Clinton, Obama fight for Illinois dollars



By Deanna Bellandi

CHICAGO – Hillary Rodham Clinton – New York senator, Yankees fan and resident of Chappaqua, N.Y. – has a message for presidential rival Barack Obama: Chicago is still my kind of town.

In the frenetic chase for campaign cash, Clinton isn’t ceding her one-time home turf to the Illinois senator. The 59-year-old woman, born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, is relying on the help of the state’s wealthy and connected.

High-profile attorneys, a philanthropist, longtime Clinton family friends and business leaders, including a son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, are among the prominent Illinois residents invited to a June 25 fundraiser.

While Obama and another top rival, John Edwards, have encroached on Clinton’s new home turf of New York to raise money, Clinton has tapped her Illinois ties and political alliances dating to her years as first lady.

It hasn’t been easy in the state she once called home.

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    In the first three months of the year, Obama raised $3.73 million in Illinois, compared with $373,000 for Clinton, according to their reports to the Federal Election Commission. Even Republicans Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Arizona Sen. John McCain raised more in Illinois than Clinton did.

    Nationwide, Clinton raised $26 million during the first quarter, compared with $25 million for Obama. New numbers will be released June 30, at the end of the second quarter.

    Clinton’s backers remain undeterred.

    “Nobody gets 100 percent of the vote and nobody gets 100 percent of the contributions,” said Chicago attorney Kevin O’Keefe, who met Clinton when they double-dated in college and later worked for her husband at the White House.

    Clinton is trying to build on a May fundraiser in Chicago that raised about $300,000, one that attracted about 300 lawyers, according to Clinton campaign spokesman Blake Zeff.

    On one of her recent visits to Illinois, Clinton said she wouldn’t concede the state to the Hawaiian-born Obama, who lives in Chicago and is a former state senator. Her campaign is publicizing the well-known local donors lining up to support her, even though some have also donated to Obama’s presidential campaign or his successful 2004 bid for the U.S. Senate.

    Clinton and Obama are even dividing families.

    Billionaire businessman Jay Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotels fortune, is working with the Clinton campaign on an initiative to attract new supporters. That pits him against his billionaire sister, Penny Pritzker, who heads national fundraising efforts for Obama.

    Among the prominent Illinoisans listed as event chairs for Clinton’s June 25 fundraiser at a downtown Chicago hotel are Joe Power Jr., one of Chicago’s most successful trial lawyers; Fred Eychaner, a philanthropist and major Democratic fundraiser; Betsy Ebeling, a Clinton childhood friend; and businessman Yusef Jackson, son of Jesse Jackson. The elder Jackson has endorsed Obama for president.

    “We’re working it hard,” Power said of the fundraiser, which will charge $1,000 for a cocktail reception and $2,300 for dinner, the maximum allowed donation.

    The major contributors could help Clinton draw support from Obama, argued another Clinton fundraiser, businessman Mehmet Celebi, a leader in Chicago’s Turkish community.

    “People will assume these big names must know something,” Celebi said.

    Obama has had the help of other major donors as well as Illinois’ leading politicians, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, a longtime Bill Clinton ally.

    Despite Obama’s popularity, Clinton can count on raising money in Illinois because she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are so well-known they can find donors anywhere, said Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute in Washington.

    She and her husband traveled to Chicago during and after their years in the White House to raise money and make appearances. Bill Clinton was nominated for his second term at the 1996 convention in Chicago. The former president also was in the city recently and appeared with Jesse Jackson at his Rainbow/PUSH Organization.

    “She’s really a national figure,” Malbin said.