In what amounts to the local kickoff of Barack Obama's presidential re-election campaign, Valerie Jarrett stopped in Madison Monday to headline a $200-per-person fundraiser at the Sherman Avenue home of Mary Lang Sollinger.
Sollinger, a local philanthropist and activist, was an early and important local supporter of Obama and is a member of his national finance committee. She says she was thrilled to have Jarrett, a longtime mentor, friend and now senior adviser and assistant to Obama, speak at the event.
The afternoon gathering, which featured a question-and-answer session with Jarrett, was closed to the press because of Secret Service security concerns, says Sollinger. A hundred people attended, she reported after the gathering, with supporters coming from Eau Claire, La Crosse and Richland Center, as well as Madison and around Dane County.
Sollinger maintains that Obama supporters are opening their wallets despite the stiff competition for funds for Democratic efforts and candidates. There are recall campaigns under way against Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four other Republican state senators. There are also local Democrats running for open seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
"We are really cooking," says Sollinger. "People are coming through very well."
Sollinger says the backlash against the "hard times" created under Walker has invigorated potential supporters and countered any "donor fatigue" that might come from competing demands for money. "It has really drawn in people who have never been in politics before.
Attendees at Monday's fundraiser challenged Jarrett on Obama's 2008 campaign pledge of "change," says Sollinger. Jarrett responded by citing policies forged by the president including the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, and the return of troops from Iraq.
Sollinger already helped raise or "bundle" more than $50,000 for Obama in the second quarter of 2011, according to campaign records. She says the fundraising goals identified by the president's national finance committee will need to be "rehashed" after seeing the kind of money raised through super PACs during the Republican primaries in Florida and elsewhere.
"I think it shocked everybody," she says.