Obama, backing gay marriage, on fundraising tour

JIM KUHNHENN
Associated Press
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President Barack Obama prepares to board Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,Thursday, May, 10, 2012. Obama is traveling to the West Coast for a series of campaign fundraisers. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

SEATTLE (AP) — President Barack Obama said Vice President Joe Biden got "a little bit over his skis" in publicly embracing gay marriage, forcing Obama to speed up his own plan to announce support for the right of same-sex couples to marry.

"Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure," Obama said. "But all's well that ends well."

Obama, who was ready Thursday to dive into the embrace of Hollywood's wealthy elite at a gala fundraiser, said he had planned to make the announcement before his party's convention in early September. But he told ABC News that his hand was forced by Biden, who the president said spoke out in support of same-sex marriage out of a "generosity of spirit."

The president made his historic endorsement on the eve of a sold-out fundraiser Thursday evening at the Los Angeles home of actor George Clooney.

The timing of the event is creating a blockbuster confluence of high celebrity, big money and committed activism. Hollywood is home to some of the most high-profile backers of gay marriage. The 150 donors who are paying $40,000 to attend Clooney's dinner will no doubt feel newly invigorated by Obama's watershed announcement the day before.

The dinner, heavily promoted online by the Obama campaign, is expected to net close to $15 million. That's an unprecedented amount for a single event. And it means that in one single evening the Obama camp and the Democratic Party will collect more than Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican challenger, has amassed in his best single month of fundraising.

Obama also held fundraisers earlier Thursday in Seattle, where he was expected to collect at least $3 million toward his re-election effort. On Friday, he will fly to Nevada, a highly contested state, where he will call for housing relief in a speech in Reno.

Along the route of Obama's motorcade in Seattle, his limousine passed a woman holding an infant and a sign that said: "Thank you! Mr. President for standing up for my mommys!"

Speaking to about 70 supporters at a private house overseeing Lake Washington, Obama made no mention of gay marriage during brief remarks that reporters were able to hear. He stuck to the main issue of his campaign — the economy.

"The country is on a path of great strength and great promise," he said. "Slowly, in fits and starts, the economy is getting stronger."

He did not mention Romney by name but took a swipe at Republicans, saying the election will boil down to two competing views: "Do we believe that we grow together or do we believe that you're on your own?"

Despite the attempt to turn the campaign page, Obama's support of gay marriage is likely to set the tone for several days. Obama holds a fundraiser Monday in New York sponsored by gay and Latino supporters.

"I have hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought that civil unions would be sufficient," Obama said in the ABC interview taped Wednesday. But he added that now, "it is important for me personally to go ahead and affirm that same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Obama doesn't have the power to make same-sex marriage legal. But his announcement had long been sought by gay rights advocates, who cheered his public affirmation of gay marriage.

His re-election campaign also quickly sought to take advantage of Obama's announcement and draw a sharp contrast with Romney.

By day's end Wednesday, the campaign had emailed a clip of the interview and a personal statement from the president to its vast list of supporters, drawing attention to his stance. On Thursday morning, the campaign released a web video claiming Romney would roll back some rights for same-sex couples and calling the Republican "backwards on equality."

When asked in a portion of the ABC interview that aired Thursday morning on "Good Morning America" if his public statement was part of his re-election strategy, the president replied: "It would be hard to argue that somehow this is something that I'd be doing for political advantage because frankly, the politics, it's not clear how they're going to cut."

Gay marriage remains enough of a divisive issue that there could be political risks. If opposition to gay marriage drives even a sliver of the voting population, it could make a difference in close swing states. Moreover, it could boost fundraising for social conservative groups that are mounting their own campaigns against Obama and galvanize conservatives still uncertain about Romney's commitment to their causes.

Romney quickly reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage. "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said Wednesday in Oklahoma.

In announcing a position that he said had been evolving for some time, Obama emphasized that it was his personal view. Aides said he continues to believe marriage is an issue best decided by states.

His decision came one day after voters in North Carolina, a state the Obama camp hopes to be in play in November, approved an amendment to the state constitution affirming that marriage may only be a union of a man and a woman.

In some ways, Obama is a lagging voice among Democrats on gay marriage. Besides Biden, former President Bill Clinton has expressed support and Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, said Monday that he backed gay marriage as well. In addition, former Vice President Dick Cheney and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have taken stands in support.

Hollywood has been outspoken in its support of gay rights. Although Obama will be in a liberal bastion, California itself illustrates the crosscurrents of gay marriage. Californians have twice voted to ban gay marriage, most recently in 2008. The most recent ban, known as Proposition 8, is being fought in the courts.

Clooney's dinner was organized by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, and will include such celebrity guests as Robert Downey Jr. and Barbra Streisand. The event was initially to be a spring gala hosted by Katzenberg at his house. But Katzenberg's home is under renovation, so Clooney offered to host instead.

That prompted the Obama campaign to conceive an online raffle for the general public. Tens of thousands of people participated, drawn by the campaign's pitch: "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."

As a result, nearly two-thirds of the money raised for the event will be from people who won't attend. The two winners were Beth Topinka of Manalapan, N.J. and Karen Blutcher of St. Augustine, Fla.

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.