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Biden launches a Hollywood fundraising blitz to tap into star power with strikes over

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Here's a Hollywood ending that President Joe Biden wants to bring to life: An incumbent facing tough polling numbers and questions about his advanced age overcomes a brash opponent to win a second term at the White House.

With strikes by writers and actors now over, Biden is beginning to make that pitch to the Southern California set in person. He and first lady Jill Biden were attending six fundraising events and meetings between them this weekend in the Los Angeles area, asking some of the glitziest names in town to open their checkbooks for his reelection campaign.

“This is an incredibly successful night,” the president said at his first fundraiser kicking off the weekend on Friday night, joking that he didn't want to talk long because he was “the only thing standing between you and Lenny Kravitz.”

Friday night's event featured a performance by Kravitz was hosted by celebrity designer Michael Smith and his partner, James Costos, and has already pulled in over $8 million, according to a person familiar with the matter, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal campaign details.

“It’s just a normal Friday at our house,” Costos joked to the crowd of hundreds that filled his backyard to near overflow capacity. He added, “This is not just a Hollywood gathering, it's more like a national event,” saying that supporters from around the country joined the event.

Biden used the event to lay into Donald Trump, calling him “the first losing president and candidate in history who refused to except the result” of the 2020 race.

“He refused to show up at my inauguration. I can’t say I was disappointed,” Biden said. Then he added, to hoots, ”My guess is he won't show up at the next inauguration."

Hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the Biden administration's support for Israel during its war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip could be heard chanting and blowing whistles down the hill from the fundraiser, but it's unlikely the president could hear them from the stage.

Some of the events will be public and others private over roughly 36 hours in California. But organizers say Biden should raise more this weekend than in any similar time frame since announcing his campaign in April and could potentially take in more than any presidential candidate has in greater Los Angeles this far out from Election Day.

“The pent-up excitement, enthusiasm is really unprecedented,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-founder of DreamWorks Pictures and longtime Democratic presidential fundraiser in Los Angeles, who is one of the Biden campaign’s national co-chairs. “People are excited. They’re mobilized. And they’ve been waiting months to show their support for him.”

This weekend's events are aimed at helping Biden reach a fundraising target of roughly $67 million for the fourth quarter of the year, according to a source close to the president's campaign who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal numbers.

The Friday night fundraiser featured luminaries like Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, director Rob Reiner, recording industry mogul David Geffen and Shonda Rhimes, the showrunner of “Scandal” and executive producer of “Bridgerton." Rocker Lenny Kravitz performed and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the crowd.

Another fundraising meeting is set for Saturday at Katzenberg's home.

Biden, who frequently calls himself the “most pro-union” president in U.S. history, stayed away from raising money in Los Angeles during the monthslong writers and actors work stoppages. Now, though, he’s free to court Hollywood — a traditional source of large-dollar donations for Democrats — without political blowback.

Katzenberg said this weekend should kick off more frequent fundraising travel out West by Biden.

Biden has also been collecting cash on the East Coast. He flew to Boston on Tuesday for a trio of gatherings to raise money, including one that featured singer-songwriter James Taylor, and attended a high-dollar event Wednesday at a hotel near the White House.

Biden has another fundraiser scheduled Monday in Philadelphia that's expected to feature Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, who has been mentioned as a potential post-2024 presidential candidate. He is also planning an upcoming Maryland reception with Democratic Gov. Wes Moore, 45, a key voice for Biden's campaign with young voters.

The major push to raise money could quiet some donors who have privately grumbled that the president hasn't done enough to stock his campaign coffers ahead of a 2024 race that is likely to be hard-fought and close.

Some in the broad coalition of voters that helped Biden defeat Donald Trump in 2020 are wary about Biden's low approval ratings and there are questions, even among reliable Democrats, about whether the 81-year-old president's age could be an issue in 2024. Others, though, have watched Trump build a commanding early lead in the Republican presidential primary and are now even more anxious to back Biden, given that a rematch with Trump seems likely.

“Whether the enthusiasm is because of the exceptional accomplishments of President Biden, or because of the extreme alternative of someone who is declaring themselves to be an autocrat, either way, you get to the same place," Katzenberg said. "Which is, Joe Biden’s your person.”

Costos, a former HBO executive, was President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Spain. His partner, Smith, is a celebrity interior designer who helped redesign the Oval Office during the Obama administration.

Other co-hosts for Friday's event included Jim Gianopulos, former chairman of Paramount Pictures, and Wendy Schmidt, wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, another possible presidential candidate after next year's election, was also set to attend.

Ticket prices ranged from $1,000 for general admission to $500,000 to attend at “chairman” level.

Also listed as cohosts were Bob Tuttle, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom under Republican President George W. Bush, and his wife, Maria Hummer Tuttle.

Biden has held just one campaign rally so far, addressing a summer event in Philadelphia with large unions who jointly endorsed his reelection. Instead, he's focused on governing and raising money. The campaign has also coordinated with the Democratic National Committee to help defray advertising costs and build out staffing in key states around the country — trying to keep spending low until the race heats up next year.

The president and the DNC reported raising more than $71 million in the quarter ending Sept. 30. Biden's joint fundraising agreement with the DNC and state parties allows him to receive a check from a single donor that is in the range of $1 million.

His third-quarter haul exceeded the roughly $70 million that Obama and his affiliated committees raised in the same quarter in 2011, without adjusting for inflation. But it fell short of Trump, who reported raising $125 million with the Republican National Committee during the third quarter when he was seeking reelection in 2019.

The Biden campaign also noted, however, that its third-quarter total outpaced the $45.5 million Trump’s campaign reported taking in during the same period this year, and said that the president had $91 million cash on hand at the end of September, which it said was the highest total by a Democrat at that point in an election cycle.

Brian Goldsmith, a Democratic consultant based in California who planned to attend Biden's event Friday, said, “It's great he's coming,” but, “I don't know how often he's gonna come back, nor do think he should come back that much."

“I think donors understand that, between Israel, Ukraine, another potential government shutdown, he's got a big job to do," said Goldsmith. “The best thing he can do to get reelected is continue to do a good job being president.”

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Associated Press writers Brian Slodysko and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.

Will Weissert, The Associated Press