H'wood could drive frontrunners in '08

When former Sen. John Edwards travels to Los Angeles this week, he’ll be among the first in what’s expected to be a long line of presidential contenders seeking Hol-lywood support in 2007.

It’s a year before the first presidential primary for the 2008 presidential race, but with so many uncertainties and would-be contenders, Hollywood isn’t sure which pony to back. Although Hillary Clinton has long had industry heavyweights such as Haim Saban in her fold, and quite a bit of backing for her Senate re-election campaign, some in the industry question her electability.

There’s even some speculation that, should he run, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani could siphon support from the field of Democratic candidates by wooing industry centrists, particularly if no one candidate emerges.

There is also the lobby of those in the industry who may wait to see if Al Gore, who by sheer experience in and out of the business has a plethora of industry connections, eventually gets in the race.

“Very few people are devoted to a particular candidate yet,” says Donna Bojarsky, public policy consultant for some entertainment industry clients. “By and large, they are holding their fire or contributing to a number of different candidates.”

Edwards will be at the Endeavor agency Jan. 9 for a fund-raiser. A central figure in his efforts is Skip Paul, the former MCA president and iFilm exec who also backed Edwards in his 2004 run.

Many want to see who emerges as a viable can-didate, either in how they campaign or in how much money they raise.

Norman Lear plans to give to Clinton, Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to promote a continued “vigorous discussion of the issues and policies.”

The past few months have seen a flood of po-tential contenders swing through Los Angeles for meet-and-greets, to lay the groundwork if they do run. But that doesn’t mean those who attended the events are committed. “There are a lot of meet and greets at this stage of the game,” says political consultant Andy Spahn. “You can’t read anything into it.”

Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel hosted a reception at his home in December for Obama, but it’s hard to throw support behind a contender who is not even in the race yet. And DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg co-hosted an event for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who formed an exploratory committee last week, but it’s highly unlikely the longtime Democratic studio chief will back a conservative Republican.

But last week, the New York Daily News printed an excerpt from a Giuliani strategy memo that showed the fledgling campaign planned to look to Paramount CEO Brad Grey as a point man to round up Hollywood support, even if he is personally uncommitted.

The former New York mayor already has the backing of former studio chief Frank Price and writer-director Lionel Chetwynd — a key Hollywood supporter of President Bush in recent elections.

Chetwynd says he picked Giuliani because he’s proven his ability to “lead in times of crisis” and because he represents what he calls the “radical middle.” Moreover, Chetwynd says, Giuliani could restore discourse.

“The poisoned political atmosphere seems to have destroyed our common vocabulary, and Hollywood reflects that,” he says. “Like the rest of the country, most people in Hollywood are weary of it.”

A fiscal conservative, Giuliani supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, and also could prove attractive to New York transplants in Hollywood.

But Sen. John McCain has long been laying the groundwork for a run, with strategist Mark McKinnon organizing support in the industry. Although McCain only recently formed an exploratory committee, he drew industry money for his successful Senate re-election campaign and a leadership PAC, a fund from which he can donate to other campaigns and therefore create goodwill for some future run for office.

The latter has garnered donations from such figures as MGM CEO Harry Sloan, NBC Universal CEO Bob Wright and Time Warner chairman Richard Parsons. Even if their contributions to the PAC don’t mean they’ll ultimately support McCain for president, it indicates they at least like him.

Although consultants like Bojarsky doubt many Democrats will flirt with GOP contenders, it is still early. Most of the buzz throughout 2003 went to Howard Dean, not John Kerry.

But for the candidates, it is a frantic race. Given the amount of money that has to be raised in the coming year — $100 million for a viable race, by some counts — the primaries are just around the corner. And the challenge will be to get donors to go out on a limb and give now rather than wait around for a winner.

For more on this story, see Variety’s blog on the intersection of entertainment and politics, WilshireandWashington.com.

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