As primaries heat up, donor circuit gains energy

It’s been a year since 2008 presidential candidates started canvassing Hollywood for donors, so you’d think the biz would be tapped out by now.

But backers of Hillary Clinton say their phones are “ringing off the hook” with offers of support, while Barack Obama’s camp is reporting that a $2,300-per-person fund-raising event at a Pacific Palisades home on Wednesday night is “way oversold.” And both sides report inquiries of interest from those thinking of jumping over from the other campaign — although no one will go public and admit it yet.

It all may sound like hype, but the narrowing Democratic field, a hyper-competitive battle for the nomination and looming Feb. 5 California and New York primaries have ignited a new burst of energy on the donor circuit.

There’s no doubt of how competitive it is as time gets more scarce. Agent Mitch Kaplan, a major supporter of Bill Richardson, was courted by both campaigns when reports surfaced that his candidate would drop out last week. He’s going with Obama — the candidate called him personally.

After appearing at an economic roundtable in Van Nuys on Wednesday afternoon, Obama will attend a fund-raiser at the home of portfolio manager David Fisher and his wife, Marianna. Co-hosts include Nicole Avant, Ted Field, Rob Friedman, Irena and Mike Medavoy, Yair Landau, Ross Levinsohn, Kelly Meyer, Charlie Rivkin and Susan Tolson, Ellen and Jon Vein and Paula Weinstein.

Clinton met with her major fund-raisers on Friday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel to map out her plans for the next few weeks, which includes a fund-raiser at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Jan. 31. Among the 60 or so in attendance were Sim Farar, Rob Reiner, Antonio Villaraigosa, Berry Gordy and Clarence Avant.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, John Edwards is holding a rally at the SEIU Local 721 on Wilshire Boulevard near downtown.

Jamie Denenberg, director of publicity at Overture Films and one of the Obama event co-hosts, said, “After Iowa, there was definitely an extra surge of momentum and a lot of people were like, ‘Wow, this guy could really be doing it.’ She added, “It wasn’t the worst thing in the world in New Hampshire, because it just got everyone fired up.”

Clinton’s supporters did breathe a sigh of relief after her New Hampshire win, which stemmed any major shift to the Obama side.

Since then, “Our phones have not stopped ringing,” said Farar, who was recently appointed a national finance chair for the campaign along with Ron Burkle and Haim Saban.

“I am very, very grateful,” Farar added. “We have a lot of new friends who are helping.” He enthused, “We are going to win this thing in February, and we are going to win this thing in November.”

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, a resurgent John McCain will get a boost of support as well on Jan. 31, when MGM chief Harry Sloan holds a fund-raiser for his campaign, just as he did last year. McCain’s fund-raising had virtually dried up as his campaign flagged during the summer, and in the entertainment industry, Rudy Giuliani seemed to be capturing all of the attention. Giuliani’s backers are planning an event, too.

Yet what some fund-raisers are reluctant to do is to engage any of the public acrimony that has tinged the race between Clinton and Obama.

As Farar said, “I don’t deal in that regard. I just deal in raising money, which we will need for a lot of advertising.”

But the enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat after a weekend round of sparring between the Clinton and Obama campaigns over the issue of race. The candidates called a truce on the issue on Monday.

“My heart is broken because the Democrats cannot be doing this to each other,” said Irena Medavoy, who has been raising money for Obama. She was particularly dismayed by some of Bill Clinton’s comments about Obama, including calling Obama’s position on Iraq a “fairy tale.” Noting that this is the first time an ex-president has been so engaged in a campaign, she said, “It is awful for him to be doing this.”

She said that the acrimony has not gotten personal among Hollywood donors and friends on opposing sides of the campaigns, in part because the industry is perhaps familiar with such political tactics. “This is basically what someone says about someone else so they don’t get a movie sold,” she quipped.

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