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Rival Camps Plan Inevitable Merger

She may be trailing, but Sen. Hillary Roham Clinton has plenty of supporters and big donors. If Sen. Barack Obama wins the nomination, he will need them.
She may be trailing, but Sen. Hillary Roham Clinton has plenty of supporters and big donors. If Sen. Barack Obama wins the nomination, he will need them. (By Elise Amendola -- Associated Press)

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By Matthew Mosk and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Top fundraisers for Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have begun private talks aimed at merging the two candidates' teams, not waiting for the Democratic nominating process to end before they start preparations for a hard-fought fall campaign.

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Despite Obama's apparently insurmountable lead in delegates needed to claim the nomination, aides to both candidates are resigned to the idea that the Democratic contest will continue at least through June 3, when Montana and South Dakota will cast the final votes of the primary season.

But in small gatherings around Washington and in planning sessions for party unity events in New York and Boston in coming weeks, fundraisers and surrogates from both camps are discussing how they can put aside the vitriol of the past 18 months and move forward to ensure that the eventual nominee has the resources to defeat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in November.

Mark Aronchick, a Philadelphia lawyer who has raised more than $1 million for Clinton's bid, said that while her supporters have not given up on their candidate, they recognize the need to start preparing for the general election.

"Only if we do this right, and see this through in the right way, will there be a chance for a full, rapid and largely complete unification of the party," Aronchick said.

Aronchick was one of about 35 Clinton and Obama insiders who attended a dinner last week in Washington aimed at what he characterized as helping the two sides "grope towards unity."

The gathering, held at the Ritz-Carlton residence of Jim Johnson and Maxine Isaacs, was a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee at which former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin was honored. But the guests were well aware of the symbolism as they sipped cocktails and admired the views of the Potomac River and the Washington Monument. The event honoring a prominent Clinton supporter was held at the home of an Obama backer and co-hosted by another, former senator Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.).

"The people there had all picked sides," one attendee said. "There was a sense that there is an obligation to lead by example."

While there was little outright talk of how the primary campaign would end, guests confirmed that DNC Chairman Howard Dean set the tone with a speech in which he emphasized that despite the protracted nomination fight, he is already instituting a plan to combat McCain.

The message was clear, according to one attendee, who said, "You don't go anywhere anymore where there isn't a sense that this is over and this is about how people behave over the next month."

Even with the work in top levels of the party to broker a detente between Obama and Clinton donors, both sides acknowledge there is much still to be done.

Top fundraisers have invested not only their time and money but also their emotions in the primary battle. Major financial backers say the tensions have been particularly acute in recent weeks as frustrations have mounted in both camps.


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