- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Sen. Barack Obama is scoring gains in the early campaign-money sweepstakes, pulling in checks from liberal movie moguls, Silicon Valley executives and financiers such as George Soros in a bid to match Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s huge financial advantage in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The youthful senator from Illinois, whose meteoric political fame has propelled him to the top tier of his party’s presidential contenders, has not only been raising serious money for his White House campaign, but has made inroads into Mrs. Clinton’s financial power base in New York, the Hollywood movie industry and among trial lawyers, campaign-finance consultants said.

“Senator Obama is clearly enlisting the support of a lot of people out there. He has the potential to raise $75 million to $100 million. But it remains to be seen how he performs as a candidate over the next three to four quarters,” said Chip Smith, deputy campaign manager for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid and a longtime party strategist.

“But Senator Clinton has demonstrated a fundraising prowess that has produced a lot of donors and givers for our party. She has an incredible roster of people committed to her campaign,” Mr. Smith said.

The former first lady, who would become the first female nominee of a major political party, starts out with a huge $14.4 million war chest leftover from her 2006 Senate campaign. She has an even more valuable list of donors from her husband’s successful presidential races in 1992 and 1996 and a network of seasoned campaign fundraisers that a Clinton supporter said “can raise $100 million without breaking a sweat.”

But reports coming in from Democrats across the country say Mr. Obama is raking in checks from a variety of major donors in part because of his support for troop withdrawal from the Iraq war and his near-perfect liberal voting record.

“I don’t think money is going to be a problem for Obama. At this stage of the game, he is what the late [Republican strategist] Lee Atwater used to call a rocket. He’s a fresh face that captures the attention and fancy of the public,” said campaign-finance lawyer Jan Baran.

Mr. Soros, the New York philanthropist who gave millions of dollars to liberal activist fundraising groups such as MoveOn.org in an attempt to defeat President Bush in 2004, sent the Illinois senator a check for $2,100 (near the maximum $2,300 allowable under campaign-finance limits) right after he announced his presidential exploratory committee.

In Los Angeles, where the movie industry has been a major source of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign fundraising, there has been a much-talked-about Democratic shift to Mr. Obama among major movie producers. Producers Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and David Geffen were reported working on a fundraiser for Mr. Obama for soon after his expected Feb. 10 formal announcement of his candidacy.

Mr. Geffen is officially supporting Mr. Obama and is expected to help him reach out to others in the film industry, and Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Katzenberg have not said who they will endorse.

Mr. Obama was also reported to be picking up support in Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry.

Mrs. Clinton has lost some supporters in financial and entertainment sectors who question her electability. Among them is financial banker James Torrey, who heads the Torrey Funds, a global investment hedge fund.

“I think she’s a great senator, but I’d rather see Barack Obama as president. I think Republicans will make it their life’s work to bring her down,” Mr. Torrey told the New York Times.

Both Mr. Smith and Mr. Baran caution against reading too much into early fundraising.

“Howard Dean, an obscure governor from tiny Vermont, raised $40 million — a record in off-year fundraising then — and was on the cover of all the national newsmagazines. By the time the Iowa caucuses came along, he came in third,” Mr. Baran said.

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