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Big donors aren't in Unity

Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton perform in a pageant of Democratic togetherness in Unity, N.H., but as Howard Fineman reports, there was quite a bit of  tension behind the scenes.
Image: Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama board a plane together bound for Unity, NH
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton board a plane in Washington, D.C. on Friday.Jim Young / Reuters
/ Source:

I know this is supposed to be a marriage, but behind the scenes, it feels more like a divorce.

There's a lot of sadness and hurt between the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton camps, with both sides fighting over money and loyalty.

Before the unity fest to began here in Unity, N.H., I was on the phone with some top Clinton supporters who attended a big gathering of major donors in Washington, D.C. last night.

It was hosted by Clinton's team, and to many in attendance, it didn't feel like a reunion. It felt like the arrival of a repo man.

"Hillary was sad, even pitiful I have to say," said one of her top donors.

"It was like, this guy is coming to take my family away."

But most of the right things were said.

Obama expressed a determination to help with Clinton's whopping campaign debt.

Clinton praised Obama in an earnest, if undramatic fashion. Most of the donors seemed minimally satisified.

But no one was thrilled, and the body language was odd.

Pregnant pause
Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe was responsible for the introductions, leading to one of the more awkward moments of the evening.

Welcoming Clinton to the stage, he said, "And now, the next...speaker!" It seemed as if the word "president" was on his tongue — and the pause was just long enough to raise some eyebrows.

For his part, McAuliffe assures me he was joking.

Clinton and Obama came out separately. They took only three questions. One was about whether Obama would consider Hillary for vice president.

She whispered in his ear, and he didn't answer the question — apparently at her suggestion.

"A lot of us were upset that she was making things easy for him," said one donor.

But it's not the only evidence of some underlying tension between the camps.

Obama has made two phone calls in recent days to a good source of mine who is also a top Clinton supporter and fundraiser.

Neither call went particularly well.

Obama's message was clear: He wanted this person to join his campaign and get her donors to "max out" to him.

You see, even though some funders have given all they can to the Clinton effort, they are still free to donate another $4,600 to Obama's presidential campaign.

Her answer was guarded and angry: I'll help you, she told him, but only if you help Hillary erase her campaign debt.

Clinton, she told him, will absorb the loss of the $12 million she loaned to her own campaign, but she will need help with the other $10 million in vendor debt.

'Cool with that'
My source found Obama to be haughty.

She asked the candidate whether he would reach out to former President Bill Clinton. Obama reacted positively — sort of.

"I'm cool with that," he reportedly told her.

She found that outrageous. "'Cool with that?' Are you kidding me?"

Some Clinton people think that Obama owes them at least an effort to erase her debt.

His people generally find it outrageous that she mismanaged her campaign and, in their view, stayed in the race too long. Now she expects Obama to set her financial house in order.

"Hillary said during the campaign that Obama didn’t have enough managerial experience to be commander-in-chief," one top Obama fundraiser told me.

"And then she spends herself into debt and we are supposed to help her?"

Pageant of togetherness
As for me, like I mentioned, I'm here in New Hampshire, a witness to the ironically named "Unity" event.

Here, Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton performed in a pageant of Democratic togetherness in the damp backyard of a local school.

In a town that some Granite Staters can’t find on a map, Obama and Clinton tried to convince the world — and, more importantly, each other — that their clans can play nice.

But despite the talk of unity in Unity (where Obama and Clinton each got 107 votes last in January’s primary), things have proven rough and emotional behind the scenes.

The phone calls and fundraisers really speak to the post-nomination tension.

Clinton threw around her weight early on, and the Obama people haven't forgotten.

A year ago, here in New Hampshire, experienced Democrats with access to money were told that, if they supported Obama, they would be shut out in Washington once Clinton became president.

"Now these same people who were threatening us want us to pay off Hillary’s debt!" said another Obama funder. "This is what my husband calls 'delusional chutzpah.'"