As Barack Obama entered the history books as the presumptive Democratic nominee on Tuesday, his backers in Hollywood are beginning in earnest the process of bringing in some of Hillary Clinton’s most strident and stalwart supporters, fund-raisers and donors.
Plans are being drawn up for the candidate to make a visit to Los Angeles later this month and to reach out — in some cases personally — to those in the Clinton camp.
Obama clinched the nomination shortly after polls closed in South Dakota and just an hour before they closed in Montana, the final primary contests of one of the most bitterly fought races in recent political history.
Before some 17,000 supporters in St. Paul, Minn., at an arena that will host the Republican National Convention in September, Obama made an effort at party unity and praised Clinton’s campaign, saying, “Our party and our country are better off because of her and I am a better candidate for having had the honor to compete with Hillary Clinton.”
Appearing at an event with supporters in New York, Clinton also praised Obama — but she stopped short of conceding or even noting that he had crossed the threshold.
“In the coming days I will be consulting with supporters and party leaders on what is the best way to move forward, with the best interests of the party at heart,” she said.
With a list heavy on stars and writers, directors and producers, Obama amassed a large and high-profile group of donors from the entertainment industry and Southern California, led by his two finance co-chairs from the area, Wild Brain CEO Charles Rivkin and music industry executive Nicole Avant, and fund-raising consultants Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford.
“This is a joyous and important moment in American history and for the world,” said Avant, who spent part of the day responding to calls and e-mails from friends around the world.
“We have a big job in November, and we will need everyone,” she said. “I believe that we will all pull together and take this all the way.”
Unity won’t necessarily be easy, as many of Clinton’s die-hard supporters were so certain for so long that she would capture the nomination. In the past few days some Clinton donors still sounded a bit shell shocked that Obama is leading the ticket, and others are making the case for Clinton as Obama’s running mate.
“Unbelievable,” one of Clinton’s fund-raisers said on Monday, as it looked all but certain that Obama would clinch the nomination.
The process of bringing in Clinton backers will be a delicate task, as the campaign balances the loyalties of those who have been with him from the start with the needs of her backers to feel like they have an important role in the effort.
In the past week or so, some of Clinton’s fund-raisers have had informal talks with their counterparts in the Obama campaign about helping out in raising money, sources say, although they declined to identify them until Clinton makes a decision about her campaign.
Clinton’s list of campaign bundlers includes some of the biggest names in the Hollywood and Los Angeles political establishment, including Ron Burkle, Steve Bing, Haim Saban, Rob Reiner, Marc Nathanson and Peter Chernin, among others.
Saban in particular has been one of her passionate, longtime backers, and there is some question as to when or even if he would back Obama. He was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
After endorsing Clinton in October, Reiner traveled to many primary states to stump for her campaign. He has been particularly outspoken in pushing her electability, to the point of irritation among some Obama supporters, whether at a recent Clinton fund-raiser in Century City or at a recent gathering of industry Democrats with Howard Dean, according to sources who were there.
But his political consultant, Chad Griffin, said on Tuesday that Reiner “has always maintained that he will enthusiastically support the nominee.” Griffin added that Reiner also has expressed his notion that the “best way to win in November” would be via a “unity ticket” of both candidates.
The influence of major donors and fund-raisers in the industry has perhaps waned as the Obama campaign has revolutionized the way that money is raised over the Internet. Nevertheless, as the race turns to the general election, the campaign is still expected to rely on traditional fund-raisers, as he can now reap the benefit of money that can be raised by the Democratic party, in much larger increments of $28,500 per person. And if they haven’t already done so, donors can give an additional $2,300 to Obama for the general election.
“I think the Hollywood community will quickly unify behind the candidacy of Obama,” predicted Marge Tabankin, a longtime political consultant and executive director of the Streisand Foundation.
It seemed last year, when candidates were spending a lot of their time wooing donors, that Obama, a first-term senator and the first African-American to lead a major party ticket, would end up as the standard bearer.
Moreover, it seemed even more unlikely that Obama would outraise Clinton not only nationwide but in the entertainment community — where Clinton’s ties were deep given her campaigns for the Senate and her husband’s embrace of Hollywood during his presidency. Yet through the end of April, Obama had raised more than $4 million from the entertainment industry to Clinton’s $3.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, after both candidates ran nearly even for much of the election cycle.
While Clinton garnered a substantial number of avid supporters in the entertainment community, including many long connected to party politics, Obama demonstrated an ability very early on to draw high profile figures.
He courted support well before he got in the race, and, once he announced his candidacy, scored the first major fund-raiser in the entertainment community: An event in February, 2007, hosted by DreamWorks partners Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, the latter of whom participated even though he had yet to endorse.
But Clinton quickly showed her own fund-raising prowess with a lavish event at the home of Ron Burkle and another fete at the home of News Corp. COO Peter Chernin. By mid-summer, when Spielberg gave his endorsement to Clinton, some suggested that Obama may have been one of the industry’s flavors of the month.
In fact, the candidate held on to his donor base, even if he had to reassure supporters as he lagged in polls.
“I recently spoke with President Howard Dean” he joked to donors at the home of Kelly and Ron Meyer in October, as Clinton’s campaign took on an aura of inevitability.
“I’m a 46-year-old African American male running for the leader of the free world,” Obama told the crowd. “I was always the underdog. It was not going to be easy.”
Irena Medavoy, who with her husband Mike held a fund-raiser for Obama that same day, recalled attending a Clinton event the next night at Reiner’s home. With Obama then far behind in the polls, some of Clinton’s supporters told her, “Why don’t you just walk on over?'” “I said, ‘Ditto,'” she recalled.
Obviously, Obama’s fortunes changed, and his win of the Iowa caucuses suddenly recast the race.
After his lopsided victory in South Carolina, his sweep of smaller states on Super Tuesday, and his win of 11 straight contests in February, Obama seemed to seal his road to the nomination. Clinton backers privately expressed their frustration with the campaign and one of its chief strategic errors: Its assumption that she would have the nomination locked up on Feb. 5.
Tensions on both sides hardened, sometimes spilling out in public. Larry David wrote critical editorials about Clinton on Huffington Post, while Clinton bundler Daphna Ziman sent e-mails questioning Obama’s commitment to Israel.
But even as some of her supporters conceded in late February that her getting the nomination was unlikely, Clinton’s wins in Ohio and Texas, as well as Pennsylvania, injected a new sense of energy.
as recently as mid-May, when Clinton appeared at a $150-per-person fund-raiser in Century City and made an appeal to her electability, her supporters sounded almost defiant in their insistence that superdelegates should break her way and that the media had not given her a fair shake. One undeclared superdelegate in the crowd was hounded by donors asking him to go for Hillary.
But Medavoy says that the tone has changed in recent weeks. She has started to get calls from Clinton supporters inquiring about helping out or even meeting the candidate.
“The healing already started three weeks ago,” she says.