Even the event’s organizer – State Sen. Eric Kearney – said he was astounded by the success of this morning’s Barack Obama fundraising event at the Westin hotel downtown, which may have raised as much as $500,000 for the Illinois Democrat’s presidential campaign.
About 1,000 Obama supporters – including a handful of Republicans – crammed the main ballroom at the Westin to the point where there weren’t enough seats at the tables to go around. Dozens had stand through the breakfast event, lining the ballroom walls.
It was an unusually large fundraising event for Cincinnati, which spoke to the star power Obama carries. Even former President Clinton drew only 600 to a downtown hotel last October when he appeared at a fundraiser for John Cranley’s congressional campaign. Even so, it was something of a “stealth” event for the Obama campaign – no reporters or cameras were allowed inside; and an impromptu press conference promised by a campaign aide after the breakfast failed to materialize. Obama’s security detail, concerned about moving the Illinois senator through a crowd of hundreds of supporters to where the media was camped out, whisked him out of the Westin through a side door, out of sight of the camera-and-notebook crowd.
The cheapest ticket for the morning event was $100, but those who paid $1,000 or more got to spend about half an hour in a private room with Obama before the main breakfast.
Those who donated $2,300 – the maximum contribution allowed for the presidential primary cycle – had their picture taken with the candidate who is hands-down the rock star of the early campaign for the 2008 presidential nomination.
Asked afterwards how much was raised, Kearney – whose wife, Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney was a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama – said that while the checks are still being counted, the event raised at least $350,000 and perhaps as much as $500,000.
“It was unbelievalbe,’’ said Kearney. “The people just kept coming.”
What was most impressive, Kearney said, was “how diverse a crowd it was – whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian folks, rich and poor. It shows the broad appeal Barack has.”
There was a considerable number of people who bought “walk-up” tickets to the 8 a.m. breakfast. As of Sunday night, about 750 tickets had been sold. In the end, at least 1,000 people paid the price to see and hear Obama, a first-term senator whose presidential campaign has created much of the early buzz on the 2008 presidential campaign trail.
One of those inside the reception for large donors was Cincinnati’s most high profile supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose campaign has been trading barbs with the Obama campaign over the past week.
Class-action lawyer Stan Chesley, who has raised millions for President Clinton and for Sen. Clinton’s campaigns, said he was there because he has “enormous respect” for Obama.
“Of course, I am supporting Hillary, but, mainly I want to see the best Democrats run for president,’’ Chesley said. “Sen. Obama is very impressive.”
The crowd inside the main breakfast event ranged from enthusiastic supporter of the Illinois senator to Democrats who have yet to make up their minds about the field of Democratic presidential contenders.
Myrtis Grace of Bond Hill, a retired teacher, said Obama has “re-ignited my interest in politics.”
“I worked for (John F.) Kennedy and for Bill Clinton, but I haven’t been involved lately,’’ Grace said. “But Sen. Obama is inspiring. He’s so passionate.”
Cincinnati Councilwoman Laketa Cole, a Democrat, said she has yet to make up her mind about which presidential candidate to support, but came away impressed by Obama.
“I want to hear Hillary; I want to hear all of them,’’ Cole said. “But he made a great speech, talking about bringing the country, healing the divisions. I like that.”