First lady Michelle Obama stumps for cash in S.F.

Just days after President Obama made income inequality a central theme of his State of the Union address, his wife hit San Francisco for a visit that included no public events - but kicked off with a pair of big-ticket Democratic fundraisers.

The first lady wasted no time in urging attendees to translate their beliefs into cash to keep hold of Democratic congressional seats in 2014 midterm races.

"We need you to dig deep. We need you to max out right now," Michelle Obama said Thursday before a cheering crowd of supporters at One Leidesdorff, an event space in the Financial District owned by major Democratic donor Clint Reilly. "We need you to volunteer ... especially in safe states like California, we need you guys to go someplace else."

That "means the difference between victory and defeat," she said.

The president can't do it all alone, "just sitting by himself in the Oval Office. It's a lonely place," she said to laughs.

The first lady's comments came during the first day of a two-day stop in San Francisco, one of the nation's Democratic bastions.

Among those present were San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, and Reps. Eric Swalwell of Dublin, Mike Honda of San Jose and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

The first lady starred at two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee Thursday and plans another fundraiser Friday at the Fairmont Hotel with Rep. Nancy Pelosi for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The events are intended to bulk up Democratic cash reserves for the 2014 election cycle.

At the event, Obama referred to her husband's State of the Union address, saying the values he mentioned - lifting up Americans from poverty and protecting the middle class - are at stake in the elections.

"If you're willing to work for it ... you should be able to build a better life for your kids, our kids," she said. "Any of us could lose the job we count on to support our family.

"And when that happens, it shouldn't mean falling off the cliff ... not here, in the United States of America. That's not who we are."

But some Democratic activists expressed disappointment that the first lady's events consisted of expensive private gatherings accessible only to the wealthy.

"Michelle Obama is an awesome person ... and I'm sorry that they're not arranging it so when she's traveling the country, regular people get to hear her," said Jo Kenny, who has worked for decades on Democratic and LGBT causes in the Bay Area.

Kenny conceded that the Democrats need to raise money to help deliver on goals that the president outlined in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. But "just having one event where regular people can go does so much more to move the message forward," she said. "Those need to be mixed in with the fundraisers."

Obama's first stop in San Francisco was the North Beach restaurant Cotogna, where 25 donors paid $10,000 or more apiece in a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee. The committee did not release names of attendees or the amount raised, and no media coverage was allowed.

The 200 or so people who attended the second event at One Leidesdorff paid $500 to $10,000 apiece, a Democratic committee official said.

Lee spoke to the crowd before the first lady's appearance, noting he had a "special little seat" to view the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"We're going to continue to be the best example we can be for all the things that the president talked about," he said. "He talked about minimum wage," and in San Francisco, the wage is $10.74.

"Other Americans across the country deserve that kind of minimum wage," he said.

On Friday, the price of admission to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "women's lunch" and VIP reception at the Fairmont ranges from $500 to $32,400, according to an invitation obtained by The Chronicle. The event is sold out.

Before landing in San Francisco, Obama stopped at a gated community in Los Angeles for a national committee fundraiser Wednesday night at the home of producer Phil Rosenthal, whose credits include the TV show "Everybody Loves Raymond."

There, to an audience that included singer Barbra Streisand and her husband, James Brolin, she urged Democratic donors to "write the biggest check you can possibly write."


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