President Obama visits the Bay Area

February 17, 2012 12:24:41 AM PST
President Obama arrived in the Bay Area Thursday where he attended a private dinner in Pacific Heights and held a larger fundraiser on Nob Hill, raising millions of dollars for his re-election campaign.

Air Force One landed just before 1 p.m. Obama was greeted by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and California Attorney Gen. Kamala Harris.

After leaving SFO, the president took an unannounced detour into San Francisco's Chinatown where hundreds of people out and about at lunch time lined the streets to get a glimpse of his motorcade. He delighted staff and customers with a surprise visit to Great Eastern Restaurant in Chinatown, making it his first stop when he got into the city.

The staff said they were told the president was coming in for takeout just moments before he arrived. A relaxed and patient Obama rolled up his shirtsleeves and worked the room. He greeted restaurant guests in Chinese, held babies, shook hands, posed for photos, then ordered some dim sum to go. "We just went for a dim sum collection. This is kind of a mid-afternoon snack. Didn't want to have the whole full seven-courser because I've got like five events going on," he said. He paid for the order himself in cash and left a nice tip. He left with two bags of food and even shared half with the press corps.

Obama had a roundtable discussion Thursday afternoon with a small group of people. The price tag to participate was $35,800. He was slated to have a private dinner around 7 p.m. with 70 supporters at the home of novelist Robert Mailer Anderson and then attend a fundraising performance at the Masonic auditorium with 2,500 people, each of them spending about $100 to help raise around $700,000. All in all, he is expected to leave the Bay Area with somewhere north of $3 million.

The fundraiser at the Nob Hill Masonic Center was Obama's forth one of the day. He appeared before the adoring crowd who paid at least $100 each and gave a 25-minute speech in which he pointed out a lot has been accomplished in the three years since he's been in office. Some of those things are: health care has been overhauled, gays can now openly serve in the military, and the world's most wanted terrorist is dead. "We refocused our efforts on the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 and thanks to the brave men and women in uniform, Al Qaida is weaker than it has ever been and Bin Laden isn't around anymore. That's what change is," Obama said.

Many traveled from all over the Bay Area and beyond to attend the Masonic Center fundraiser. "I think he's done a lot for our country and I'm excited to be a part of it even if it is in San Francisco in $100 seats from far away," Tammy Daniels said. "I just want to be a part of it."

Outside, Obama had his share of critics. Protesters representing a variety of interests lined up along California Street, across from the Masonic Center. "I'm really disappointed in his cabinet appointments. I'm disappointed in our whole political system and how it's ruled by money and I'm tired of voting for the lesser of two evils," protester Rachel Atchison said. None of the criticism seemed to phase the President, he was heckled twice by activists who bought a ticket to get in.

Occupy protesters say President Obama is not tough enough on financial institutions, religious protesters say they are disappointed with his health care policies, and Tea Party protesters say they are against Mr. Obama on taxes. "I'm really disillusioned with him. I feel like a real sucker for buying into the hope-change message that he doled out in 2008 and I'm exasperated, and I've got no other way to show it than to stand out here with my sign," Rachel Atchison told ABC7.

In the 2008 Democratic primary, the Obama campaign outraised Hillary Clinton's big money donors and the talk then was all about small money pouring in. "They did an exceptionally good job of creating the perception," says Chris Lehane, Democratic campaign strategist and former advisor to President Clinton. "The reality is, if you actually go back and look at just the pure raw percentages, their big money and what fueled that campaign was coming in $500, $1,000, $2,000 donations, than the max out on the Democratic Party side."

That was big money in 2008, but the Supreme Court's decision on campaign financing since then has blown the lid off. Now, big money to outside groups, so-called Super PACs, has no limit and ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain says that is going to impact the tone of the campaign. "I think the tone of the campaign is shaping up to be potentially very negative and I think the reason is that the outside groups are going to play a much more important role in this presidential race than they did in 2008," he said.

And, what we have seen in the Republican primary is that those Super PAC groups have had no inhibitions about going negative. "The gloves come off on these campaign ads that are run by the Super PACs. They're much more hard-hitting. They take risks that a normal candidate would not take," Cain said.

The most heartwarming part of the president's Bay Area visit, so far, may have been when he walked toward 44-year-old Jodi Fisher. She is battling an inoperable recurring cancer. Meeting Obama was on her bucket list. Fisher is from the San Luis Obispo area. Local media found out about her wish and so did the White House.

She got a call to meet the president at SFO. "I couldn't believe he knew my name. That was pretty exciting," she said. "And he shook my hand and he said he was sending well wishes.

The president will leave for Washington state on Friday morning.

ABC7's Lyanne Melendez, Mark Matthews, Lillian Kim, and Heather Ishimaru contributed to this story.


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