Blue in Your Face

Photo: Donald Bowers

The Democratic Party’s hopes for retaking the Senate may rest on a New Yorker you’ve never heard of: private-equity investor Hassan Nemazee. In six months as chief fund-raiser for Chuck Schumer’s Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, he’s taken in money at a faster clip than the GOP’s Senate team. He spoke to Greg Sargent.

When you worked for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign, some Republicans tried to make an issue out of your family’s being from Iran.
If I hadn’t been Kerry’s finance chair, I wouldn’t have been a target. I left Iran in 1978 and haven’t been back. Everything my family had was taken by the mullahs. To take someone who’s suffered at the hands of that regime and turn it on its head and say that he’s in bed with that regime is absolutely fucking incredible.

Why take on this gig after going through all that?
Schumer is a tough guy to say no to. He said, “We’re down to 45 seats. We can’t afford to lose more. And we have an outside shot at taking back the Senate.” And he said he’d already persuaded all Dem senators in red states not to retire.

Do Dems have a shot at taking back the Senate?
Absolutely. In Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Montana, and Missouri, the president’s popularity is down. Republican senators in those states have a favorability rating in the high 30s or low 40s—the danger zone.

Does the intraparty squabbling over the war make your job harder?
The big donors would like to see that there is a Democratic answer to Iraq. But the reality is that there are nine people considering running for president, and all of them are seeking to distinguish themselves, so they have different positions. Plus, to put it charitably, we have an independent-minded chairman of the DNC.

Are the donors fatigued?
When they say, “I’m tapped out from 2004; call me next year,” I say, “It’s important to do this right now, because in order to convince Senate candidates to run, we need to convince them—right now—that they’ll have financial backing later.”

Why is the GOP team trailing?
Their main money engine is economic conservatives who are upset with Bush for not reining in spending.

When did you become a Dem?
I wasn’t very engaged politically even though I grew up in D.C. and my father had been in the Shah of Iran’s cabinet. Clinton and Gore asked me to help in ’96, and I discovered that you could have much more of a dialogue with candidates than I thought.

Has fund-raising taken over your life?
I was at a party and I told someone it took 15 to 20 percent of my time. That gave my wife a good chuckle.

Blue in Your Face