May 18, 2008 in Nation/World

Despite tensions, Democrats eye merger

Matthew Mosk and Chris Cillizza Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Top fundraisers for Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have begun private talks aimed at merging the two candidates’ teams, not waiting for the Democratic nominating process to end before they start preparations for a hard-fought fall campaign.

Mark Aronchick, a Philadelphia lawyer who has raised more than $1 million for Clinton’s bid, said that while her supporters have not given up on their candidate, they recognize the need to start preparing for the general election.

“Only if we do this right, and see this through in the right way, will there be a chance for a full, rapid and largely complete unification of the party,” Aronchick said.

Aronchick was one of about 35 Clinton and Obama insiders who attended a dinner here last week aimed at what he characterized as helping the two sides “grope towards unity.”

But even with the work in top levels of the party to broker a detente between Obama and Clinton donors, both sides acknowledge there is much still to be done. Major financial backers say the tensions have been particularly acute in recent weeks as frustrations have mounted in both camps.

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.

One top fundraiser for Obama said that while no organized recruitment campaign was under way, “we have picked off some local people and are reaching out to the Clinton people we know individually.”

Clinton supporters interviewed for this article all said they think she 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.”

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