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Booker pulling in the cash from outside N.J.

WASHINGTON - How do you raise $1.9 million in three months? If you're Newark Mayor Cory Booker, you tap into a network of admirers that includes some of Hollywood's biggest producers, media moguls, and name-brand developers.

File photo: Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker at a 2007 news conference.
File photo: Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker at a 2007 news conference.Read moreASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - How do you raise $1.9 million in three months?

If you're Newark Mayor Cory Booker, you tap into a network of admirers that includes some of Hollywood's biggest producers, media moguls, and name-brand developers.

Then you bring in Wolfgang Puck to cook.

Ron Howard gave $5,000 to the Democrat's burgeoning 2014 Senate campaign. So did Rob Reiner. Executives from Disney and Warner Brothers donated. Ivanka Trump and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $5,200 apiece.

Booker even got an assist from a star NBA point guard: $5,000 from Jason Kidd, according to the mayor's first Senate campaign-finance report. Listed employer: New York Knicks. Occupation: Professional Basketball.

"Your average urban mayor doesn't have this list," said Orin Kramer, a veteran New Jersey political fund-raiser who contributed $2,000.

The star power shows the financial muscle behind Booker as he maneuvers for the 2014 race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg. In a state with expensive airwaves, Booker will likely wield a significant cash edge - one that could chase off potential opponents.

The donations Booker has reported so far came from January through March - before a star-studded April 25 event at movie producer Jerry Weintraub's Beverly Hills mansion. Among the hosts at that $5,000-a-head soiree: Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis.

Weintraub had Puck do the cooking.

"It was hugely successful," said Weintraub, whose credits include the hit Ocean's Eleven.

"He's a comer," the producer said in an interview, explaining Booker's appeal to high-profile donors. "I'm sure that people see him going as far as he wants to go politically."

The deep-pocketed support illustrates one way that the 44-year-old Booker's fame - built on his charisma, sterling biography, headline-grabbing heroics, and social-media mastery - underpins his political strength.

"He's a mayor from Newark, but he's been a national figure for quite a while," Weintraub said.

But he and other supporters played down talk of "celebrity." Yolanda "Cookie" Parker, who helped introduce the mayor to the L.A. fund-raising circuit, said he won support because of his progressive values and vision.

"That's what I think makes people gravitate toward him," she said. "Does he have the mental aptitude, the work ethic in order to do anything in the political world? Absolutely he does."

His donor list, though, could also feed critics who charge that he is more celebrity than substance, cheered by fans in faraway locales rather than New Jerseyans who see him up close.

More than 75 percent of his initial $1.9 million haul came from outside New Jersey, according to an Inquirer review of his report.

All campaign cash helps, but small sums from home-state donors reflect on-the-ground passion, said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University.

"It is a real act of commitment, and it means they are much more likely to vote for you and are more likely to go out and tell friends and neighbors," she said. "When it comes from out of state, you don't have that kind of deep connection with voters."

The biggest chunk of Booker's money, about 40 percent, came from New York. California donors - some with addresses on Wilshire Boulevard and the fabled 90210 zip code - accounted for the third-largest share, about 15 percent.

Since the deadline for disclosing those contributions, Booker has again swung through the Golden State, and he had an event in Boston on Thursday where "suggested donations" ranged from $500 to $5,200. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is also planning a fund-raiser, Booker's campaign confirmed Friday.

Booker has concentrated on raising money in other states in part because New Jersey Democrats are focused on campaigning against Gov. Christie this year, an aide said.

New Jersey senators, so close to the financial hub of New York, often rely heavily on out-of-state donors. So have other nationally known figures, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), who got 70 percent of her campaign money from other states in her first three months of fund-raising in 2011.

Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis attributed the interest in the mayor's campaign to his "relentless effort" in Newark.

"Voters from all walks of life want to see more leaders in Washington who have shown they know how to find common ground and bring people together to get results," Griffis said. He stressed that 65 percent of contributions to the mayor were for $200 or less.

Booker's donor list also includes the kind of professionals who more typically fund New Jersey races: health-care executives, lawyers, bankers, hedge-fund managers, and accountants. Many are perennial contributors.

Michael Ostroff isn't one. A Summit, N.J., resident, he rarely gives to campaigns, but donated $1,000 to Booker.

"I am not impressed by celebrities - couldn't care less. I'm a results person," he said in an interview.

Ostroff was impressed by Booker's resumé - Stanford graduate, college football player, Rhodes scholar, Yale Law - and his work in Newark, a short drive from Ostroff's suburban home.

The owner of Patella Woodworking, which supplies custom wood pieces for high-end hotels and offices, Ostroff has met the mayor at fund-raisers, though none as glitzy as Weintraub's. The most recent was at a friend's house in Summit. A few dozen people attended.

"I believe that Cory Booker is who I thought President Obama was going to be," said Ostroff, an independent who described himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. "I think Cory Booker has the skills to really bring opposing parties together."

Nearly 3,000 miles from Summit, Weintraub said the same thing: "He's a guy that will cross the aisle."

The Democrat seen as Booker's most likely rival in a 2014 primary, Rep. Frank Pallone, raised $460,000 in the same quarter when Booker was taking in nearly $2 million.

But Pallone has $3.7 million on hand, and his campaign manager, Jennifer Godoski, wrote in an e-mail that he would have enough for any race. She added pointedly that his top priority "will remain representing the people he is elected to serve, and that work comes before everything else."

Neither Pallone nor Booker is officially running - yet. But Harrison, the political scientist, said Booker's bankroll could deter any opponents.

In a state with two top-tier media markets, campaign money matters, regardless of where it comes from, she said. "The reality is, it all spends the same."