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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)

Aronchick said that in his own discussions, he emphasized the need for the senator from Illinois to stop describing Clinton and her backers as representing the politics of the past.

"They need to understand how corrosive that has been among her supporters," Aronchick said. "For this to work, they need to correct any impression that he thinks we represent the old ways of doing things or Washington Beltway ways of doing things."

One top fundraiser for Obama, a veteran of several presidential campaigns who spoke about the private discussions on the condition of anonymity, said there are sensitivities among many of Obama's supporters, as well. The fundraiser said there is a high level of resentment that Clinton has continued to campaign, even though her chances of securing the nomination are remote. Many are unhappy about the idea of having to make room for members of Clinton's finance team, who had "picked the wrong candidate."

"There are people who are thinking, 'Hey, my guy won. Now I have to share the trophy?' " the Obama fundraiser said. "That's something we have to overcome."

Kirk Dornbush, a member of the Obama national finance team in Georgia, said that while there is no formal effort by the Obama campaign to recruit Clinton counterparts, "many of us have friendships with Clinton donors that predate the 2008 campaign and will last long after this race is over. Given this reality, it should not be surprising that we have received phone calls in the last few weeks" from individuals interested in crossing over.

Another major Obama fundraiser, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that while no organized recruitment campaign was underway, "we have picked off some local people and are reaching out to the Clinton people we know individually."

That outreach has been complicated by leading voices in the Clinton campaign having made clear that any defection at this point would be regarded as a betrayal of the former first couple. "Some [Clinton] people have said, 'If you publicly defect, that's the end of our relationship,' " said the Obama fundraiser. "Like, if we live to be 170, we're never going to speak to each other again."

Clinton supporters interviewed for this article all said they think that the senator from New York remains a viable candidate. But several also said they see the wisdom of beginning the conversation about fundraising for the general election.

"We're all thinking about November," said Robert Zimmerman, a New York public relations expert who is a top Clinton fundraiser. "We are starting a dialogue together. I've made it clear [Obama backers] will be welcome to come on board. They've said the same to me."

Zimmerman, who is also a Democratic National Committeeman, said Dean has been a central figure in starting to bring the two camps together. Dean is organizing a May 31 fundraiser in Manhattan honoring Al Gore. The event is being chaired by Orin Kramer, one of Obama's top fundraisers, and by Maureen White, a longtime party fundraiser who has been assisting Clinton.

Last week, the Democratic National Committee announced that both campaigns had signed a "joint fundraising agreement" creating a fund in which donations to each candidate could be pooled with contributions to the party and then used during the general election.

Clinton's New England finance chairman, Steve Grossman, is also co-chairing an event with two top New England fundraisers for Obama, Alan Solomont and Barry White. The June 12 event in Boston is in honor of Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry's brother, Cameron Kerry, and will raise money for the National Jewish Democratic Council, but the invitation list includes top bundlers for both Clinton and Obama.

In addition to the fledgling attempts to merge the fundraising operations of Obama and Clinton, there is growing talk that the best -- and perhaps only -- way to truly mend the rift is for Obama to pick a top Clinton surrogate as his vice presidential nominee.

"There's gale-force pressure for Obama to choose a Clinton loyalist as a running mate to heal the party but avoid putting her and her formidable baggage on the ticket," said one Obama ally in Washington. "You hear the names [Ohio Gov. Ted] Strickland, [Indiana Sen. Evan] Bayh, and [retired general] Wes Clark almost constantly, and it's no secret that Jim Johnson and Tom Daschle are purveyors of that wisdom."

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