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Clinton lays campaign groundwork in California

ElectionsHillary Clinton

Under the chandeliers at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, guests sipped white wine and sampled Vietnamese spring rolls as Hollywood's power players gathered for yet another fete celebrating Hillary Rodham Clinton, this time for her work with women and girls in Third World countries.

President Clinton, a surprise guest, had popped into Friday night's VIP reception upstairs to greet industry heavyweights including Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone and Rob Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate's motion picture group. Hillary Clinton was greeted at the gala with a standing ovation and seated elbow to elbow with Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose fundraising network could help lay the groundwork for her presidential campaign.

Two nights before, some of Clinton's most ardent twenty- and thirtysomething fans — many of whom would leap at the chance to work on her campaign — filled a cavernous nightclub in downtown Los Angeles. It was $20.16 for entry to the Ready for Hillary event, where youthful guests swayed to campaign-style anthems like Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" and purchased Hillary Clinton-themed cocktails at the cash bar.

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The two California events last week illustrated how the machinery for a 2016 presidential race — most important, big money support and grass-roots enthusiasm — is cranking into gear for Clinton regardless of her refusal to say yet whether she will run.

While Clinton is not expected to make a decision until next year, the main outside vehicles for advancing her candidacy — Priorities USA, which promoted President Obama's campaign in the 2012 cycle, and the Ready for Hillary "super PAC" — have begun to corral donors, prepare to refute Republican attacks and set the stage for a formal campaign structure.

Priorities USA, launched by two Obama operatives in 2011, would serve as the vehicle for high-dollar television ads to enhance the Clinton brand in the midst of an expected barrage of Republican attacks. Ready for Hillary, a group that gained attention by signing up senior Clinton advisors including Harold Ickes and James Carville, has been trying to build a grass-roots network of volunteers through Facebook, where it has amassed more than 1 million "likes." The group gained new cachet this month when billionaire activist George Soros joined its finance council as a senior advisor.

Susie Tompkins Buell, the California-based co-founder of Esprit clothing and a member of Ready for Hillary's national finance council, said the group realized it needed to start rounding up volunteers early.

"It's a combination of encouraging her and helping prepare her," Tompkins Buell said in an interview. "Watching past elections you realize how tough it's going to be."

There are no limits on the size of the contributions that super PACs can collect, but Ready for Hillary has limited donations to $25,000. In part because of that limit, some operatives with ties to Priorities have dismissed the long-term impact of the upstart group's efforts. But others say the group's social media list could be helpful in identifying and building Clinton's base — which will probably be somewhat different from Obama's.

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Harold Ickes, an advisor to both groups, dismissed reports of infighting and said there was a natural division of labor between the groups. He noted that substantial lead time was necessary to build a list of names that can be used for small-dollar fundraising, which was crucial to the Obama campaign.

With Ready for Hillary's efforts so far, he said, "you have the names and email addresses and Twitter handles so you can communicate with people on a regular basis, and — if she decides to run — start to mobilize them politically."

In this intermediate period, as admirers clamor for her attention, Clinton has the luxury of dictating her own agenda — traveling the country spotlighting her family foundation's work and building relationships that could be helpful should she decide to run.

The strategy was evident Saturday morning, when she appeared at USC before a who's-who of Latino leaders from across the nation and pressed for congressional approval of an immigration reform measure.

Present as she accepted an award from the Mexican American Leadership Initiative, an organization that works to improve relations between the countries, were three Latino former Cabinet members, along with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez, Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman Henry Munoz and Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo.

Though Clinton made no mention of politics, Henry Cisneros, secretary of Housing and Urban Development during her husband's administration, delivered what amounted to a nomination speech when he introduced the guest of honor.

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"From time to time on the horizon of American history, there appears a leader whose depth of understanding, whose proven experience and untiring dedication makes that leader precisely the right person for that time," he said. "Such a leader is First Lady, U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And such a time — such a time is now."

Clinton's California visit also allowed her to deepen connections with other constituencies that would be key to her political ambitions, including Hollywood.

At a lunchtime event Friday, Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, met with Hollywood writers and showrunners to discuss how they could use their story lines to create more awareness of early childhood development issues and promote volunteerism for young people, two areas of focus for the Clinton Foundation.

During the 2008 campaign, Clinton competed for Hollywood backing with Obama, who drew support from some of the Clintons' longtime supporters such as David Geffen and Katzenberg. She has no such competition now.

maeve.reston@latimes.com

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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