Bill Clinton Makes Rare Fundraising Pitch for Hillary

March 19, 2007 — -- At the center of a sea of hundreds of tables Sunday evening, former President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., stood side-by-side on a tiny stage while he told a crowd of more than a thousand why they should continue to support his wife's bid for the White House.

The packed ballroom at a Sheraton in midtown Manhattan was the first big fundraiser for Hillary Clinton's campaign to be hosted by her best known supporter. It was one of the few times the two have been seen in the same place in public since she announced she would run for president.

"We elect a president if the person running would be the best president," Bill Clinton told the crowd. "You will never find anybody that will do it better than her."

Clinton spoke about his wife's work with children over the years and her popularity overseas as a strong proponent of women's rights.

"I still find myself in small places in Africa, Asia, Latin America," he said, "and a woman will come up and say 'I'll never forget … when she said women's rights were human rights."

The former president kept his remarks short -- no doubt to avoid overshadowing the woman actually running for election.

Hillary Clinton spoke for about 20 minutes, on topics ranging from education to health care to Iraq and the need for better leadership in the country.

"It has been a difficult time for America because we haven't had leadership that has asked us to think to reach higher, to be more than we can be individually and we've been without the kind of guidance that leadership should provide to set goals for our country. We used to set goals in America," Clinton told the crowd.

She said that following the Sept. 11 attacks "people were looking for some direction. What were we going to do together? How were we going to respond?…And what were we asked to do?" She paused and then said, "Go shopping."

"I think America is ready to be asked to do something besides go shopping," were her final words at the event.

It was the biggest single night of fundraising for Clinton's campaign. Organizers estimate they raised more than $1 million at the two-hour event. Tickets went for a minimum of $1,000 per person. Some paid up to $4,600 for a ticket, the legal limit for contributions to any candidate for both the primary season and the general election.

Clinton is in the midst of a fierce fundraising blitz, which will include another similar large fundraiser at a Washington, D.C. hotel on Tuesday night and a Hollywood gala on Saturday, sure to draw celebrities. At the end of this month she and all of the candidates will report to the Federal Elections Commission how much money they've raised in the first quarter of 2007.

A source close to Clinton tells ABC News the Clinton campaign may report a fundraising total around $25 million for the first quarter of 2007. Such figures should be taken with a grain of salt though, since campaigns routinely try to "spin" reporters ahead of FEC deadlines in order to set expectations and keep pressure on other candidates' camps.

On Friday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the Don Imus radio program that he thought a successful candidate would need to raise around $75 million total. If Clinton were indeed to report raising $25 million in just the first three months of 2007, it would be seen as quite significant.

Although Bill Clinton has hosted smaller private events, it was the first time the two Clintons have been seen in presidential campaign mode together since his last election in 1996. In the past couple of months, the two have often traveled and campaigned separately.

During his remarks, Bill Clinton told a story about the early years of his relationship with his wife.

"About a year, two or three months after we met I tried to convince Hillary to leave me," he said. "She said, 'Don't you like me anymore?' And I said, 'No I love you but when we get out of law school I'm going home and I don't have a job and I don't have an income, I'm up to my ears in debt, I have no idea what I'm going to do but I have to go home and try to get into public life or I will evaporate."

Bill Clinton said he encouraged Hillary to pursue her own goals in Chicago or New York.

"I've now met all the best people in our generation," he said he told her, "and you're the best. You've got the best combination of mind and heart and ability to make decisions and feel the human consequences of it than anybody I've ever seen."

One woman in attendance said that story was the best testament she'd ever heard to Bill Clinton's love for his wife.

There were a few celebrities in the New York crowd -- musician Moby, director Ron Howard and the Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, who sat with her boyfriend Marc Mezvinsky and two tables filled with friends. Ivanka Trump and comedian Chevy Chase were also slated to attend.

But many of the attendees were wealthy Wall Street types, bankers or business people. Not as easily recognized, perhaps, but key to building Clinton's coffers.

Most we talked with said they were fully behind Clinton and had not given money to any other campaign, though a few did admit they might be tempted to spread their money around and "hedge their bets."

One woman quipped that she was happy Hillary Clinton has such a high-profile husband. "Who wouldn't want to get a two-fer?"

Dinner was filet mignon with a risotto and a couple of carrots on the side. But as another donor said, "I didn't come for the dinner."

They came to hear Hillary and Bill.