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Obama's California Gold Rush: Eclipsing the Empire State

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In the latest dramatic sign that California has supplanted New York at the premiere locale for Barack Obama's fundraising, the Democratic president raised, according to sources, close to $8.5 million here last week on his two-day swing through the state. Even before this, it was clear that California was well ahead of New York in Obama's fundraising operation.

It's important to note that some issues exist with respect to Obama in New York that aren't the case in California.

Some $4 million of last week's haul came in three events in San Francisco, which included attendees from nearby Silicon Valley, with the rest from events in Los Angeles and Orange County.

Intriguingly, Obama's extremely formidable California fundraising machine relies hardly at all on the state's popular Democratic governor or on its dominant Democratic Party organization.

Instead, Obama has forged an operation largely his own, fusing his highly successful 2008 primary campaign organization with that of Hillary Clinton, building on strong potential support bases in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, fusing those with more traditional sources of funds from the professions, real estate, and finance. It's a more variegated approach than in New York, which is heavily dependent on Wall Street. And it has flourished despite disappointing some, such as Hollywood interests who wanted to crack down on the Internet and its potential for piracy and those who worry that Obama hasn't gone far enough on the environment, or has gone too far in Afghanistan.

Then Senator Barack Obama behind the scenes in San Diego at the 2007 California Democratic Party convention, in this New West Notes video.

Ironically, in John Burton, the former congressman and leader of the state Senate who gave U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer her start in politics, California has one of the least pro-Obama state party chairs in the country.

Rather than feature the top figures in the Obama Administration at the annual state party conventions, Burton chooses more lefty national figures, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the Senate's only avowed socialist and a frequent Obama critic.

But it doesn't matter all that much. Obama is in no danger of losing California, and Burton's state party apparatus is appropriately focused much more on key initiatives and legislative and congressional races.

As usual, Governor Jerry Brown was nowhere to be seen during Obama's latest California tour. Better make that, he was nowhere to be seen in the vicinity of Obama.

In the midst of an historic third term as the not so Golden State's governor, Brown, himself a two-time runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination, was prepping for two days of his own high-profile events, hosting Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in a series of events, joining Vice President Joe Biden on Friday.

Truth be told, Brown is not close to Obama, though he defends him in his public remarks and recently hosted Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in California as the Obama Administration and the Brown Administration work to push forward the embattled high-speed rail project.

Unlike most of the California Democratic establishment, such as Senator Dianne Feinstein, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and then San Francisco Mayor Gaving Newsom, who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries, while more avowedly left-ward figures such as John Burton went with John Edwards, Brown was neutral. But, according to sources, he did not spark to Obama during their private meeting then.

That meeting began with the somewhat spiky Brown jousting over some past contretemps with top Obama advisor David Axelrod. Which, if you get Brown, can be a prelude to a very interesting and useful exchange. But it seemed to bring out Obama's cautious side.

Some urged Brown to support Hillary Clinton, despite his bitter battle with the Clintons during the 1992 Democratic presidential race. Others in his family urged Brown to go with Obama.

I suggested to Brown that he back Obama, who was clearly the figure of the future in the Democratic Party. But he stayed neutral, and Clinton went on to win the California primary on 2008's Super Tuesday.

But only after the Obama forces made a major feint toward a big California move, which caused the Clinton campaign to react with a huge defensive effort, parking former President Bill Clinton in California for the last two days of the campaign while Obama sprinted forward in many smaller states, ending up with a Super Tuesday delegate edge over his future secretary of state which he never relinquished.

Despite Clinton's win in the California primary, Obama was a natural for California, as subsequent events showed.

Although Republicans made their usual noises about seriously contesting the state in the general election, Obama crushed John McCain here by more than 20 points. Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose timely endorsement helped McCain beat Mitt Romney in the crucial California primary before knocking him out of the race the following week in Florida, saw the writing on the wall and did little with McCain in the general election besides his customary Columbus, Ohio pre-election event he's done every four years. Within a few weeks of the election, Obama recorded his first video as president-elect: A message for Schwarzenegger's global climate summit in Los Angeles.

Obama was aided greatly in California by a harmonious coming together of the Clinton and Obama organizations, which I reported on here on the Huffington Post in May 2008 in "Obama and Clinton's California Kumbaya."

For the Clinton side, former Los Angeles Music Center chairman John Emerson, an investment banker who was one of Hillary's national finance co-chairs and, before that, President Bill Clinton's California quarterback in the White House, met at length with former state Controller Steve Westly, a former top eBay exec-turned-Silicon Valley venture capitalist, one of Obama's earliest and biggest backers, to pull together the California delegation to the Democratic National Convention, with the two leading their respective candidates' forces in forming the delegation. It went very smoothly.

Emerson, who knew Obama from his alma mater at the University of Chicago Law School, where the future president taught, went on to become one of Obama's top fundraisers. For last week's Obama tour, he noted, the excitement was high, given improvements in the economy and the ongoing spectacle of the Republican presidential race, with a Foo Fighters appearance at one of the LA events adding to the frisson.

For his part, Westly noted Obama's assured performance at a private roundtable with high tech execs at San Francisco's Intercontinental Hotel. Obama may not be much of schmoozer, though he's certainly personable enough, but he is into the give and take of policy and ideas.

In contrast to California, in New York, Obama, according to East Coast sources, has three lingering issues.

A resentment factor, a high maintenance factor, and the Wall Street factor.

The resentment factor comes from the expectation of many in New York that they would be especially close to the the White House. The Clinton White House.

After all, when Bill Clinton left the White House in 2001, he relocated not to his native Arkansas, where he'd been governor, but to New York, setting up his extensive foundation and consulting operations in New York City. And of course Hillary was U.S. senator from New York.

The Obama ascendancy spoiled some fondly held expectations.

The high maintenance factor comes from expectations in Manhattan that a president will especially cater to the town and spend lots of time shmoozing elites.

Obama doesn't do schmooze. It's an issue with all his fundraising, but it seems to be a special issue in NYC, where an expectation of entitlement exists.

Then there is the Wall Street factor.

Obama continued the Wall Street bailout initiated in the Bush/Cheney Administration. Financial elites reaped massive rewards even as their failed operations were bailed out by the government and even as the rest of the economy lagged.

Rather than pursue financial industry reforms first, as one might have expected with a fairly liberal Democratic president, Obama -- urged on by Wall Street-connected economic advisors -- put that much further down on the to-do list. Even though his popularity with the country as a whole would have benefited by more prompt action.

When he did get to his Wall Street reform package, it was quite popular, though far more modest than many had called for.

But Wall Street, despite what many observers consider fairly coddling treatment from Obama, has reacted badly to even more moderate reforms and relatively mild rhetoric from Obama about obvious past failures and overly generous rewards.

Not content with being bailed out and allowed lavish rewards in the process, Wall Street, seemingly insistent on being loved no matter what, has in large measure turned away from Obama, embracing Mitt Romney as its new darling instead. After all, he describes anyone who has any criticism of financialized capitalism as un-American.

Which will actually work out well for Obama in the end, if Romney does recover and go on to win the Republican nomination. Frankly, he's a good foil in this era, and his backers make that even more so.

California was always likely to play a substantially bigger role in Obama's fundraising than New York. The Golden State's economy is much bigger than the Empire State's.

And Wall Street simply can't be catered to the way it would clearly like to be, not by any Democratic president. Whereas Silicon Valley and Hollywood can be.

After all, no one blames them for nearly crashing the global economy.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ... www.newwestnotes.com.

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