By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Jill Stewart
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"Before I started with [Mixner], I had no idea how that worked. And he really showed me how to put passion and money together. For me, it's not asking people for money for a new car or something. You're asking for a better country. It may sound corny, but it's true. He really showed me how the system worked, right or wrong — mostly wrong."
Mixner eventually broke off his relationship with Clinton, and this year raises money for John Edwards. Bernard became active with ANGLE and the Victory Fund, which contributes money to openly gay candidates across the country — whether Democrat or Republican. He also landed a job as political adviser to Marc Nathanson, founder and former chairman and chief executive officer of Falcon Holding Group Inc., a cable TV operator. Working for Nathanson, Bernard made his contacts with a lot of very rich folks on the Westside of L.A. During John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, Bernard met Rufus Gifford.
Gifford, from Manchester, Massachusetts, had just quit his job at Davis Entertainment, where he developed and produced family comedies such as Garfield and Daddy Day Care, finding it "wildly unfulfilling." Always a political junkie, he used family connections to find work in the Kerry campaign, where his soft-spoken, easy way with people made him an effective fund-raiser. That job opened doors at other campaigns after Kerry lost the general election to George W. Bush. Within a matter of two years, staffers for Clinton and Obama were calling. After they accepted the Obama offer, Bernard and Gifford formed a consulting firm, B + G Associates. And no one told them to be discreet about their sexual orientation.
"Jeremy and Rufus are two of the best political fund-raisers in the country," says David Mixner. "It's going to make them extremely powerful."
At the Paradise Cantina in Las Vegas, volunteers and staffers are not celebrating. For the second primary in a row, their candidate has lost to Hillary Clinton. (Little do they know that one week later, Obama will win a landslide victory over Clinton in South Carolina and nail down two major endorsements, from President John F. Kennedy's daughter, Caroline, and brother, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, changing the momentum of the presidential campaign.)
Jeremy Bernard and Rufus Gifford look around the Mexican-themed bar.
"Well, I guess it's time to move on to the next one," Bernard says to no one.
A few hours later, as the guys walk around the Excalibur Casino, e-mails start coming into Gifford's iPhone. Chicago is deploying every available hand to South Carolina. The senator from Illinois needs a win.
"Are we going too?" Bernard asks.
"I don't think so," Gifford says.
Bernard and Gifford would go if called, but they have another high-dollar event to organize in Los Angeles. With a need to drench California with costly television ads, it appears the campaign brass want them to focus on raising money. They plan on targeting young Hollywood types and rich gays for the big haul.
"We've surpassed every fund-raising goal we've made for ourselves in the past," Gifford says, "so we won't stop now."
These days, Bernard and Gifford have realized the race has become very personal. "Usually you like to keep some distance in case your candidate loses," says Gifford, "but this one has been different."
They started to feel a true fondness for the candidate back in August, when he appeared at a gay forum televised on the LOGO cable network. After the show, Bernard and Gifford organized a gay fund-raiser at Area, a nightclub on La Cienega Boulevard. In just a few hours, they raised more than $100,000 from 400 gays and lesbians, and Obama gave a speech that some saw as exceptional.
"It was truly phenomenal," says Gifford. "He equated all social injustices with the injustices gays and lesbians have to face."
Just before Obama vanished into his motorcade that warm evening last summer, he draped his arms around Bernard and Gifford and asked them if he did them right. Bernard looked at him, "Senator, you always do us right. This time, you did us proud."
Gifford, the urban sophisticate, started to choke up. Not only did he realize he was finally doing something that would matter, but he seemed to be getting results. On that August night, he thought, possibly the next president of the United States was standing there for all to see, literally embracing him and his lover.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.
More in LA Weekly on Barack Obama:
Obama: Ain't No Such Thing as Superman The audacity yet to come
By JERVEY TERVALONBetween Barack and a Hard Place: Obama's Call to Action
Looking beyond hope in Election 2008
By Laurie Ochoa