Obama donates $4,600 to Clinton's debt

June 26, 2008 8:23:40 PM PDT
Barack Obama announced Thursday that he will help pay off Hillary Rodham Clinton's more than $20 million debt, personally writing a check in a gesture meant to win over her top financial backers. Obama met with more than 200 of Clinton's biggest fundraisers at Washington's Mayflower Hotel, the first step in a two-day push to bring her supporters onboard his general election campaign. Behind the scenes, the two sides were negotiating her future involvement with the campaign.

Some Clinton donors had been frustrated that the Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting had not done more to help her pay the bills even as they are expected to help fund his campaign.

Obama received a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 200 when he said he would enlist his supporters to help pay off her debt.

"I'm going to need Hillary by my side campaigning during his election, and I'm going to need all of you," Obama said, according to a report written by the only reporter allowed into the event and shared with other reporters afterward. He recounted how he had told his top fundraisers this week "to get out their checkbooks and start working to make sure Senator Clinton - the debt that's out there needs to be taken care of."

In a symbolic gesture, Obama delivered a personal check for $4,600, for himself and his wife, Michelle. The maximum individual donation allowed by law is $2,300.

Obama finance chair Penny Pritzker also wrote a $4,600 check for herself and her husband. Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe had it in his pocket and showed it to reporters waiting outside. Clinton's debt includes $12 million of her own money. She has said she is not asking for help paying that back.

She told her donors they must make electing Obama a priority, as she acknowledged that hard feelings remain on both sides.

"This was a hard-fought campaign," the former first lady said. "That's what made it so exciting and intense and why people's passions ran so high on both sides. I know my supporters have extremely strong feelings, and I know Barack's do as well. But we are a family, and we have an opportunity now to really demonstrate clearly we do know what's at stake, and we will do whatever it takes to try to win back this White House."

Obama asked the donors for their support, but recognized their hearts may remain with her.

"I do not expect that passion to be transferred," he said. "Senator Clinton is unique, and your relationships with her are unique."

But he added, "Senator Clinton and I at our core agree deeply that this country needs to change."

Clinton and Obama plan to appear together publicly for the first time since the end of the primary on Friday in symbolic Unity, N.H. - where each got 107 votes in the state's January primary. Clinton won New Hampshire in an upset that set the stage for their long campaign, and it is now a critical battleground for the general election.

Obama told reporters Wednesday that he thinks she'll be extraordinarily effective in speaking for his candidacy and he'd like her to campaign for him as much as she can. "I think we can send Senator Clinton anywhere and she'll be effective," Obama said.

But the extent of her travel for Obama is unclear. Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Wednesday that they have not scheduled any events after New Hampshire. "We don't have any specific knowledge of her schedule past Friday," Plouffe said.

Three Clinton confidants - Cheryl Mills, Minyon Moore and Robert Barnett - are in talks with Obama's campaign to work out details of her future involvement, including travel, her role at the national convention and resolution of her debt. Part of their argument has been that Clinton can spend more time helping Obama if she isn't raising money to pay her bills.

Obama told reporters Wednesday he wouldn't send an e-mail asking his small-dollar contributors to donate to Clinton because "their budgets are tighter" and they probably couldn't make much of a dent.

One of the biggest outstanding questions is Bill Clinton's role. The former president issued a one-word statement through a spokesman Tuesday offering to help, but the two men have not yet spoken.

McAuliffe said he spent Monday with the former president, who said "he will do whatever is needed."

"He will go 24/7 if he has to," McAuliffe said. "He's willing to do whatever it takes. Winning the White House is of paramount importance, not only to Hillary but of course to President Clinton."

An Associated Press-Yahoo News poll out Thursday shows Obama has won over slightly more than half of Clinton's former supporters. About a quarter of Clinton's backers say they will support McCain over Obama.

Obama ended Thursday's meeting by taking a few questions from the group, according to attendees. He didn't answer a question about whether he would support putting Clinton's name in for a roll call vote at the convention, but promised she would play a prominent role in Denver.

He also sidestepped a question about whether she would join him on the ticket.

He was asked about "misogyny" in the campaign and said his wife, Michelle, was now experiencing it and that he was sensitive to it, attendees said. He said his 86-year-old grandmother had been very inspired by Clinton's historic run and that his daughters now don't think it's a big deal for a woman to be president.

Bernard Schwartz, a New York businessman and longtime Clinton donor, said Obama won his support.

"You know how it is when somebody says to you, I'll never forget my first love? Hillary was my first love, there's no question about that," Schwartz said as he left the meeting. "Am I going to be passionate for Obama, and can I say right now that I'm passionately supportive of Obama and passionately wish him to win? Absolutely without any equivocation."

Hannah Simone, a Washington energy lobbyist and top Clinton donor, said she entered the meeting undecided but is now ready to help. She can't donate herself because Obama does not accept lobbyists' money, but she said she'll start raising from others. "It was a big step forward for some of us who were very passionate about her campaign," she said.

But some attendees left feeling that Obama didn't go much beyond his standard talking points, and could have done more to win over her supporters. They declined to quoted by name.

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Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

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