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Races to Watch: An Entertainment Industry Primer

This was an election season that saw industry Democrats defect to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a screenwriter make an unusually strong showing against a conservative Virginia senator, and unexpected money flow toward the presumed front runner for the ’08 Democratic nomination.

As much as Hollywood is labeled as a bastion of liberal support, the reality is much more complex this election season, and not only because the way that individuals contribute can be very different from the way media congloms give. There are signs that the war in Iraq, the war on terror and global warming will change the dynamics of how and who those in entertainment support.

Whether it be for ideological or business reasons, here is a summary of the matchups that have drawn the most interest:

New York Senate

Sen. Hillary Clinton vs. John Spencer: When the New York Post endorses Hillary, you know it isn’t much of a race. Latest figures show Clinton has collected more entertainment industry money this cycle than any other congressional candidate — with even Rupert Murdoch giving her his support — in what is surely an indicator of her fund-raising strength should she run for president. There will be much reading of the tea leaves on election night, particularly her expected margin of victory.

California Governor

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Phil Angelides: When Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Haim Saban broke with Democratic ranks and backed Arnold, it was one sure sign that the Angelides campaign would have an uphill battle. Arnold has raised just over $113 million since he took office, including last-minute contributions from Jeff Skoll and Tom Pollock, and a victory now looks all but assured. Expect plenty of outcry should he swing back to the right.

Missouri Senate

Sen. Jim Talent vs. Claire McCaskill: What had been a hard-fought battle in the flyover states quickly gained a show business connection when Michael J. Fox debuted ads supporting McCaskill because she backs stem cell research. (A measure is on the ballot as well). Experience shows that celebrity endorsements do little to help a candidate — in fact, they can hurt. But the situation may be very different here. Exit polls should show what impact Fox had on the race.

Pennsylvania Senate

Sen. Rick Santorum vs. Bob Casey: As one of the largest GOP beneficiaries of media dollars, Santorum actually has been no friend of the creative side of the entertainment business. But lobbies in Washington poured money into the race in a hedge that he would be reelected, and become the next Senate majority whip, while Casey drew a fair share of support from Hollywood.

Virginia Senate

Sen. George Allen vs. James Webb: Allen’s attempts to connect Webb to “Hollywood values” versus “Virginia values” — Webb is a part-time screenwriter who has a credit on “Rules of Engagement” — were overshadowed by Allen’s fumbles. A race that was not supposed to be competitive suddenly drew attention from Hollywood. Industry figures like Rob Reiner, who hopes to make a screenplay out of Webb’s Iraqi war themed script “Whiskey River,” have maxed out on contributions to try to ensure an upset.

Connecticut Senate

Sen. Joe Lieberman vs. Ned Lamont: Many in the industry don’t forget Lieberman’s attacks on entertainment, particularly during the Clinton years, but Lamont has not gotten the traction many expected and so far been trailing. And as much as some in the business don’t like him, Lieberman still drew money from groups such as the Walt Disney employees PAC. There’s been talk that a Lieberman win could further embolden him to pursue content issues, including restrictions on the marketing of videogames.

California Initiative

Proposition 87: Thanks largely to producer Steve Bing, few other propositions this year have garnered the industry’s financial firepower than this measure that would impose taxes on oil companies to pay for alternative energy research. Bing has shelled out nearly $50 million in a effort to bring parity to well-funded opposition from oil and energy companies. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Laurie and Larry David and Alan Horn and Jim Wiatt also have chipped in. One of the few entertainment sources of money against the proposition has come from Tapestry Films, the company behind “Wedding Crashers.”

Tennessee Senate

Bob Corker vs. Harold Ford: The now-famous RNC ad against Ford — in which a blonde asks him to “call me” — also tainted him as beholden to “Hollywood values.” The spot was eventually pulled, but the GOP continues to raise doubts about Ford’s churchgoing image. The latest polls show Corker in a slight lead, and both sides drew on star power in their final weekend of campaigning.

Illinois House

Tammy Duckworth vs. Peter Roskam: This congressional seat in the western suburbs of Chicago is regarded as one of the handful of bellwethers that could indicate whether the Dems can take control of the House. Duckworth is a National Guard vet who lost both of her legs in Iraq, while Roskam is a well-funded state senator. The race has garnered national interest, with Duckworth attracting a sizeable chunk of entertainment industry money.

Three more races are not competitive, but they involve candidates who could have a big say in D.C.:

Massachusetts House

Rep. Edward Markey: Democrat Markey has no GOP challenger, so his race is a given. But if Dems take control of the House, Markey will be in line to take over the House Telecommuncations Subcommittee. Media congloms hoping for a loosening of FCC ownership restrictions will be looking at an uphill battle, since Markey favors keeping current limits in place.

California House

Rep. Howard Berman vs. Stanley Kesselman: Democrat Berman, who is expected to win, has long been an entertainment industry ally, and he could become even more important since he would likely take over the House subcommittee that oversees intellectual property matters should the Dems regain control.

Michigan House

Rep. John Dingell: Like Markey, Dingell also has the field largely to himself, and if his party wins control, he is in line to head up the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. The good news for Hollywood: Dingell supports broadcast flag antipiracy technology; current chairman, Republican Joe Barton of Texas, does not.

—Compiled by Ted Johnson in Los Angeles and William Triplett in Washington.

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