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Dem Donors Await Firm Front-Runner

Even after a year of pitches from the Democratic presidential hopefuls, some prominent donors are still holding out for a solid front-runner before jumping in with contributions and their own fund-raising efforts.

The indecision can be found from coast to coast.

Hollywood Democrats in particular are largely undecided. Despite endorsements by some celebrities — Rob Reiner (search) and Martin Sheen (search) back Howard Dean and Madonna is raising money for Wesley Clark, for example — there are still plenty of uncommitted donors.

At the movie studio DreamWorks SKG, coveted Democratic supporters Steven Spielberg (search) and David Geffen (search) have received fund-raising calls but have yet to donate or hold fund-raisers.

"I think it's a reflection on the strength of the field, the number of relationships, multiple relationships that exist (with candidates) out here and the fact that there's no necessity to choose today," spokesman Andy Spahn said. "Like most voters we're watching the process unfold."

Others are opening their wallets but stopping short of an even more valuable show of support: opening their homes for fund-raisers that can take in $100,000 or more each.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, who founded DreamWorks with Spielberg and Geffen, has given to John Edwards, John Kerry and Clark but so far hasn't thrown a fund-raiser.

Miramax executive Harvey Weinstein has given the $2,000 maximum to Kerry, Edwards, Clark and Dean and at least $1,000 to former candidate Dick Gephardt, but doesn't plan to do any fund raising until a nominee-to-be emerges.

The indecision goes beyond the entertainment industry.

In New York, Democratic National Committee member and prolific volunteer fund-raiser Robert Zimmerman committed to supporting Kerry just last month, and now finds himself trying to persuade holdouts in a range of Democratic circles why it's time to get in.

"I'm telling them now it's critical to unite because Kerry has shown the political leadership to take on George Bush and because the quicker we unite behind John Kerry the quicker we can unite the party, and that to me is the critical issue here," he said. "Some agree, some want to hold back, and some know I'm going to call them two or three more times."

Some are waiting until after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary to commit, Zimmerman said.

In Chicago, former DNC finance chairman Joe Cari Jr. said he was uncommitted but leaning toward Kerry after his win last week in the Iowa caucuses. Many undecideds realize that if they don't get in now it will soon be too late to influence who becomes the nominee, Cari said.

He said he has been seeing potential donors and volunteer fund-raisers taking a fresh look at Kerry and Edwards, the second-place finisher in Iowa. Both campaigns are making it clear they won't hold late support against people, Cari said.

"I think it's indicative of understanding that if they're going to beat Bush they're going to need everybody," Cari said.

The crowded Democratic field has collected more than $100 million from donors since fund raising began in earnest a year ago. Party strategists feel there is still plenty of money out there, and that who gets it will depend largely on what happens Tuesday and Feb. 3, when seven other states vote.

"The early money we refer to as the love money — people you've had long personal and professional, business relationships with, political relationships with," who solicit donations from their own circles, fund-raising consultant Mike Fraioli said.

"Their ability to do that the first time is based on the personal relationship, but the next time, it has to be based on some momentum in the campaign," he said. "And that's the only way the circle grows."