Monday, October 15, 2007

"Obama's wife in London on charm offensive"

Telegraph UK:

he wife of the US presidential candidate Barack Obama last night brought his White House campaign to Britain when she played host at a fund-raising event in London.

Michelle Obama entertained hundreds of American expatriates willing to pay handsomely for a taste of the excitement generated by her husband's drive to become the country's first black president.
Guests at the Landmark Hotel paid up to £1,150 for the privilege of briefly meeting the spouse of a candidate who has wowed many Democratic voters with his youth – he is 46 – and message of change.

One, Ted Nist, said he was not discouraged by Mr Obama's poor showing in the opinion polls for the Democratic nomination, in which he is a distant second to Senator Hillary Clinton.

"Almost every time there's a change during the course of the nominating process. It's much too early yet," he said.

Runa Alam, a private equity fund manager, said: "First of all I think the United States needs a president who has some experience of living abroad, it's never happened before. I think he's got originality and fresh ideas and he's a very bright man.

"I don't think the opinion poll means much – it's still so early in the process. He's got a good chance in Iowa and in New Hampshire."

London, with its abundance of rich American bankers and hedge fund managers, has proved a popular hunting ground for US politicians seeking to run for president in 2008, a race that is predicted to become the first billion-dollar election.

"Presidential candidates are a bit like bank robbers," said Massie Ritsch, of the Centre for Responsive Politics which tracks campaign donations.

"They go where the money is and clearly there is a lot of money to be found in London and other financial centres where Americans are living."

William Barnard, the chairman of Britain's chapter of Democrats Abroad, said: "This is one place they consider good pickings."

But it isn't just about money. A series of tight elections has underlined the importance of overseas voters. Absentee overseas ballots played a decisive role in the 2000 election.

Democratic candidates have an added incentive, as overseas Democrats can influence the primaries. The Democrats Abroad will hold an online vote during the primaries and will send 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in August that will anoint the candidate.

Mr Obama has stunned Mrs Clinton's campaign by raising greater sums of money. He has been the most successful at raising funds overseas, with $194,000 (£97,000) in the first half of the year, a fraction of the $80 million (£40 million) he has collected overall.

His wife, a 43-year-old trained lawyer who is vice-president of a hospitals management board in their home city of Chicago, has proved a major asset in his campaign.

Elegant and eloquent, she has attracted strong crowds on the road in America, mixing hard politics with glimpses into life in the Obama household, such as the fact that her husband is sometimes dispatched to a separate bedroom for snoring.

Both have been quick to act after potentially damaging financial revelations.

Mrs Obama resigned a non-executive position on the board of a food company that supplied Wal-Mart, whose labour practices had been condemned by her husband.

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