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Obama Woos Clinton Donors, LGBTs Included

Obama Woos Clinton Donors, LGBTs Included

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Sen. Barack Obama meets with Hillary Clinton's donors in D.C. on Thursday, but the campaign's efforts to romance Clinton's LGBT fund-raisers is still finding its groove.

As the Obama campaign prepared to woo high-powered Clinton donors at a Washington, D.C., event featuring both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama Thursday evening, it was unclear how many of Clinton's major LGBT donors would be present.

Mark Walsh, who had a full-time position in Clinton's campaign as director of LGBT outreach, which included a fund-raising component, said via e-mail that he had not been contacted about the event, nor had three other Clinton donors he spoke with recently.

Reached for an interview two weeks ago by phone, Walsh said he wanted to be helpful to the Obama campaign but had not seen a lot of individual outreach yet. "They haven't approached any of my people that I know of -- my people meaning Clinton fund-raisers in the gay community -- to say, 'Will you help us put an event together?'" he said. "I hope they do because they certainly should. There's a lot of people in the community that want to be helpful and make sure we elect a Democrat in the fall."

The campaign did hold a conference call on June 6, led by Steve Hildebrand, Obama's gay deputy campaign manager, to court Clinton's LGBT backers; the call drew about 1,500 listeners. Though campaign officials declined to speak on the record about finance outreach, Kevin Jennings, cochair of the senator's LGBT finance committee, said he had been especially cautious not to bludgeon Clinton's donors so soon after her exit from the race.

"There is an enormous feeling of loss and disappointment, which is very natural. I felt like we needed to be very respectful of those folks and give them room to make the decision that works for them," Jennings said, adding that he had been having some one-on-one conversations with former Clinton backers even though they had yet to begin a massive outreach campaign. "We really wanted to let the overall campaign process with the Hildebrand call and the meeting tonight play itself out and then approach people in a respectful and quiet manner."

Jennings said he did know of one donor from the LGBT camp who was flying to D.C. from Seattle in order to attend the event and make an informed decision after hearing Obama speak Thursday evening.

Though Jennings noted being "encouraged" by recent conversations he has had with LGBT Clinton backers, some Clintonites such as Jeff Soref have decided to focus their energy elsewhere in the coming months.

"I'm on the platform committee for the [Democratic] convention, and my plan is to be involved with that," said Soref, who is serving on the committee on behalf of New York State. "To the extent that I can help to make this platform LGBT-friendly, I'd like to do that, and that's what I'm really focusing on right now. It's convention-specific." Soref added that he did have what he termed one "significant" phone call from the Obama campaign about fund-raising, though he declined to say whom he had spoken with.

Another key Clinton donor, Fred Hochberg, has spoken with chief strategist David Axelrod and finance chair Penny Pritzker from the Obama camp and is already working his donor connections. "I am enthusiastically supporting Barack Obama for president, raising money and ready to campaign where needed," Hochberg, who is traveling internationally, said via e-mail.

As Obama heads into the general election, many are betting that he will have to diversify his fund-raising efforts to include his extraordinarily successful online outreach to smaller donors as well as the more traditional type driven by "bundlers" -- people who hold large parties where attendees often give in bigger increments or max out at $2,300 for the general election.

Obama has raised a record $296 million to date, but his numbers for May softened a bit, putting him about even with John McCain for the month at $22 million each.

Clinton's donor network could be key to boosting Obama's efforts, partly because her campaign was more engaged with the bundler technique and had great success with it -- raising $238 million, second only to Obama as an all-time fund-raising record. "Our fund-raising was very event-driven," explained Walsh, who set up a handful of LGBT fund-raisers for Clinton. "We know that [Obama] had phenomenal success on the Internet, so I don't think that they were as event-driven as is traditional."

Jennings said he and LGBT finance cochair Joan Garry were in the process of arranging a series of Obama LGBT fund-raising events in 15 to 20 different cities across the country. "Some will involve the senator, some will involve Mrs. Obama, some will involve the eventual vice presidential nominee and other politicians and celebrities," he said.

One thing all Democratic LGBT donors share is a hunger to take back the White House this November and the need for plenty of money to make that a reality.

"I think we are in for a very very ugly fall. The Republicans have already lost the Senate and the House, their only hope is to hold on to the White House. And their only hope of holding on to the White House is to destroy Barack Obama," said Jennings, adding that he completely agrees with Obama's decision to opt out of public financing, which would have limited his financial resources. "To me, that would have been like unilaterally disarming."

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