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Whirlwind visit

Mission accomplished: Inside President Obama's big-dollar Houston fundraiser

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President Obama gives a shout out to Texas Southern University during a speech at Union Station at Minute Maid Park Friday. Courtesy of Channel 13

Stormy Houston weather couldn't dampen President Barack Obama's whirlwind five-hour fundraising visit to Houston Friday. During two stops in the Bayou City, he garnered widespread enthusiasm from supporters for a second term and raked in big bucks. 

Supporters who paid anywhere from $500 to $15,000 gathered at Union Station at Minute Maid Park as early as 2:30 p.m. for his expected 5 p.m. arrival but quickly made their way through security, according to one supporter. "It was one of the most efficient political events I've been to," the longtime Democrat said.

 "So when you see politicians who are trying to take us back to the days when this care was more expensive and harder to get for women — and I know you're seeing some of that here in Texas — you just remember we can't let them get away with it."

 Heavy rains in the Houston area delayed the arrival of Air Force One at Ellington Field by about an hour. When the presidential motorcade arrived at Union Station in downtown Houston, Obama went to two upstairs rooms at the stadium's club level, where an estimated 150 people who had donated or raised $10,000 for the Obama Victory Fund each had their photo taken with the president.

Those who had donated or raised $15,000 were allowed to bring a guest. Several brought their children to meet the president and he spent an additional amount of time talking with each youngster, according to a supporter in the room.

Afterwards, he joined a crowd estimated at around 500 (each had paid $500) in the Union Station lobby, where he spoke for about 20 minutes, declaring that "America is coming back" economically and emphasizing that the election is still about change. In a line of attack that he will likely use when the campaign swings into full gear, he refered to Republicans as the instigators of the nation's current economic woes.

"We tried what they're peddling. It did not work," he said.

And he defended his health care law, which he said covers preventive health care for women.

"So when you see politicians who are trying to take us back to the days when this care was more expensive and harder to get for women — and I know you're seeing some of that here in Texas — you just remember we can't let them get away with it," Obama said. "We fought for this change. We're going to protect this change."

From there, the president made his way to the River Oaks home of Tony Chase and Dina Alsowayel, where 68 guests paid considerably more to dine with him. The cost to attend, according to one top Obama fundraiser: $35,800 for the first person, an additional $15,000 for the second. The $35,800 is the maximum that an individual can give in one year combined to the Obama campaign and the DNC fund for the Obama campaign.

(The Obama Victory Fund is a joint account of the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, which funnels the first $5,000 of an individual’s contribution to the president and the remainder, up to $30,800, to the DNC.)

Some individuals attending the dinner wrote checks for that amount; others raised that amount for the campaign. The dinner was a sellout.

The $35,800 is the typical fee for these exclusive dinners held around the country.

Among those attending the dinner: Ann and Mathew Wolf, Gracie and Bob Cavnar, John and Becca Cason Thrash, Michael Gamson, former Houston Mayor Bill White, Curry Glassell, Jim Crane, former Ambassador to the Bahamas Arthur Schechter, Anne and Charles Duncan, Clare Casademont, and University of Houston chancellor Renu Khator and Suresh Khator.

Also spotted in the intimate dinner crowd: Jim Derrick and Carrin Patman, Arvia and Jason Few, Jim and Beverly Postl, Marty and Parvin McVey, Rodney Ellis, Garnett and Angelique Coleman, Roland and Karen Garcia, LaRence Snowden, and prominent Austin Obama fundraiser Kirk Rudy.

Many of the guests had been at the Chase home since 5:30 p.m. for security reasons. They dined at six tables of 10 to 12 on crabmeat and avocado salad, osso bucco, green beans and fingerling potatoes, prepared by Jackson & Co. A two-tiered dessert tray of lemon tarts and chocolate brownies was at each table.

After the president arrived at the home, each table of guests was escorted to another room to have their photograph taken individually or as a couple with him.

Later,  he spoke to the select audience for more than 30 minutes and took nine questions on a variety of topics, ranging from nutrition and the fight against obesity to finance, foreign policy, energy and the controversial Keystone pipeline debate. One guest recalled that Obama said the process for selecting the route of the oil pipeline was not political and that it needed more time to be throughougly vetted as everyone would expect.

"But frankly I was so dazzled, I didn't pay that much attention to the substance of what he said," the guest admitted. "As you can imagine, it was a receptive audience. People love the guy. He is just so down-to-earth and very natural."

By 10:30 p.m. Obama had headed back to Ellington Field and was on his way to the nation's capital with his mission accomplished. The Houston visit was profitable, with more than $4 million raised from the two events.

While most political experts do not expect Obama to carry Texas in the November election, he is the clear winner in fundraising thus far. ABC notes that the Lone Star state has been more generous to the president than any of the remaining Republican candidates. He has raised more than $3.45 million from Texans through March 5, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Mitt Romney has raised $3.2 million, Rep. Ron Paul has collected $1.5 million and Newt Gingrich has received $920,000.

See Channel 13's report on the President's visit:

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