Hopefuls make another run through Hollywood

Democratic presidential candidates are making one last foray into Hollywood this weekend to seek donor riches before a key deadline that will be an indicator of strength and viability in the White House race.

Former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) have skedded back-to-back fund-raisers on Friday and Saturday, respectively, that are widely expected to bring in sums well into the seven figures. Late Wednesday, there was some concern over Edwards’ schedule after his wife, Elizabeth, went in for a follow-up medical visit related to her treatment for breast cancer, which has been in remission. His campaign scheduled a news conference today.

Although not considered to be among the top tier of contenders, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in town with meetings and receptions in the entertainment industry as well and will speak Saturday night at a Century Plaza Hotel fund-raising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser on March 29 at the home of Tom Werner; Werner co-hosts with Universal’s Ron Meyer and City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith.

Driving this rush to raise money is the Federal Election Commission’s March 31 deadline, after which each campaign has until April 15 to file its quarterly report, which makes public how much each has raised and who has given to whom. To donors, it will be an early indicator of respective candidates’ strength and viability, even if most lament such a “money primary.”

The amount of fund-raising activity “is hyper crazy because they all have their March 31 deadlines,” said industry political consultant Marge Tabankin. “Each of the campaigns wants to show as much income as possible.”

Political consultant Chad Griffin, who is on the host committee for the Clinton event, said that the deadline is “incredibly important. It is more important than perhaps any other because of the length of this election and the cost of this campaign. It is going to be an incredibly expensive race.”

Campaigns are playing the expectations game, with each trying to minimize how much they will have raised in the first quarter in an effort to surprise with higher figures.

Nevertheless, organizers of Clinton’s event were preparing for a sitdown dinner for 800 people or more. They have been cautious about revealing exactly how much they expect to raise, but sources say it will exceed the $1.3 million that Barack Obama collected last month at a reception at the Beverly Hilton, and one source believes it may double that figure.

The event, at the famous Greenacres estate owned by Ron Burkle, is also expected to sport a similar, if not greater, amount of star power — what one organizer called a “who’s who of Los Angeles.” RSVPs have come from Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, Penelope Cruz and Jeremy Piven, and there was a rumor floating Wednesday that Scarlett Johansson would be there as well. Tickets are $4,600 per person for a VIP reception and dinner, and $2,300 per for the dinner only. Guests were being told to park at a UCLA lot, from which they will be shuttled up to the estate.

“There will be a lot of surprise guests here, really exciting,” said Sim Farar, one of the chairs of the event along with his wife Debra. The other chairs are Haim and Cheryl Saban, Burkle, Steve Bing and Daphna and Dick Ziman.

The Clinton camp also picked up the endorsement of News Corp. prexy-chief operating officer Peter Chernin, who fund-raisers say will be key in tapping colleagues and other media money. There’s talk that he’ll host an event at his home in the coming months.

The invitation to Edwards’ $2,300-per-person event, to be held at the home of attorney Skip Brittenham and actress Heather Thomas, features an extensive list of supporters that include industry figures Alan Horn, Stacey Snider and James L. Brooks, along with political vets like Norman Lear and Stanley Sheinbaum.

While campaigns claim extensive lists of notables on their invites, many expect that when the finance reports are released, they will show that many Hollywood donors are giving to multiple candidates. HBO’s Chris Albrecht, for instance, is on the invite to the Edwards event and is expected to attend the Clinton fund-raiser as well.

“It just feels so early to be so engaged, and I think a big piece of it is that people are so ready to be done with Bush,” Tabankin said. “The encouraging trend is that people are engaged. Most people I talk to think it is a pretty healthy field.”

Yet most everyone who has been watching the race is concerned about the huge amounts of money needed to run in this race, particularly now that California and other large states have moved or are expected to move their primary up to Feb. 5.

That has raised the stakes in a campaign that was already expected to produce record amounts of spending. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack — who courted donors in several visits to Hollywood — has already dropped out, citing money as the primary factor. Many donors say they want to see a healthy debate among viable contenders and are reluctant to back just one candidate so early in the process.

“To a large extent, people are committed to a good primary process,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky.

Producer Mike Medavoy, who has not yet decided whom he will support, had breakfast with Richardson at the Polo Lounge on Wednesday and reiterated what he recently wrote in the Huffington Post. Among many things, he said that he is looking for someone “who can build a consensus” given the problems that the country faces.But among some donors, such a feeling hasn’t muted longstanding resentments and doubts. In a now-notorious flare-up, the Clinton and Obama camps sparred last month, instigated by an interview David Geffen gave to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. In it, he was highly critical of the Clintons — with whom he had been close friends — and questioned her campaign’s efforts to lock down donors.

The flap led to a daylong back-and-forth between the campaigns as the candidates themselves tried to stay above the fray. Apparently to let things cool off for a while, Obama has not scheduled any major industry fund-raisers in Los Angeles since then, but he is expected to schedule more, perhaps in late April in conjunction with the California’s state Democratic Party convention.

Edwards has largely stayed out of the bickering. His Hollywood supporters say that they have picked up some donors from those who have either been turned off by the flap or by those who have concerns about Clinton’s electability and Obama’s experience. With a progressive message, Edwards has appeared at several smaller receptions, including ones at the home of Endeavor’s Adam Venit and another hosted by real estate mogul Chris Pak.

“Everyone who cares has given to everyone,” says Paul Pflug, who has been working with Skip Paul, California finance co-chair of the Edwards campaign. “You are going to see people giving to all three campaigns when the contributions are disclosed. It is similar to a movie release where people are hedging their bets across many platforms and one of them will pay off.”Political consultant Andy Spahn, who helped organize the Obama event for the DreamWorks trio of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Geffen, cautioned not to read too much into the figures. Campaigns have been drawing on their longtime ties to various donors, who will be maxed out as the year goes along.

“In a sense, everyone should do well in the first quarter,” Spahn said. “The question is what can you do to maximize that base and then draw donors in the general population?”

With that in mind, campaigns have been preparing for the next wave of fund-raising. Clinton, for instance, has dispatched a number of surrogates as a way of rounding up support and to solidify her base here. Senior adviser Ann Lewis and former secretary of state Madeline Albright have attended receptions with Los Angeles donors in recent weeks in part to prepare for a planned women’s gathering, and former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke is expected in the coming weeks.

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