California provides a golden opportunity for presidential fundraising

imagePresident Barack Obama spoke to an enthusiastic audience last night at Hollywood’s House of Blues, where he promoted his jobs bill, urged the crowd to stay motivated, and dealt with the odd heckler. But with tickets starting at $250, the focus of the event was fund-raising.

The president is just one of several candidates to hit the Golden State. Earlier this month, Mitt Romney also stopped by for a breakfast in Southern California, and Rick Perry attended six fundraisers across the state. (Track 2012 candidates’ events at Politico.)

“Whether you’re Barack Obama or one of the Republican primary candidates, it doesn’t hurt to talk to California voters, but what you’re most interested in is California donors,” said Dan Schnur, the director of USC’s Unruh Institute and a former GOP campaign operative.

Wealthy Californians have long made the state a hub for fundraising efforts. In 2008, Barack Obama raised $77.8 million in California, more than any other state.

But fund-raising prowess doesn’t necessarily translate into electoral influence. California’s 2012 primary has been delayed until June, meaning GOP primary voters will likely head to the polls too late to be decisive in choosing a Republican nominee, and California’s continuing status as a solid blue state renders it unlikely to prove decisive in the general election. Schnur said Californians’ wallets may speak louder than their ballots.

“California’s very relevant in terms of fundraising,” he said. “California’s very relevant in terms of the message the state sends to the rest of the country. But it’s tough to see the state mattering in how the GOP picks its nominee. And it’s difficult to see the state making a difference in the general election.”

That doesn’t mean courting voters isn’t important. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California puts the president’s approval rating among likely California voters below 50 percent for the first time since his election.

Dean Bonner, who conducted the poll for the PPIC, said even people who don’t approve of President Obama’s performance might cast a vote for him, but that the numbers illustrated an enthusiasm gap which could hurt fund-raising efforts.

“In a place like California, [the president] is still able to come here and raise money,” he said. “It might not be as much as it was in the past. People in 2008 were very happy to donate to the president, both donors who were big and small, because people showed a lot of enthusiasm.”

Bonner said major donors, including Democratic bundlers in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, are likely to stay involved in the Obama campaign. The remaining question is whether the millions of small donors who contributed to the 2008 election are still willing to say, “Yes, we can.”

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