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At a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, does a presidential candidate friending and fundraising with the rich and famous matter to average voters?
Republicans think so. And Democrats do, too.
Both sides in the presidential election campaign are increasingly eager to lambaste the other's fundraising habits as insensitive to the plight of economically struggling Americans.
The GOP went on a tear today to portray President Obama as grossly out of touch for hobnobbing with Hollywood and financial sector elites at a series of planned fundraisers, including three events in New York City tonight. Several critics also include the Obama campaign's sweepstakes through which low-dollar donors can win a chance to attend.
An Obama TV ad featuring actress Sarah Jessica Parker aired on MTV Sunday night, soliciting donations for a chance to attend a June 14 fundraising dinner at her home. Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour made a similar appeal in a web video on Friday.
The Republican National Committee slammed the Obama campaign for the timing of the ads - the same day the Labor Department released a jobs report showing lackluster gains and an uptick in unemployment.
"The Obama campaign showed once again how out of touch they are releasing a fundraising contest featuring Vogue chief Anna Wintour the same day as a dismal jobs report highlighted how millions of Americans continue to struggle," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. Wintour is a multi-millionaire Obama campaign bundler.
The RNC also released a web video Monday making fun of the Wintour fundraising appeal by re-packaging the same Wintour video with unemployment numbers before and after the Obama presidency scrolling underneath. It jumps on the timing of the video, but it also tries to make the president look like he's just not in step with the average American and their struggles.
On a conference call today, Michigan Attorney General and Romney supporter Bill Schuette took a jab at the Sarah Jessica Parker ad for Obama, saying young people won't be swayed by the actress' campaign involvement.
"We've had grim news last week, a huge loss in consumer confidence, and Obama administration response is Sarah Jessica Parker, encouraging young voters. You know what young people want? They want jobs in the city, and they want paychecks in the city, and this is about the economy and that's what this election is all about," Schuette said.
But while the events and advertising may be easy for Republicans to lampoon, Romney has his share of elite fundraising as well.
Last week, the presumptive nominee held a splashy multi-million dollar fundraiser in Las Vegas with Donald Trump, and he has regularly attended events behind closed doors with deep-pocket donors - something Democrats have been eager to point out in their campaign to paint Romney as a wealthy corporate raider.
"It's kind of humorous that they would take that tact," senior Obama strategist David Axelrod said today of the GOP attack on the Wintour video. "Just last week, you know, you had the big Donald Trump fundraiser - they're promoting Dinner with The Donald. And Gov. Romney explained when Mr. Trump went off the deep end last week on the birther issue that he wasn't going to rebuke him because he needed 50.1 percent of the vote.
"So, I don't think they have a whole lot of standing on this issue," he said.
Romney is in Portland, Ore., and Seattle today, where some donors are forking over $35,000 a plate and he will be fundraising later this week in Texas as well. Although Obama is hanging out with Broadway's best this evening, Romney just did a fundraising swing of the tri-state area and raised $15 million dollars in just three days, breaking the campaign's initial goal of $10 million.
And it's not just Trump; the presumptive GOP nominee has been criticized for his relationships with Wall Street financiers and it's all with the same familiar-sounding goal: making Romney look out of touch. One easy example for the Obama campaign: when Romney had another New York City fundraising swing in April he held a fundraiser at the Upper East Side townhouse of billionaire John Paulson, who made his wealth betting against subprime mortgages.
And while the timing of Friday's Wintour video may have left much to be desired vis a vis the disappointing jobs report, for Obama at least, the appearance with Hollywood stars (or stars stumping on his behalf) may not hurt him in the places it matters.
Wintour's web video, for example, was aimed at a specific group of supporters - online, tech-savvy, fashion-conscious young women - and not to a wider audience. You won't be seeing this on television in Ohio and Florida; it's a specific and targeted fundraising tool.
Moreover, the GOP critique might seem less likely to break through with an outside-the-beltway crowd that's not plugged in to the political press.
And the same goes for Romney. While many of these financiers are not household names, Americans also aren't paying anywhere near the attention to his relationships with them or a birtherism-believing reality star as they are their personal financial struggles.
Throughout both the primary race and now general election, polls show Americans believe money has too much influence in politics and the majority of the nation feel that the amount of influence money has on the political system gives rich people more sway than average Americans.