There’s still a year and a half to go before the 2012 presidential election. But for Rhode Island’s Jeff Padwa, the campaign is already under way.
Padwa – a prominent Warwick trial lawyer recently picked by Mayor Angel Taveras as Providence’s new city solicitor – raised well over $100,000 for Barack Obama in 2008 as one of the “bundlers” who collected checks from other donors to fill his campaign coffers. He plans to back the president strongly again this time around.
“I’m looking forward to him getting back into campaign mode,” Padwa told WPRI.com. “If you look at the list of his administration’s accomplishments, I think it’s truly impressive, and I’m completely supportive of his agenda.”
A couple weeks ago, Padwa and other members of the Obama campaign’s New England Steering Committee met in Boston with Vice President Joe Biden, who talked to them about the importance of getting engaged early. Obama kicked off his personal fundraising push two weeks ago, and top contributors have been asked to raise at least $350,000 for him by the end of this year.
Padwa raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for candidate Obama through August 2008, according to a list made public at the time. Padwa said his final total was higher than that by Inauguration Day, though he declined to offer an exact figure. Padwa has not committed to raising a specific dollar amount for the re-election campaign yet, but said he expected the regional committee to set monthly goals.
Padwa acknowledged “money is the lifeblood of politics,” but emphasized that members of the steering committee do more than raise gobs of money – they also organize at the grass roots level by canvassing voters and planning events. “It’s not just money,” he said. “It wasn’t last time and it won’t be this time.”
Padwa jumped on the Obama bandwagon early, starting to work for the campaign just after the then-senator announced his candidacy in February 2007. “It was the feeling that I got from him, in meeting with him, talking with him, in listening to him,” Padwa recalled. “I was just inspired by him.” His key policy concerns include avoiding limits on civil trials, backing organized labor, and maintaining support for Israel.
One difference between the last campaign and this one: Padwa won’t be joined by Joe Fernandez, Obama’s campaign co-chair in Rhode Island in 2007-08, who died unexpected last year. The pair spent a busy two years together last time, hosting events with Obama’s political guru David Plouffe and his brother-in-law Craig Robinson, visiting the campaign headquarters Chicago, and traveling to the convention and the inauguration.
“Joe and I had the time of our lives,” Padwa said. “It was a journey, and he and I shared it with each other. That was just a remarkable experience.”
Another difference this time around for Padwa: Obama isn’t facing a hard-fought primary like he did in 2008 against Hillary Clinton, who had a broad base of support in Rhode Island and defeated her fellow senator by 18 points in the state’s primary.
“I think the people who give, it’ll be easier to raise it from them,” Padwa said. “They’ll write their checks. The harder part is going to be how broad we can get. Last time, we raised money froom sources that just never contribute – so we won’t have the same scope this time. The question is what scope we can have.”
Padwa first got involved in federal politics through the trial lawyers’ national association, but has lately become more involved on the state and local level; he took over from fellow lawyer Jack McConnell as the Rhode Island Democratic Party’s treasurer last year.
John McCain, Obama’s Republican rival in 2008, did not have any Rhode Island-based “bundlers” supporting his campaign, according to disclosures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
• Related: Obama’s 2012 campaign off to a quiet start in RI (April 15)