Hillary Clinton Strikes Gold in Bush Country

Texas ranks second only to New York in bucks for the senator

This summer, Hillary Clinton is reportedly rolling in dough. New York's junior senator has amassed a $12.6 million war chest for her re-election bid next year, raising half that amount from April to June alone.

Clinton's latest campaign reports, filed on July 15 with the Federal Election Commission, became public on July 28. Her second-quarter contributions totaled $6,108,413. Combined with interest and refunds, the campaign took in a total of $6,145,305 during the period. More than $5.8 million came from individuals—65,691 in total. Those filings sprawl across hundreds of pages, so finding out exactly where her money came from in that round will take some time.

But her filings do show how broad her appeal has grown, as this politician from the bluest of states collects the greenest of dollars from, of all places, Texas. In fact, the heart of Bush country has ranked second this year only to New York in filling her coffers, contributing $458,874, from 456 contributors. Compare that to what she got from solidly Democratic California, which donated just $311,900, from 234 people.

Back home in New York, according to campaign reports, the senator has collected $1.7 million, from 1,020 supporters.

The Texas contribution list reveals a surprising gold mine for Clinton. Plenty of Austin liberals have embraced her, from Ann Richards, the former governor (who gave $1,000), to Luci Baines Johnson, the president's daughter (ditto). Clinton's base extends far beyond this progressive island to Houston, Dallas, and the Rio Grande Valley. A poor area along the Mexican border, the valley accounted for nearly half of all contributions, most of them at less than $1,000 a pop.

"Hillary has a mix of large and small contributors," says Garry Mauro, an Austin lobbyist who has helped her raise Texas money, and who spoke to the Voice while in D.C., fresh from meeting with her finance chairman. He add, "This tells you she has a broad base of support," more so than other out-of-state senators.

It may seem counterintuitive that the lioness of liberalism would have friends here. We are talking about the stomping ground of Karl Rove and George W. Bush, after all. The GOP dominates the political landscape, with Republicans holding all statewide offices, most of the state legislature, and most of the congressional seats, too. Just the mention of Clinton's name can whip up a frenzy among Texas GOPers. Case in point: Governor Rick Perry's campaign hired two men to film a March 3 event where she hugged then potential Perry rival Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The videotape wound up in the e-mail boxes of local conservatives. Hutchison fired back with an old letter Perry had written praising the senator for her health care reform efforts.

The state's fire-engine-red atmosphere has left local Democrats out in the cold. That may explain why they have become such generous supporters of the national party. Texas happens to be a net exporter of political money, and leading Democrats go there to raise lots and lots of cash. Mauro says every senator up for re-election will make a stop in the state, knowing full well that Texas Democrats are looking to use their money to help somebody get elected. Still, there's something about Hillary Clinton that sets her apart. A Western senator may swing through Texas raising $20,000, Mauro notes, while she'll get $200,000. "See the difference?" he asks.

When Clinton walks into a room full of Texas Democrats, people tend to go nuts, bending over backward to contribute. Houston attorney Arthur Schechter, who hosted several dozen fundraisers last year, says the typical event involves a lot of arm-twisting. "You've got to get people on the phone and convince them to shell out money," he explains. But when it comes to Hillary, "you just put out the word and people want to be associated with her." People get angry if you don't invite them to the event.

The bulk of Clinton's Texas money so far has come from a 36-hour, four-city blitz that Mauro organized in March. He hosted one of her two Austin events at his home, drawing 500 people to a $100-a-ticket affair and raising approximately $70,000. Schechter held a Houston meet and greet, where 100 people wrote what he calls "substantial checks," yielding about $100,000.

Nobody raised more money for Clinton than banker and real estate tycoon Alonzo Cantu, from the town of McAllen. On March 22, he organized a $500-a-ticket luncheon that collected close to $220,000. That's especially impressive since McAllen sits in one of the poorest areas in the country.

Cantu says Clinton is "wildly popular" in the Rio Grande Valley, largely because of the issues for which she stands. People cannot forget the former first lady from her White House days, when she and husband Bill toured South Texas, showing an interest in the economically troubled region while most politicians had abandoned it. "A lot of people are excited about her and maybe her future," he says. "They feel she knows the valley, and if she got elected to higher office, she'd help us out."

Valley residents aren't the only Texas Democrats to view Clinton as a favorite for the 2008 presidential race. As Schechter puts it, "People in Texas who know Hillary love her. It's difficult to be around her and not understand why that would be so."



Research assistance: Anat Maytal
 
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