Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is anticipating that she will not have to wait long to become the Democratic presidential nominee, privately telling campaign donors in California that the race “is all going to be over by Feb. 5.”
Though the focus of the 2008 presidential campaign is on Iowa and New Hampshire, the states with the earliest contests, Clinton suggested that California’s influence might be larger than was commonly believed.
“You’ve got to realize that people in California will start voting absentee about the time Iowa and New Hampshire happen,” the senator from New York said at a closed-door fundraising reception Tuesday evening. “In fact, more people will have voted absentee by the middle of January than will have voted in New Hampshire, Iowa and a lot of other places combined.”
On Friday, California absentee ballots began going out to members of the military and others living abroad.
California’s remaining absentee ballots will be sent out beginning Jan. 7, one day before the New Hampshire primary and four days after the Iowa precinct caucuses.
California holds its primary Feb. 5, along with 21 other states and American Samoa.
“California, Texas, New York, New Jersey -- you’ve got way more than half the country,” Clinton said at the fundraising event at a Sacramento restaurant. “And we’re going to be ready, thanks to all of you. We’re running a vigorous campaign here in California.”
Voters in 22 states will vote after Feb. 5, as will those in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.
The fundraising reception was closed to the news media, but an audio recording of Clinton’s speech was made available to the Los Angeles Times.
For a “VIP” ticket to the event, donors were asked to pay $2,300 -- the maximum amount an individual can give for the primary, a copy of the invitation shows. Others paid $500 for admittance. VIP guests attended a smaller gathering before the main reception and had photographs taken with the candidate, according to people in attendance.
One person involved in the event said more than $300,000 was raised.
Co-chairmen were California Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, a Sacramento real estate developer.
Recent polls show the Democratic race is tight in Iowa and New Hampshire, though Clinton retains a strong lead nationally.
She told the crowd she would need the state’s support even after she won the nomination.
“This state is critical,” she said, “not only to my victory for the nomination, but for the general election.”
A spokesman for the Clinton campaign, Jay Carson, said her comments were unsurprising: “Stop the presses. Sen Clinton does in fact recognize that California is a very populous state that holds a primary on Feb. 5 and also provides absentee balloting to its voters.”
Times staff writer Dan Morain in Sacramento contributed to this report.
The Democratic presidential candidates will debate today in Johnston, Iowa. The forum will be broadcast at 11 a.m. Pacific time on CNN and Fox News.