President Barack Obama has dined atop San Francisco's Nob Hill, overlooked the Pacific from Corona Del Mar and rubbed shoulders with celebrities at George Clooney's Hollywood mansion.

But as he returns to California on Wednesday for his 15th trip as president, Obama has yet to venture more than a short drive from the Pacific Ocean, clinging to the wealthy coastline where donors can boost his campaign coffers.

This trip is no exception.

He has stops planned Wednesday in Atherton and Redwood City and Thursday in Palo Alto and is expected to raise several million dollars during his 16-hour visit.

When Obama comes to California, it's for money -- big money.

A California News Service review of Obama's California trips reveals no state comes close to having fundraisers take up so much of the president's time when he visits. When Obama leaves the state Thursday, 80 percent of his trips here will have included at least one event to raise money. Of 52 California events to date, 35 have been fundraisers.

Raising money in California is a presidential tradition. Even President Bush, who lost California by considerable margins, tapped its wealthy donors.

Still, Obama's Northern California blitz, just two weeks after a high-priced gala at Clooney's home, highlights the President's focus on California dollars.

"I am surprised that it's only 80 percent," Fresno County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Evans said when told the breakdown of the visits.


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Only New York -- a 40-minute flight from Washington -- comes close to hosting as many Obama fundraisers as California. But fundraisers here constitute a little more than a quarter of Obama's time in New York.

California is the president's re-election fundraising Mecca, having contributed $21 million through April 10th -- one-fifth of his overall money. He has raised tens of millions more for the Democratic Party.

Last month Obama gathered more than $2 million here for his own campaign. The Clooney dinner drew $15 million for Democrats.

Obama has divided his time between Northern and Southern California but hasn't set foot in the eastern two-thirds of the state. The farthest inland he has ventured is Pomona in the south and Fremont in the north, both of which are within an hour of the beach.

"Obama's campaign strategy is a function of the Electoral College," said Jessica Trounstine, a UC Merced political science professor. "California is almost certain to give him all 55 of its Electoral College votes, so it is largely a waste of precious campaign time and resources to visit" the state's interior.

Political opponents ridicule his exclusive focus on California's wealthy coast and emphasize the challenges elsewhere.

"While the president is hobnobbing with Hollywood elites at a $40,000 a plate fundraiser, people who live in the Central Valley are facing 17 percent unemployment -- double the national average," said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, in a statement released during Obama's last visit. "One can only hope that he will grab a glance out the window of his plane at the Central Valley region and families he has chosen to ignore despite requests for visits from members of his own party."

Even some Democrats recognize Obama's habit of visiting the coast while declining invitations to valley cities like Fresno.

Evans admits that there are "significant issues in California's Central Valley, many of which need to be addressed at the federal level. A visit from President Obama to the area would speak volumes toward the administration's understanding of and attention to our concerns."

Obama doesn't need to campaign here, having won California by 3.3 million votes in 2008. The state's latest polls give him as much as a 30 percent lead over Romney, who was here in March for two fundraising stops and a campaign event in San Diego. Romney has collected a total of $10 million in California, according to the Federal Election Commission.

California also is also home to Obama's biggest money bundlers, who gather large donations for the candidate. Sixteen of them come from California as compared with 13 from New York, according to the FEC; DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg alone has raised $2 million.

Not all of Obama's donors are wealthy. The bulk of his money -- 98 percent -- comes from donations of $250 or less, according to campaign manager Jim Messina.

The California News Service is a journalism project of the University of California Washington Center and the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. Email the California News Service at cns@ucdc.edu.

Obama's fundraisers
  • 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, dinner at the Atherton home of Lisa and Doug Goldman; $35,800 per person
  • 6 p.m. Wednesday, rally-reception at Redwood City's Fox Theater; $250 general admission, $1,000 for premium seating, or $7,500 for a seat plus a photo reception, with up to two additional guests in your photo at $2,500 each
  • 8 a.m. Thursday, round-table to support the Asian-American/Pacific Islander community in Palo Alto's Garden Court Hotel; $35,800 per person