Hillary Rodham Clinton, in California this week to raise money for her presidential campaign, will find herself embraced by a familiar crowd of wealthy Democrats in this liberal state.
The donor field is one Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have tilled for a quarter-century – and its prominence in state and national politics is in part of their making.
Before Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, Republican presidential candidates carried California six straight times and in nine of 10 elections dating back to 1952.
But Clinton’s victory marked a pivotal moment in California presidential politics. No Republican has carried the state since, and California has grown so reliably Democratic it is unlikely to be contested next year.
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“For a lot of the Democratic activists and donors, that is like a seminal event in their own political history,” Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic strategist, said of the 1992 campaign. “The Clintons are associated strongly with the experience of going from a purple state to a blue state.”
Now, Carrick said, “It’s almost like she could come here every week and raise money … This is just a continuation of a long-term love affair between Democratic activists and donors and the Clinton family.”
After traveling recently to the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire and home to New York for her first campaign rally, Hillary Clinton will headline a series of fundraisers on Friday and Saturday in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
She is spending much of the month pursuing money before the fundraising quarter ends, trying to compete with a bevy of Republican candidates. Jeb Bush, who officially entered the race Monday, has been collecting millions of dollars for months, raising expectations that he may have $500 million by this summer.
Clinton added more fundraisers to her schedule because of concerns about potential Republican rivals, said a campaign official familiar with her schedule but not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of practice. She has nearly 30 this month, including stops in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis. Her popular husband will eventually help her raise more money.
$100 millionAmount Hillary Clinton is hoping to raise this year for the presidential primary
“Our campaign is focused on building an operation that can win a competitive primary,” Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin said. “That has meant a heavy focus on speaking with early state voters and raising primary money.”
Clinton is working to raise $100 million this year for the primary, which is similar to what Barack Obama raised in 2007 and 2011. Even if she becomes the nominee, she can still only spend primary money until late July 2016. The campaign is not asking for money for the general election.
“I feel that’s certainly within reach,” Clinton told supporters in April at her sole fundraiser open to the media in midtown Manhattan. “We have put together a terrific campaign team. It’s kind of like the old Girl Scout song: Make new friends, but keep the old.”
Unlike Obama in 2008, Clinton does not face strong primary competition. Still, she does not want to appear as if she is inevitable, for which she was criticized in her first run.
“The focus on the primary is smart,” said Doug Thornell, managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, which works with Democratic candidates. “It is perceived as fighting for every vote in the primary. She cannot afford to be the presumed nominee in June 2015.”
California is a major source of campaign contributions for presidential candidates of both parties, exporting more money than any other state in the 2012 presidential election. Clinton, who has enjoyed relatively favorable public approval ratings in California for decades, carried the state in 2008 and collected more than $23 million here in her losing primary effort, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“In terms of the deep, enduring and lasting relationships, she just knows a lot of people.” said real estate developer Phil Angelides, a former state treasurer and former chairman of the California Democratic Party. “Both Hillary Clinton and the president have stayed in touch with people over the years.”
Yet the fundraising landscape has shifted in California in recent years, with the growing prominence of the Bay Area and its technology sector money and – with Clinton on the ballot – women.
Karen Skelton, a Sacramento-based political strategist who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, said Hillary Clinton’s “heel print in this state is enormous,” but that she needs to expand her existing network “beyond the loyal givers of the past.”
“There’s got to be a little bit of energy coming from other places,” Skelton said, with “more people who are first-time givers, especially women who have watched the candidacy … from 2008 forward and see it as the opportunity to elect a first woman president.”
Skelton said she and a group of California women last year began working to raise at least $1 million for Clinton by the end of this month. Many contributions she has solicited, she said, have come from first-time donors.
Larry Stone, a longtime fundraiser for the Clintons, was mayor of Sunnyvale when one of Bill Clinton’s aides called in 1990, hoping Stone could introduce him to area donors.
Twenty-five years later, said Stone, now Santa Clara County’s assessor, “the governor’s office in Arkansas doesn’t have to call the mayor of Sunnyvale … and say, ‘Can you introduce us to a few folks?’ ”
He said Hillary Clinton’s network in the state – and the lack of a Democratic challenger of Obama’s caliber – creates “a better platform this time” for raising money.
“California’s not as split as they were in 2008, and I’m talking about rank-and-file Democrats,” he said. “I see a momentum, a level of support among women for Hillary Clinton in 2016 that I never saw in 2008.”
Donors who attended fundraisers for Clinton in California last month said she offered broad partisan appeals with few specific policy proposals. Her demeanor suggested she is trying to overcome national polling showing concerns about her honesty and trustworthiness.
“She’s attempting to show her humanness,” said Stone, who attended a fundraiser in Portola Valley last month. “She sat and talked to the people afterward … She’s genuinely attempting to demonstrate – not to fool – but to demonstrate, that she is a warm, human person who’s qualified to be president because of her experience and level of knowledge.”
On Friday, Clinton will attend three fundraisers in the Los Angeles area: At the homes of Michael Lombardo, an HBO executive, and his husband Sonny Ward; actor Tobey Maguire and his wife, Jennifer Meyer; and Westfield co-chief executive Peter Lowy and his wife, Janine.
She will then travel north to the San Francisco area on Saturday for a reception hosted by Rick Hills, a real estate broker and former San Francisco planning commissioner. Also in San Francisco that day, she will address a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Clinton is asking supporters to raise $27,000 for the campaign – 10 contributions of the maximum allowed by law of $2,700 – making them “Hillstarters;” $50,000 making them “Hillraisers;” and $100,000 making them “Hillblazers.”
“The early money’s so important,” said Ada Horwich, a retired clinical social worker who donated at a Los Angeles fundraiser last month. “The people who … want to get close to her or be important to her understand what early money is, so they’re willing to give early.”