Clinton's nighttime job: fundraiser-in-chief

President Clinton is moonlighting again this weekend.

While his day job may be running the country, nights and weekends he's busy at his second occupation: raising cash for the Democrats. For him, it's the next best thing to campaigning. For the party, it's like having King Midas show up.

This weekend, he'll hit seven fundraisers in three days in California. That will put him close to 150 for the year, netting over $82 million - more than any president has raised for his party in history. "There's never been a fundraiser like Bill Clinton and there may never be again," says Larry Makinson of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

While the media may be losing interest in this lame duck, that can't be said of adoring Democrats, who are still thrilled to be in his presence. Donors line up for photo shoots before sitting down to $1,000-a-plate dinners, and eagerly push toward him when he works the rope line at the end of receptions.

"A lot has to do with who he is, and not just that he's president," says David DiMartino, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It's his personality, his charisma," he says, adding that Clinton has pulled in more for Senate candidates this year than ever before.

Usually, Clinton warms up the crowd with a personal comment relevant to them - like telling fundraiser host and Hispanic television star Jimmy Smits this week, "If I have to hear Hillary say one more time that 'this is the best-looking man I have ever seen,' I think I will die." Mr. Smits, a friend of the Clintons, had called the president only that afternoon and asked him to stop by that night's gala for Latino arts.

And whether he's holding forth in a private home or in a stadium, he leans in close and talks plainly, beginning with an exclamation, "Listen to this!" - as if he's about to tell you the most amazing thing.

Sometimes, he can get carried away. At a sweltering fundraiser in the home of long-time friend Mack McLarty last week, he delivered lengthy remarks, which followed several others' lengthy remarks. The audience was visibly uncomfortable, but the "cheerleader-in-chief," as he now refers to himself, kept on going - despite several opportunities to break off.

Midway through his speech, an elderly gentleman passed out and hit the floor. Clinton called for a doctor, asked the crowd nicely to stop staring - "It's just hot," he said - and then continued to talk about the importance of the upcoming elections.

When you listen to the president making the rounds on the Chilean-sea-bass circuit (today's stepped-up version of the rubber-chicken circuit), you get the feeling that fundraisers are, for him, close substitutes for campaigning.

It's a window into how he'd make his pitch, were he out on the campaign trail himself. It goes like this:

This year's election is not like 1992. It was easy to take a risk on an unknown like him back then, because the country was in a ditch. Campaign 2000 is much more consequential, he says, because it's about mapping a whole new landscape in an era of great change and unlimited opportunity. It will take futurists to lead the country - and this is where he makes his pitch for Al Gore and his wife.

But you know that, deep-down, he's also wishing it could be him.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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