Democratic presidential contenders returned to California en masse this week -- trolling the state for endorsements, volunteers and, especially, cash.
Despite the ascension of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to the governor’s office in the Oct. 7 recall election, the candidates said they expect the state to remain what it has been for some time -- a leading source of Democratic votes and campaign contributions.
“The recall is done, and they are all here to rake in the loot,” said political scientist Bruce Cain, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The cash derby began Wednesday, when North Carolina Sen. John Edwards arrived in Los Angeles for two appearances and a fund-raiser at the Venice home of actor Dennis Hopper and his wife, Victoria.
About 75 guests, most with Hollywood connections, mingled and admired the couple’s pop art collection as a three-piece jazz combo played. Guests, including actors Bill Paxton and Jeanne Tripplehorn, gave a total of $50,000.
Listed as co-hosts of the $1,000-per-guest event were actor Ashton Kutcher, star of television’s “That ‘70s Show,” Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing,” and Neal Baer, executive producer of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Southern California’s entertainment industry remains one of the main sources of campaign money, although many Hollywood donors are yet to home in on a favorite Democrat.
Campaign records show, for example, that Victoria Hopper has donated $1,000 to Edwards and $2,000 to Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, while Sorkin has spread his money among Edwards ($2,000), retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark ($2,000), Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt ($3,000) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ($1,000).
At Wednesday’s party, Edwards blasted President Bush, saying he had shifted the nation’s tax burden from the wealthiest to the poorest citizens. “We are going to lose our democratic way of life if we are not careful,” he said.
To the north, meanwhile, Dean spent the night at a pair of Bay Area fund-raisers. Early in the evening, he greeted 600 supporters in the atrium lobby of a downtown Oakland office building. Most paid $100 to attend, with students and teachers chipping in at the discounted rate of $35.
Looking out toward supporters looking down from balconies, Dean shouted out multiple denunciations of Bush, building to a crescendo when he rejected the view of some of his Democratic rivals that the president’s middle-class tax cuts are worthwhile.
Dean said any money refunded to taxpayers in federal taxes had been lost to increased state and local taxes and college tuitions. “There was no middle-class tax cut!” Dean said.
Andre Shashaty, the director of an affordable-housing organization in San Francisco, said he gave $500 to Dean, his largest political contribution ever.
“This is a man who seems to have strong opinions and convictions and to stand up for them,” said Shashaty.
Later, Dean convened with about 100 supporters at the loft home of Oakland Mayor and former California Gov. Jerry Brown. Guests each paid $2,000 to hear the candidate and feast on a dinner from the local barbecue institution, Everett and Jones.
Brown praised the candidate for “speaking with a certain clarity,” but said he had met with a number of the presidential candidates and had not decided whether to endorse any of them. He had lunch Thursday with Gephardt in the same office building where the Dean fund-raiser was held.
Gephardt had scheduled fund-raisers in San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto and San Jose during his brief stay, although his campaign declined to provide further details.
Clark planned a town hall meeting Saturday afternoon at the Radisson Wilshire Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and an address to attorneys from the San Francisco Bar Assn. on Sunday. He intended to hold fund-raisers in both cities. His staff also would not respond to requests for more information.
Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio planned to travel to Oakland on Sunday, for a fund-raiser sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), the only member of the House to vote against the war in Afghanistan.
It’s of little surprise that presidential hopefuls can’t stay away from California. Several came to the state during the recall campaign and stated their opposition to ousting Gov. Gray Davis, an easy way to demonstrate their Democratic Party bona fides and grab a piece of the massive media attention on the recall, one political analyst said.
During the last two presidential campaigns, California produced more total contributions from individuals for the Democratic nominee than any other state. In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore received about $5 million in donations from California contributors, which accounted for more than 11% of his $45.6 million in individual contributions, according to campaign statements.
Money wasn’t the only goal for the visits.
Dean appeared at Lafayette Park in San Francisco on Wednesday to encourage hospital workers who hoped to join the Service Employees International Union. The union, not coincidentally, may be on the verge of endorsing the candidate next week.
Aside from the Hollywood fund-raiser, Edwards courted African Americans for support in two events in Jefferson Park in Los Angeles, an area just south of the Santa Monica Freeway. The senator met Wednesday with about 35 ministers at the Messiah Baptist Church in Jefferson Park, along with state Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City), who endorsed Edwards, calling him “a man who has a lot in common with working people.”
Later, 135 attendees listened to Edwards speak at the FAME Renaissance Center, an economic branch of First African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Edwards said he doubted Schwarzenegger’s victory changed the political climate in the Golden State. “California, in its heart, is a Democratic state” he said.
After meeting with the ministers, Edwards met with striking workers at a Ralphs market in the Mid-City area. He shook hands with several strikers and then stuffed a wad of cash into a canister that was used to collect donations for the family of Julio Nunez, a striking employee who was fatally shot on his way to demonstrate Sunday.