Romney, a multimillionaire private equity executive and former governor of Massachusetts, would hollow out the middle class.

The evening fundraiser, co-hosted by Parker's husband, actor Matthew Broderick, and Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour, was decidedly not a showcase of all things middle class. Tickets cost $40,000 and 50 people were expected to attend.

Obama's campaign has spent weeks promoting the event.

Parker, whose "Sex in the City" character, Carrie Bradshaw, was known for expensive shoes and glitzy New York parties, sent an email to Obama supporters declaring it would be "fabulous."

But the publicity has generated contrasts of its own.

ON the same day this month that a jobs report showed the U.S. unemployment rate ticking up to 8.2 percent, Obama's campaign released a video featuring Wintour asking Americans to donate for a chance of getting two seats at the party.

Republicans used the opportunity to paint Obama as out of touch and quickly released their own video that juxtaposed the Wintour donation plea with U.S. unemployment statistics.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus wrote a column on conservative website Breitbart.com titled "Out-of-touch Obama is in Wintour wonderland" and criticizing the president for declaring the private sector was "doing fine" during a news conference last week.

"Where would President Obama get an outrageous idea like 'the private sector is doing fine?' Perhaps from one of his many star-studded fundraisers," he wrote, calling Obama tone-deaf.

"The president has his priorities all backward. He puts growing government ahead of growing the economy, his job above American jobs, and celebrity galas above presidential duties."

It was the second time in a month that Obama attended a fancy event in New York that seemed to clash with his political message earlier in the day.

In mid-May, the Obama campaign released a blistering video ad attacking Romney's time as a private equity executive at Bain Capital. Hours later, the campaign raked in about $2 million at a Manhattan fundraiser held by Tony James, president of the Blackstone Group, itself a huge private equity firm.

CONTRADICTIONS ON BOTH SIDES

The White House noted that Obama's campaign raised almost all of its money from small-dollar donors.

"There is no question that running for president is an expensive proposition," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Air Force One. "The president has supporters from all income groups."

With donors on the Republican side such as billionaire Sheldon Adelson donating millions to outside groups that oppose the president, Democrats are also keenly aware that Obama must raise big money to stay competitive.

"The president's obligation is to make sure he is able to compete. He obviously needs the resources to do that," said former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland.

"If he were to move in (to Sarah Jessica Parker's house) and forget all the rest of us, that would be something else. But the president is concerned about the middle class, that is evident in the programs he is trying to introduce."

Both Obama and Romney are on fundraising sprees, preparing for a costly campaign season. With outside spending groups pledging to spend millions on the election, spending on each side of the aisle could top $1 billion.

Democrats have pointed out Romney's own fundraising stints with celebrity business mogul Donald Trump. Romney on Thursday will be fundraising in Chicago, seeking contributions of as much as $75,000.

Obama has been fundraising for months, gaining a large cash advantage over Romney, who was long caught up in a nasty race against rival Republican presidential hopefuls.

Since then, however, the presumed Republican nominee has quickly gained ground. Romney's team brought in more than $76.8 million last month, topping Obama's more than $60 million. Romney's campaign relies significantly more on high-dollar donors than Obama's.

Even so, Obama's team is concerned about Romney's fundraising strength and hopes events like the one with Parker will create momentum and a connection to women, a constituency with whom Romney has struggled to connect.

His campaign ran ads featuring Parker, with the actress calling Obama "the guy who ended the war in Iraq, the guy who says you should be able to marry anyone you want, the guy who created 4 million new jobs."

In her email to Obama supporters, Parker referred to her own "middle-class family in Ohio" and said she, like other high earners, did not need tax breaks espoused by Republicans. (Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh and Sam Jacobs; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)