Trump heading to California for high-dollar fundraiser


President Trump will visit Orange County on Sunday to raise money for his cash-strapped campaign even as he is running behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden in polls.

“Everyone assumes he’s going to go to battleground states. No one really thinks about how Orange County, California, is an ATM machine,” said Jon Fleischman, a former state GOP official. “So people are pretty excited. This is a high-stakes election.”

Orange County, a longtime conservative citadel that nurtured Ronald Reagan’s conservatism, voted Democratic in the 2016 presidential election for the first time since the Great Depression. Last year, the number of registered Democrats outpaced the number of registered Republicans. But the county remains home to a cadre of deep-pocketed GOP donors.

Tickets to the Newport Beach fundraiser — which will feature a live performance by the Beach Boys — start at $2,800 per person, up to $150,000 per couple for co-chair status. Trump will appear alongside Richard Grenell, his former ambassador to Germany and former acting director of national intelligence, at a lunchtime roundtable and reception.

A band practices outdoors on a stage in Newport Beach.

A touring version of the Beach Boys fronted by Mike Love rehearses at the site of the Newport Beach fundraiser Saturday.

(Mark Chervinsky / For The Times)

“I want to see his energy. I just want to see him,” said Tina Zubia, 60. The Azusa resident and psychic medium who used to appear on the Rick Dees radio show planned to attend the fundraiser with her sister Stephanie Urbach, who lives down the road from the Lido Isle mansion where Trump will appear. “I feel like he really has our best interests as heart. He’s creating jobs in America, and putting us as Americans first. And he doesn’t take anything from anybody.”

Urbach, 55, added, “He does what he says.”

Not every Lido Isle resident was on board. Tisha, Urbach’s neighbor who did not want her last name publicized, put up flags for the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in her frontyard on Friday — rare among the Trump flags and lawn signs at many of the community’s homes.

“When we found out the event was happening on Lido just down the street, we wanted to be sure we were sending out a message that we stand for a candidate that is better for the people, who wants to dignify them rather than divide them, and that we’re voting with our hearts, not our pocketbooks, this election season,” said the 60-year-old, who manages a law office. “In a sea of Trump supporters, it’s really important we distinguish ourselves as not for him, not for what he stands for, even though all of our neighbors do.”

A pro-Trump banner thanks the Trump family "for sharing your Dad and Melania with The American People."

A pro-Trump banner hangs in Newport Beach on Saturday.

(Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)

The fundraiser will take place at the home of Palmer Luckey, a 28-year-old tech mogul who is believed to be the inspiration for the Keenan Feldspar character on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”

The Long Beach native sold his virtual reality company to Facebook for $3 billion at the age of 21 and remained an executive at the company. He later claimed to have been forced out because of his conservative views; Facebook executives have denied that his politics played a role in their decision to part ways with Luckey. He is currently working on a defense start-up whose projects include using technology to detect immigrants crossing illegally over the border.

Luckey is among California’s top GOP donors. He has contributed $2.5 million to GOP candidates and causes between June 2017 and Sept. 30, according to fundraising disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. His top donations included $450,000 to Take Back the House 2020, $400,000 to Trump Victory and $392,900 to the Republican National Committee.

Luckey’s mansion overlooks Newport Bay and sits at the tip of the manmade island that is home to about 800 residences and connected to Newport Beach by a two-lane bridge. One narrow road loops around the island; parking was forbidden on the road on Saturday as workers erected metal security fence along the sidewalks.

A temporary dock was added to the bayside front of Luckey’s house by security forces. Newport Beach police would not discuss road closures for security reasons; the Federal Aviation Administration is restricting airspace over John Wayne International Airport and surrounding areas from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

On an empty lot next to Luckey’s house, red, white and blue fabric had been draped to create a large rectangular gathering space and an overhead cover reminiscent of the American flag, allowing the sea breeze and soft light to filter through while blocking the direct sun. Luckey, barefoot and wearing a trademark Hawaiian shirt, watched on Saturday as large chandeliers were brought into the space and the final touches were put on a professional musical stage.

“I don’t talk to reporters,” he said, when approached about the event.

As the sun turned pink, the Beach Boys rehearsed their set, including “California Girls” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” Neighbors gathered on the street outside for an impromptu block party, sipping cocktails and snapping selfies, few masks in evidence. Golf carts festooned with enormous Trump flags circled.

The fundraiser and one in Beverly Hills were initially scheduled to take place Oct. 6 but were canceled after the president contracted COVID-19.

Trump‘s appearance at a fundraiser 16 days before election day is indicative of his financial position in the race against former Vice President Joe Biden.

Although the president had banked an enormous sum of money, his campaign spent lavishly earlier in the year, and Biden became a fundraising powerhouse in recent months, putting Trump at a disadvantage. In the third quarter, which closed Sept. 30, Biden raised $383 million — $125 million more than Trump.

Veteran political strategist Dan Schnur said Trump’s appearance in the state this late in the cycle signaled trouble.

“The only reason a presidential candidate should be in California in late October is if the GPS breaks or if he is so desperate for money that he has no choice,” said Schnur, who teaches political communication at USC and UC Berkeley. “At this stage in the campaign, every hour is precious. The fact that the candidate himself has to raise money in person means their fundraising situation is way beyond dire.”

The appearance in California — a state Trump lost by 30 points to Hillary Clinton in 2016 — is taking place amid a Southwestern swing through battleground states. He is scheduled to attend church in Las Vegas and hold a rally in Carson City, Nev., on Sunday, and headline two rallies, in Tucson and Prescott, Ariz., on Monday.

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