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Ever wondered what it's really like to host Hillary Clinton? The amazing details behind a big visit.

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Posted at 3:08 PM, Jun 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-26 07:59:41-04
Dena Cranley will survey her house on Sunday morning with the nervousness few hostesses could ever understand.
 
She’ll make sure her 7-year-old son’s Legos and light sabers are picked up and her usually clean house looks perfect.
 
Then she’ll wait for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to arrive for a private fundraiser from 7 to 9 p.m. for as many as 250 donors.
 
“I grew up with family who always hosted parties … and John and I entertain a lot, but this is a whole different playing field,” said Dena, who is married to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.

John Cranley and Hillary Clinton at an event in 2008. Provided by John Cranley.

 

“When I was first told about it, I really didn’t know what to do,” she said. “You have all of these of things going through your mind, and I thought, 'What should I do first?'”

Clinton was originally supposed to visit the Cranley home, which straddles Hyde Park and Mount Lookout, on June 13. 

“We found out about it on June eighth, so we had three and half days to prepare,” Dena Cranley said. “So my to-do list obviously got done during those days.”

Mayor Cranley sprayed a fresh coat of black paint on their outdoor metal fence, and they pressure washed the patio. Dead shrubs were removed and new flowers added.

Then Clinton unexpectedly canceled her visit out of respect to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting June 12. An additional appearance scheduled for June 15 was also scrapped.

 

Dena Cranley

The visit was finally rescheduled this week, giving the Cranleys four days to prepare for Clinton.

“I’ve met her twice before and she is an incredible person and we’re very excited to have the future president in our home,” Cranley said. “But I know I’ll be nervous all day on Sunday.”

Even the Cranleys’ son, Joseph, is ready. 

“He’s made a big poster sign that says, ‘Go Hillary,” with two female super heroes on each side,” she said. “And he’s been practicing what he’s going to say to her. It’s very cute.”

During the visit, Cranley plans to ask Clinton to support programs to help young mothers so that they can give their babies the care needed to grow up healthy. 

"John and I are really excited to speak with her about the health disparities in our community. There is still a lot of work to be done," Cranley said. "The infant mortality rate is far too high."

Powerhouse Fundraising Co-Hosts

This may be the first time the Cranleys have entertained a presidential candidate in their home, but co-hosting the event are powerhouse Democratic fundraisers Jennie Rosenthal Berliant and her husband, Allan Berliant, who is president and CEO of Best Xpress Foods. 

The Berliants have held at least 25 major political fundraisers since hosting a Peter Frampton concert on the front lawn of their East Walnut Hills home in 2004 to benefit John Kerry.

They hosted a Carole King performance for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and a “Vote Early. Rock Late” event for Barack Obama in 2008 that drew 5,000 people and actress Natalie Portman to Fountain Square. The couple hosted numerous events for President Obama and served on his national finance committee.

Security in the driveway of the Berliant's East Walnut Hills home during a Hillary Clinton fundraiser in 2015. Photo provided by Jennie Berliant.

 

 

“When candidates come to our events, we want them to feel as if it is as pain-free as possible. That it’s seamless, it’s easy,” said Jennie Berliant, who noted that candidates may attend 10 to 12 events a day, in multiple cities, during a busy campaign. 

“We want to make sure they know where the restroom is, and if they need a quiet moment that there is an area where they can go that’s calm,” Berliant said. “And if there is a certain type of tea or candy bar they like, we make sure it’s there.”

 

U.S. Secret Service and catering staff in the kitchen of the Berliant's East Walnut Hills home during a 2015 fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. Photo provided by Jennie Berliant.

 

Just as important is keeping the donors happy. Berliant always serves nice wine and pretty finger food, and makes sure her house is cool enough.

“The last thing I ever want people to say is, ‘It was hot and there was no food,’” Berliant said. “We want donors to be happy and excited, and think ‘Wow, what a great experience.’”

Over the years she’s learned the lessons of a master political hostess: Never serve red wine inside her home, choose appetizers that don’t fall apart, and always have chairs where tired donors can sit. 

She splits the work with her husband, Allan, who handles most of the fundraising and keeps in constant contact with donors in case of a schedule change. 

“There’s a thousand details -- do you need a valet, sound equipment, a little pedestal or podium, a mike and a backup mike,” Berliant said.  

 

Andrew Berliant meets Howard Dean during a Democratic fundraiser at his East Walnut Hills home in 2006. Photo provided by Jennie Berliant.

 

Separating Big Donors From Small Ones

Unquestionably the key to hosting a big political fundraiser is the timeline.

“When a presidential candidate is in town, a lot of the planning is about how to maximize the best use of their time,” said Jared Kamrass, a principal at political consulting firm Rivertown Strategies, who is helping to coordinate Sunday’s event.

“People who are paying at different levels want to feel as if they are getting the recognition and benefit of what the value of that is,” Kamrass said.

 

Jennie and Allan Berliant with Barack Obama in 2006. Photo provided by Jennie Berliant.

 

 

At Sunday’s event, donors who give or raise $33,400 will enjoy a private VIP reception with Clinton inside the Cranley home, where servers will pass trays of lemon rosemary chicken skewers and honey spiced shrimp with fresh lime. 

Those who commit $10,000 will be able to meet Clinton and take a photo with her. 

And the remaining donors who spend $1,000 each, estimated at 150 to 175 people, will enjoy a reception in a tent outside the Cranley home, where Clinton will deliver a 20- to 25-minute speech for everyone.

In addition to vegetable and Charcuterie platters, Dena Cranley will serve cheese coneys from her family’s business, Gold Star Chili, at the tent reception. 

While it can be tricky to move different levels of donors in and out of a room, the Clinton campaign always handles it very well, Berliant said. 

 

Barack Obama signs a note to Andrew Berliant during a fundraiser his parents hosted for Sen. Sherrod Brown at the Westin Hotel in 2006. Photo provided by Jennie Berliant.

 

“When the candidate comes in, they always meet with the hosts first, and then upper level donors come in,” Berliant said, followed by the second level donors and finally the more general level donors.  

Usually a team of 10 to 12 Clinton campaign staffers and the U.S. Secret Service work an event, and both groups walk through the house a few days ahead to plan out security and event flow, Berliant said. 

The Berliants take such pride in hosting a flawless event that even Clinton has begun to notice.

“Last time she even came to our house 15 minutes early,” Berliant said.