Clinton returns to Hollywood turf

For someone who’s not running for the White House, Hillary Clinton will certainly look like a presidential contender Thursday as she embarks on a swing through Hollywood.

Democrats in the entertainment industry, who started the year fatigued and frustrated following their unsuccessful effort to elect John Kerry, have been emboldened by recent political setbacks for President George W. Bush and other Republicans, and they’re planning no fewer than three fund-raisers during the New York senator’s West Coast trip.

Events include a $500-per-person reception at the home of Rob Reiner and a $1,000-per-person brunch hosted by film producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks. Television producer Marta Kauffman will also welcome Clinton to her home for a fund-raiser.

Coin raised on this trip will go to Clinton’s 2006 re-election campaign in New York. But speculation on a presidential bid is picking up momentum.

“Certainly she hasn’t announced yet, and she’s probably not decided yet, either,” said Cohen, who also hosted a fund-raiser for Clinton’s 2000 Senate run. “The immediate task for her supporters here is to win re-election. That’s what everyone is focused on.”

On Tuesday two books were published prophesizing about a Clinton victory in 2008: Dick Morris’ “Condi vs. Hillary” takes the con position on the former first lady; arguing pro is Susan Estrich’s “The Case for Hillary Clinton.”

And with the ratings success of ABC’s frosh skein “Commander in Chief,” which stars Geena Davis as the first female president, pundits see the portrayal as warming the country up to the idea of a woman occupying the Oval Office.

Hosting the Friday-evening fund-raiser with Rob and Michele Reiner are producer Sean Daniel, ICM agent Brian Bunnin, Music Center chair John Emerson, CAA exec Wendy Smith, political consultant Chad Griffin and former Clinton and Gore campaign staffers Laura Hartigan and Mona Pasquil.

Host committee for the Saturday brunch fund-raiser includes producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, Daniel, Bonnie Curtis and Bob Greenblatt along with thesps Marisa Tomei, Kathy Najimy, Joely Fisher and Daphne Zuniga. Also on the committee are publicity mavens Howard Bragman and Simon Halls, attorney Allan Hergott, helmer Paris Barclay and writer Greg Berlanti.

There was also discussion of Clinton attending a “strategy session” with key donors on Thursday to discuss how Democrats could gain seats in Congress and win the White House. It was initially set to take place at Ron Burkle’s home with attendees including Haim Saban and Reiner, but scheduling conflicts and the Yom Kippur holiday appear to have scuttled the sit-down for Thursday.

Traffic of Democratic pols in donor-rich Hollywood is always heavy. Clinton isn’t the only one feeling out her presidential chances, but activists say she is well ahead of the pack in building support.

Among the other pols to feel out showbizzers are the members of last year’s losing ticket, John Kerry and John Edwards, as well as fresher faces including Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh.

“You had an initial depression after John Kerry’s loss, but now people are more energized and people are starting to look toward presidential candidates,” said political consultant Griffin. “Donors are as motivated now as I’ve ever seen them.”

If Clinton has a problem in Hollywood — as conservative columnist Robert Novak claimed this summer — it is with liberal activists who want a more vocal opponent of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq as the Democratic standard-bearer.

“There’s a growing feeling among many of the Hollywood players that even though (Clinton) has backers like Stephen Bing and Haim Saban, many others are looking for an alternative,” said columnist Arianna Huffington.

“A lot of them are determined not to be in the same position they were in 2004, when they backed a candidate that equivocated on so many issues and no clear vision was ever articulated. And there’s one issue driving that, and that’s the war.”

Griffin counters that even if Clinton continues her centrist tack, Democrats will ultimately unite behind her. “Democratic donors are focused on one thing and that’s winning,” he said.

During the L.A. trip, Clinton will also be making public appearances on Thursday and Friday, including delivering a keynote address on women’s health for the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Women’s Guild.

A rep for Clinton said other events would be announced Wednesday.

Clinton’s last trip to town was in June, when she attended Hollywood-heavy events at the home of Warner Bros. chief operating officer Alan Horn and a celebrity-studded latenight gathering at the Hollywood Hills home of Roland Emmerich (Daily Variety, June 1).

“Going back to her days as first lady, she has had a large base of supporters out here,” Cohen said.

But he also noted that the political turmoil among Republicans has energized Clinton’s support in L.A.

“For better or worse, it’s easier to raise money when people think your candidate or party has a chance to win.”

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