Magic Johnson throws Clinton bash

Avant, Gordy, Jones co-hosting fundraiser

Last week, it was Oprah for Obama.

Today, it is Magic for Hillary.

Whether by coincidence or design, the campaigns of the two leading Democratic contenders for president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, scheduled two Hollywood-heavy fund-raisers within a week of each other, events less notable for the money they’ll raise than for the potential windfall each candidate stands to gain from each host’s respective endorsement.

Coming off of Winfrey’s lavish fund-raiser for Obama at her Montecito home, which drew some 1,500 people last weekend, Magic Johnson is opening up his Beverly Hills home tonight for a Clinton fund-raiser.

The dual events underscore what some call an unprecedented courting of African-Americans by each campaign, particularly those in entertainment and sports, and a split among prominent African-Americans in Hollywood between the Clinton and Obama camps.

Clinton has drawn not just Johnson and his wife, Cookie, but music industry legends Clarence Avant, Berry Gordy and Quincy Jones, who are all co-hosting tonight’s event.

Obama’s campaign, meanwhile, counts Winfrey as well as younger names like Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Chris Rock. Sidney Poitier and Cicely Tyson were among the 1,500 guests at Winfrey’s fund-raiser last weekend, but in general, Obama’s support runs younger. Avant’s daughter, Nicole, is Obama’s Southern California finance co-chair, along with Charles Rivkin.

“I think there is a generational split, not just among African-Americans but voters across the board,” said political consultant Bill Carrick. “Sen. Clinton’s strength is with older voters and Sen. Obama’s strength is with younger voters.”

Johnson’s fund-raiser will be smaller and more intimate than the Winfrey event. Some 300 people are expected, with tickets starting at $500 as opposed to the $2,300 for Winfrey’s fund-raiser.

In Jones’ case, he has a longtime friendship with Clinton and her husband — dating to the days when they were the first couple of Arkansas — and he even taped a video message that was posted on Clinton’s website.

In an interview, Jones cited Clinton’s experience and her “knowledge of the world and perspective on the world.”

“Obama is my brother; he is going to be an absolute winner,” Jones said. “But at this time I am going to go with Hillary, because I feel it from the bottom of my soul.”

But he doesn’t see any acrimony between those who endorse Clinton and those who endorse Obama; rather, he sees the split endorsements as a positive sign.

“The fact that they are thinking past gender and race is a major step forward,” Jones said. “It is a brand new sensibility, and a lot of things have affected that, including what has happened in Iraq.”

The campaigns hope these endorsements will help them reach potential donors — and voters — who have not been tapped before or at least not this early in a campaign. Obama, for instance, held a fund-raiser in April that was aimed at young Hollywood. In the last presidential election cycle, such a group wasn’t targeted by a campaign until months later.

“I think what we are seeing is African-Americans in the business community, in the entertainment community and in the sports community flexing their influence in a more dramatic way,” Carrick said.

Johnson, who is scheduled to appear with Clinton this afternoon at a community meeting at King Drew Magnet School in Watts, has an indelible reputation in Los Angeles, not just as a basketball superstar but for his work as a developer, entrepreneur and philanthropist. The Clinton campaign was so enthused about his plans for the fund-raiser that they put out a press release to announce it. Usually, such events don’t earn such attention.

Carrick said that “in terms of endorsements, he is about as good as you can get.” When Carrick worked on the campaign of Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, and on another campaign to defeat the Valley’s secession from Los Angeles, they polled Johnson’s popularity. It extended beyond African-Americans to voters in general, Carrick said.

Winfrey, too, has a wide popularity, perhaps more international in scope, which is helped by the fact that she’s not seen as overtly political.

Johnson “has a lot of those same attributes,” Carrick said. “He crosses a lot of those same demographics and is seen by a lot of people as nonpolitical. Those are the best kinds of endorsements.”

But the irony is that for the campaigns, each endorsement is thought to help draw the other’s presumed base of support — Winfrey in drawing women for Obama, and Johnson in drawing African-Americans for Clinton.

In California, Obama still leads Clinton among African-American voters, 52% to 43%, according to a recent SurveyUSA poll. But Clinton’s supporters believe that trends are in her favor: The split was 61% to 30% in June.

Obama’s campaign, however, got some recent good news of its own. On Thursday, it announced the endorsement of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

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