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Clinton’s Minority Outreach

Fundraiser Set for Next Week

With competition fierce between Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for black support, Clinton next week plans her first major presidential campaign fundraising push into the Washington, D.C., area’s black community.

The high-dollar Maryland fundraiser is a kickoff of sorts for Clinton — whose husband has been dubbed the “first black president” for his strong ties to the black community — and it sets the stage for a series of events leading up to the Congressional Black Caucus’ annual legislative conference at the end of September.

Organized by Weldon Latham, a national co-chairman for Clinton’s campaign and a senior partner at Davis Wright & Tremaine, the event has more than 50 host committee members including Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.); Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas); Gregory Meeks (N.Y.); Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio); Charlie Rangel (N.Y.); Kendrick Meek (Fla.); and Vivian Bishop, the wife of Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop.

“There is a growing momentum that’s happening in the African-American community,” said Traci Otey Blunt of the Clinton campaign. “In general we just look at this as one of many events that will take place.”

Clinton’s push comes as the presidential candidates face two debates while racing toward the Sept. 30 financial filing deadline.

Clinton’s most recent Washington-area minority outreach was in July, when she spoke to more than 200 black men at a luncheon to talk about issues of concern in their community. In the coming weeks she has several more events targeting blacks, including another fundraiser Sept. 14 in Los Angeles hosted by former NBA star Earvin “Magic” Johnson, along with music moguls Quincy Jones, Clarence Avant and Berry Gordy.

Next week’s fundraiser, which will take place at the Latham residence in Avenel, Md., with a 6:30 p.m. VIP reception followed by a 8 p.m. general reception with former President Bill Clinton in attendance, is expected to raise more than $500,000. Each member of the host committee has committed to raising $15,000, while lower-level donors, called “patrons” and “supporters,” are expected to donate $2,300 and $1,000, respectively.

“The goal is to recruit major organizers with diverse issues,” Latham said of finding fundraisers within the business and minority community.

Locally, Latham sought out Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley; former House Minority Whip William Gray (Pa.), who is now a lobbyist at Amani Group; and former Baltimore Solicitor General Thurman Zollicoffer for the host committee.

Clinton administration alumni including New York Attorney General and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, former Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo West Jr. and former Small Business Administration head Aida Alvarez also have lined up their support for the event.

“She has been very consistent with reaching out to the African-American community since she announced,” said Minyon Moore, a senior adviser to Clinton and member of the host committee. “She reaches out to all segments, and all populations — obviously there has been an elevated interested in the African-American community.”

This comes as her campaign is working to put together an African-American Diversity committee that is expected to be announced later this month and participate in the CBC annual conference. Clinton is working with CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.) and Meek to coordinate an event during the conference, according to Blunt.

Clinton hasn’t been alone in trying to use Washington as a platform for garnering black support. In June, Obama unveiled his urban policy in the District’s Ward 8 as a vehicle to attract disenfranchised voters.

Obama also will be headlining a climate change policy forum at the CBC conference and his campaign has planned a high-dollar fundraiser spearheaded by Black Entertainment Television President Debra Lee at the swanky restaurant Oya looking to take advantage of the minority business-owners who will be in town, said Candice Tolliver of the Obama campaign.

They also are targeting black youth, partnering with Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) for a campaign event during the CBC weekend that will highlight R&B artist Usher.

“There has been intense competition for the African-American vote, without Obama that wouldn’t be there. It’s cut into what would have been rock-solid support for Clinton,” said one Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with a campaign.

That elevated interest has created voter defections from the Clinton camp to Obama as both vie for support within the black community.

“A lot of us are very proud of Sen. Obama. He’s going to be around for a long time and he has a lot to learn while Hillary Clinton has already proven herself,” said Latham of supporting Clinton.

While Clinton tries to keep her historical black supporters on board, Obama’s profile within the black community is only growing in part because his national profile is so new.

“You have to remember that five years ago nobody knew who Barack Obama was,” said the Democratic strategist.

Still, University of Maryland political scientist Ronald Walters said that while garnering support in the black community, especially CBC endorsements, is important, the overall dollar figure the presidential campaigns are looking to raise from the black community isn’t enormous.

“I don’t think money is the point where the Clinton campaign is concerned,” Walters said. “I think it’s more about loyalty ties and getting outside of that group to cut into some of Barack Obama’s popularity.”

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