She keeps the money coming

Staff WriterAugust 26, 2008 

— Julianna Smoot is the $390 million woman. So far.

Smoot, 41, has raised the largest haul in American political history for Obama's campaign. Obama's rapid rise would not have been possible without his fundraising operation. It enabled Obama to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary and has positioned him to outspend Republican nominee John McCain this fall.

To create that network, Obama hired Smoot as his campaign's finance director.

Smoot, the oldest of three girls, was born in Southern Pines and grew up there and in Clinton. Her father was a golf pro, and her mother is a school teacher.

After winning a scholarship to Smith College in Massachusetts, Smoot raised money for the school while still an undergraduate.

Smoot then moved on to Democratic politics, working for the likes of John Edwards' 1998 U.S. Senate campaign and raising more than $100 million for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2006.

She had never worked on a presidential campaign until Obama met with her in January, 2007, and asked her to combat the Clintons' legendary money-raising machine.

Smoot started out with a modest list of people who contributed to Obama's U.S. Senate campaign and put together a plan to raise money nationally.

Much has been made of Obama's ability to raise millions over the Internet. But Obama's campaign has also raised money the old-fashioned way, attracting high-rolling bundlers who worked their networks of friends and business associates.

Smoot said you can't separate fundraising prowess from the candidate's message.

"I think it [fundraising success] is really about Senator Obama's message and how inspiring he is to millions of people," she said.

Smoot, who lives in Chicago with her boyfriend, said she has had little time for a personal life since joining the campaign, although she did recently go on a camping trip -- Blackberry at the ready.

"It's a lot of stress," said her father, Ed Smoot, who retired to the Wake County community of Willow Spring. "She is answering to a lot of people. It's a lot of hours. It's a crazy job."

His daughter is in Denver this week, looking for even more money.

Her goal?

Raise another $197 million between now and the November election.

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