President Barack Obama plunged into donor-rich New York on Wednesday, his first fundraising sweep of the city since announcing his re-election bid this month, with a lament that he has not seen his wish for less-polarizing politics realized.
"The hope that I had that we'd start coming together in a serious way ... has been resisted," Obama told 60 contributors gathered for dinner at the Central Park home of financier and former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.
His intention, Obama said, is to make the 2012 campaign an "election in which we're not just talking slogans ... but we are looking soberly at the choices we face."
The president's donor outreach came on a whirlwind day that began by taking on "birthers" who dispute that he was born in the United States and by producing his detailed birth certificate. He also flew home to Chicago to help pal and supporter Oprah Winfrey close out her syndicated talk show with a "big get" — an interview with him.
"Today was a fun day," Obama said at his first fundraising event at Corzine's apartment. "Nobody checked my ID at the door. But it was also a serious day because part of what happened this morning was me trying to remind the press and trying to remind both parties that what we do in politics is not a reality show. It's serious."
Before an audience of 350 people at his second stop, The Waldorf-Astoria hotel, Obama talked about the 10 letters he reads nightly from ordinary Americans who write to him about their troubles. He said the letters are both inspiring and heartbreaking and that they remind him of why he wanted to be president.
"It's to be an advocate for all those families, to make sure that America is as good to the next generation as it's been to all of us," he said before launching into his argument about why his budget proposal would be less painful for the poor and the powerless than one advanced by House Republicans.
Obama was expected to raise between $2 million and $3 million from the fundraisers, to be shared by the Democratic Party and his campaign. He was due back at the White House in the wee hours of Thursday.
Obama on Oprah
In Chicago, Obama and his wife, Michelle, took turns answering Winfrey's questions during a taped interview at her studio, her show's first interview with a sitting president and first lady. Winfrey has announced that she's ending her top-rated program on May 25 after a quarter-century on television.
The Obamas' interview is scheduled to air on Monday.
The show released one excerpt from the interview, an exchange over his decision to produce his Hawaii birth certificate. Laughing, he said: "Can I just say? I was there, so I knew that I knew I had been born. I remembered it."
Winfrey's relationship with the Obamas dates to their days in Chicago, and she lent her credibility and celebrity status to his 2008 presidential campaign with her first-ever political endorsement.
Corzine, the host of Obama's first New York fundraiser since he announced his re-election, lost his political job in 2009 despite Obama's efforts to help him get re-elected.
He is a former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs with deep ties to the financial industry, which felt battered by Obama's rhetoric blaming the financial crisis on "fat cat" Wall Street bankers. The industry also chafed at the overhaul of financial regulations.
Corzine now heads MF Global Inc., a financial services firm, and Obama has begun trying to repair his relations with the business sector.
'They can stay'
Obama's final fundraiser was a concert-style event with 1,300 people at the Town Hall theater, primarily for his younger supporters and featuring The Roots, a hip-hop band from Philadelphia.
Interrupted twice by separate groups of people whose shouts were inaudible to reporters, Obama directed security personnel to let them stay. He encouraged any others in the hall to speak up.
"They can stay. I think they made their point," he said. "The rest of you, let's just knock it out right now."
Since he became a candidate for re-election on April 4, Obama has embarked on an aggressive inaugural fundraising tour that included three events in Chicago on April 14 and six events spread over two days last week in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Obama raised $750 million for the 2008 campaign.