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Campaign Gold Awaits Kerry in California Visit

Democrats line up to help the candidate through a cash crunch as he attends fundraisers this week throughout the state.

March 29, 2004|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

It's pretty much the same story everywhere -- last year, you had to practically drag a Democrat out to hear John F. Kerry. These days, they're banging down the gates.

Los Angeles City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who endorsed Kerry's presidential bid shortly after being sworn in at City Hall in July, spent time stumping in the Southwest for the Massachusetts senator. There were moments when Villaraigosa feared he had blundered by coming out so early for him.

"The loneliest place in the world was campaigning for John Kerry in Arizona in the fall," said Villaraigosa, a national co-chair of Kerry's campaign.

Hale Boggs, a corporate lawyer who splits his time between Los Angeles and Palo Alto, had a similar experience. Boggs, grandson of the famed Louisiana congressman with the same name and nephew of journalist Cokie Roberts, last April invited a group of Northern California lawyers to meet Kerry. Only 15 showed up.

But now, with Kerry's near-sweep of the Democratic primaries and caucuses, and what many perceive as President Bush's increased political vulnerability, the crowds are large and the checks are flowing to the cash-strapped candidate.

The presumed Democratic presidential nominee, who arrived in Sacramento on Sunday afternoon, will tap into that enthusiasm in California this week, headlining a series of fundraisers up and down the state. The trip will mark the start of a 20-city tour over several weeks that aims to raise $20 million, said Michael Meehan, an advisor in the Kerry campaign.

In heavily Democratic states such as California, Kerry is clearly benefiting from the intense hostility among many party members toward Bush.

"I think America is more divided than at any time in our history; yes, even [more than] during the Civil War," said former hospital chief executive Donald V. Allen, a national finance co-chairman of the Kerry campaign. Allen, who lives in Culver City, has raised "six figures" for Kerry and said it's been easy.

"I only have to call them once," he said. "It's not like the old days where you'd have to call them three times."

Chad Griffin, a former aide to President Clinton who is now active in Hollywood political circles, said: "There's a pretty broad consensus that [Kerry] has a great chance of beating our current president."

Kerry kicks off his quest for money today in Sacramento at a lunchtime fundraiser hosted by State Treasurer Phil Angelides.

This evening, in San Francisco, Kerry is set to garner donations from the city's old-line Democrats and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. Among the guests expected at the event at the Westin St. Francis Hotel are investment banker Sandy Robertson and venture capitalist John Doerr.

On Tuesday morning, Kerry is set to fly to San Diego for a luncheon.

The signature event of Kerry's California trip is scheduled to take place Tuesday evening at the lush Beverly Hills estate of Ron Burkle, an investment banker and former supermarket mogul who has often opened his home to political and charity events since he purchased it for nearly $18 million in 1993.

Villaraigosa said the party is "the hottest ticket in town." James Taylor, a Massachusetts pal of Kerry's who is in Los Angeles recording a Christmas album, is scheduled to perform.

The event, which costs a minimum of $1,000 per ticket, is practically sold out. Organizers, who were initially expecting around 750 people, said it may draw as many as 1,500.

Elaborate arrangements have been made to avoid disrupting the neighbors. Guests will gather in a parking lot in Beverly Hills to be transported by vans up to Greenacres, the 32,000-square-foot villa on five acres that was built in 1927 by silent screen star Harold Lloyd.

The list of "chairs," "sponsors" and "hosts" is long and cuts across the worlds of entertainment, law, business and politics.

The event was planned before Kerry became the apparent Democratic nominee, said one local Democratic activist, who asked not to be named. "As soon as that happened, a lot of people jumped on," the activist said.

Stars who have lent their names to the bash are the usual who's who of Hollywood's Democratic A-list -- Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Francis Ford Coppola, Jamie Lee Curtis and Sharon Stone.

Among the event chairs are entertainment executives Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of DreamWorks; Paramount Chairwoman Sherry Lansing; and producer Lawrence Bender, whose Holmby Hills home has become a locus of local Democratic fundraising. The chairs have committed to raising at least $50,000, by bundling contributions from individuals who by law can give no more than $2,000 to a candidate.

"Some people have hit roadblocks because the people they have gone to have already given," said Bender.

Some Democrats may be tapped out, but others are writing bigger checks than usual.

"I am in the group of people who used to write $100 or $250 checks," said longtime Democratic activist Margery Tabankin, who serves as a political advisor to Streisand. "For me to write a $2,000 check is the largest check I have ever written to anybody in my life for anything. But I care about this, so I am willing to give up Bloomingdale's for the next year."


Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak contributed to this report.

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