Obama, '08 Candidates Head to California

The Associated Press
Wednesday, February 21, 2007; 10:59 AM

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy were just some of Hollywood's hottest celebrities who forked over campaign dollars at a fundraiser for Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama.

Presidential candidates have long been attracted to California by the prospect of high dollars and the opportunity to bask in Hollywood glamor. Now there is also another lure for 2008 candidates like Obama _ the state may move up its primary, creating a treasure trove of delegates to be won in the early run-up to the nominations.

The star-studded, $1.3 million fundraiser for the Illinois senator on Tuesday was just the latest California stopover from top-tier presidential contenders from both parties. Arizona Sen. John McCain was scheduled to be in the Los Angeles area with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was in the state earlier this month.

Lawmakers and Schwarzenegger are poised to move the state's primary to Feb. 5 from June.

The level of presidential activity in the state is unusually intense, with roughly a year to go before votes are cast.

Obama banked checks from stars such as actors George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, and Morgan Freeman, Natalie Maines of the Grammy-winning Dixie Chicks, and director Ron Howard. The private fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton Hotel was attended by 300 contributors who donated at least $2,300 each.

"He's lovely," Aniston said of Obama.

Earlier, Obama urged an audience of thousands at an outdoor rally in Los Angeles to help him transform America.

Appearing to speak to critics who suggest he doesn't have the experience to lead the nation, Obama said, "I've been in Washington long enough to know it needs to change."

He promised to take on issues from health care to education, while changing America's course in an unpopular Iraq war.

"I can't do it without you," Obama, tieless and in shirt sleeves, exhorted the audience of as supporters enthusiastically waved blue "Obama '08" signs.

The Beverly Hills fundraiser, arranged by three of the entertainment industry's biggest names _ DreamWorks studio founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen _ was a reminder that there would be fierce competition among candidates for Hollywood dollars. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and husband Bill Clinton have long-standing ties to the industry.

The entertainment industry is a perennial source of cash for Democrats, with big names often donating to multiple campaigns while withholding formal endorsements until later.

Spielberg, for example, is a host of the event but has not made an endorsement. Katzenberg and Geffen are backing Obama.

Clinton is counting on a Hollywood windfall next month, when a major fundraiser is scheduled at the home of supermarket tycoon Ronald Burkle, a longtime friend and fundraiser for her husband.

The day took Obama to widely contrasting places, although they were just miles apart. At the outdoor rally he talked at length of the struggles of common Americans, then later addressed a crowd of celebrities at the $2,300-a-ticket fundraiser where guests nibbled on shrimp dumplings and crab cakes.

At the park, where admission was free, William Gude of Long Beach said Obama's appeal came from his outside-the-Beltway ideas and opposition to the Iraq war.

"The people with the most experience are the people who got us into this mess. Along with everybody else, I'm ready for a change," the 32-year-old personal trainer said.

"I can't take another Bush or Clinton," he added.

© 2007 The Associated Press