Presidential hopefuls find there's campaign gold in those California hills

For the Democrats contending for the convention crown this summer, California is a burgeoning ''gold coast.'' Walter Mondale has more contributors here than in any other state. A quick trip to Los Angeles the week before the Connecticut primary last week netted him around $125,000 in less than 24 hours.

Gary Hart cleared $110,000 on a benefit concert here by singer-songwriter Carole King the next weekend, without even showing up.

Whereas New York, Illinois, and Florida were once the states that bankrolled Democratic campaigns, now New York, Texas, and California are the leaders.

It is not uncommon for politicians from all over the country to visit California for a few discreet fund-raising dinners with financially heavy hitters.

The California connection has been especially critical for Senator Hart's campaign. His strong suit here is his popularity in Hollywood.

Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were early Hart promoters. Other backers now include Goldie Hawn, Jack Nicholson, Donna Mills, and Mary Tyler Moore, as well as executives, such as Mo Austin of Warner Bros. Records and Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency.

Mr. Hart's Hollywood point man, however, has been Mike Medavoy, the president of Orion Pictures.

Mr. Medavoy figures he has had a hand in raising between $400,000 and $500, 000 on Mr. Hart's behalf, most of it in southern California, some of it in New York, at least half of it from the entertainment industry, much of the rest from young lawyers.

Medavoy's efforts make up a prominent chunk of the roughly $4.5 million that Hart has pulled in (not including federal matching funds) since his first fund-raising event in late 1982.

Hollywood ''has been extremely important in the early days,'' says Hart's California campaign manager, John Emerson. As Hart has become better known, he adds, contributions have balanced out more from around the country.

''Redford got me into this,'' says Medavoy, who has been a friend of Hart's since the Coloradan's latest Senate campaign in 1980. Medavoy claims other ''friends'' in the Senate as well, including Democrats Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Max Baucus of Montana.

Just as Hart alone seemed to grasp how his primary campaign would burst into prominence, so he apparently envisioned his financial scenario before it was played out.

''He went after a certain group early,'' explains Medavoy, who was part of that group. Hart rejected Medavoy's advice to pursue the regular Democratic contributors around town. Instead, he sought a generally younger, less traditionally political, set of supporters.

It worked, Medavoy says. ''I try not to limit it to the Hollywood community, '' he says. ''I think it has to do with age, a sort of generation gap. A lot of the people who are involved are more of the younger set.''

Medavoy's enthusiasm for Hart is, first, because he thinks Hart is more likely to beat Ronald Reagan than Mr. Mondale is. Second, ''It's as clear as a glass of water to me that the Democratic Party is not going to be the same'' after Hart's run.

Walter Mondale has not been as popular with the Hollywood set, but has not suffered much from it. ''Overall, it's important,'' says Mondale's deputy finance director, Curt Wiley of liberal Hollywood, ''but we've managed to do the lion's share of our fund raising without real strong ties there.''

''Gary Hart has assiduously courted that community since '72, when he was with the McGovern campaign,'' Mondale state campaign chairman Mickey Kantor remarks.

''California remains a gold coast,'' notes Bert Coffey, a Democratic national committeeman and former California Democratic Party chairman, ''because in addition to all the PACs and special interests, we have all these people who are celebrity conscious.''

Both Hart and Mondale, he says, are on a first-name basis with contributors all up and down the coast.

In dollar totals, the Mondale campaign has far surpassed Hart in reaping California bounty. Hart has raised between $400,000 and $450,000 here. California is just at the point of surpassing his native Colorado as his heaviest contributor. Mondale has raised $1.75 million here, about 15 percent of the $12 million he has raised nationally.

New York has been a little more lucrative for Mondale so far, partly because of the earlier primary there.

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