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A few weeks before announcing his re-election campaign, President Obama convened two dozen Wall Street executives, many of them longtime donors, in the White House’s Blue Room.
he guests were asked for their thoughts on how to speed the economic recovery, then the president opened the floor for over an hour on hot issues like hedge fund regulation and the deficit.
Mr. Obama, who enraged many financial industry executives a year and a half ago by labeling them “fat cats” and criticizing their bonuses, followed up the meeting with phone calls to those who could not attend.
The event, organized by the Democratic National Committee, kicked off an aggressive push by Mr. Obama to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash — in part by trying to convince Wall Street that his policies, far from undercutting the investor class, have helped bring banks and financial markets back to health.
Last month, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, traveled to New York for back-to-back meetings with Wall Street donors, ending at the home of Marc Lasry, a prominent hedge fund manager, to court donors close to Mr. Obama’s onetime rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Mr. Obama will return to New York this month to dine with bankers, hedge fund executives and private equity investors at the Upper East Side restaurant Daniel.
“The first goal was to get recognition that the administration has led the economy from an unimaginably difficult place to where we are today,” said Blair W. Effron, an investment banker closely involved in Mr. Obama’s fund-raising efforts. “Now the second goal is to turn that into support.”
The president’s top financial industry supporters say they are confident that the support Mr. Obama needs will ultimately be there, despite the financial industry’s unhappiness over his efforts to tighten regulation of their businesses. But it is clear that those supporters will have to work much harder to win over the financial services industry than they did in 2008, before Wall Street’s bust, the subsequent clashes over policy and the sometimes bitter personal differences that lingered afterward.
Executives at large investment banks, a group that gave generously to Mr. Obama in his last campaign, are remaining on the sidelines for now. Only a small handful of such donors have appeared in Mr. Obama’s joint campaign filings with the Democratic National Committee, though officials there said more would appear in the coming weeks.
And as Mr. Obama seeks to rebuild, Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, is using his background as a venture capital executive and his policy proposals to woo financial-industry donors.
Still, there is skepticism. One Democratic financier invited to this month’s dinner, who asked for anonymity because he did not want to anger the White House, said it was ironic that the same president who once criticized bankers as “fat cats” would now invite them to dine at Daniel, where the six-course tasting menu runs to $195 a person.
The donor declined the invitation.