Obama hits Miranova
By Dan Williamson / February 15, 2007

Hosted by Blackwell backer: The candidate will press the flesh in the condo of Donna and Larry James

Barack Obama just announced his presidential campaign Saturday and already has lined up some corporate support in Columbus.

A Columbus fundraiser later this month for the senator from Illinois is being co-hosted by three folks from Nationwide Insurance as well as the president and chief operating officer of American Electric Power.

State Sen. Eric Kearney, an Obama supporter, sounded mildly impressed this week with the corporate presence on Obama?s roster.

?I think it?s a strong start,? said Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, who is also on the host committee for the event at Miranova, ?but you know, you?ve got to get other folks in line.?

Donna James, who retired last year as a Nationwide executive, is having the swanky Obamafest at the Miranova condominium she shares with her husband, Larry James, an occasionally Republican power attorney.

Mr. James said Obama reached out to his wife along with Kevin Walker, president and COO of AEP, sometime last month.

?She was very impressed with him,? James said. ?Donna called me and said, ?Do you want to host this?? And it just made sense to me.?

The consequence of her good impression will be the lunchtime Feb. 26 meet-and-greet party for Obama 2008. Nationwide senior VPs Keith Millner and Patricia Hatler are on the host committee, along with Walker, Kearney, the Jameses and several others.

According to an invitation for the party, attendees must cough up $500 to be considered a ?Friend,? 1,000 to be a ?Co-Chair? and $2,300 to be a ?Chair? of the Obama campaign. ?We?re basically trying to get him introduced to the Columbus community and to raise money,? James said.

A onetime safety director for former Republican Columbus Mayor Buck Rinehart, James has since been a friend and supporter of Democrats, including current Mayor Mike Coleman.

Last year, after Coleman abandoned his bid for governor, James signed on with Republican Ken Blackwell?s campaign.

James acknowledged the conservative former Ohio secretary of state doesn?t have much in common with the liberal junior senator from Illinois.

?I think they?re very different in unique ways,? he said.

Although he hadn?t given the 2008 presidential race much thought before planning the fundraiser, James now considers himself an Obama supporter.

?I think it?s been a long time since we?ve had the type of candidate that heals, that brings people together, that speaks to such a broad audience,? he said. ?I think it?s exciting.?

Obama is second in most Democratic primary polls, behind Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and ahead of former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Although speculation is high that many Ohio pols, possibly including Gov. Ted Strickland, are quietly pulling for Edwards, Kearney thinks Obama can win over his fellow Buckeye State Democrats.

?He?s very good on the stump, as you know, and really connects well with people, and so I personally don?t think it?s going to be a problem,? Kearney said. ?I think that people will like what Barack has to say and what he?s trying to do.?