Director's influence boosts senator's campaign

Hillary Clinton is picking up the key endorsement of director Rob Reiner, giving her campaign a further boost in the race for key Hollywood politicos as she solidifies a commanding lead in many polls.

Reiner, one of the entertainment industry’s most politically active figures, says that he waited until now to endorse Clinton after meeting with all of the candidates except Mike Gravel.

“Based on the experience I have had in politics, and I have been on the front lines in a lot of these fights, I came around to realizing that we do need the most experienced and most qualified person to run the country,” Reiner said on Wednesday

His nod sends a further signal that Clinton is locking up her entertainment industry support after an unexpectedly strong challenge earlier this year from Barack Obama.

Along with celebrities such and George Clooney and Matt Damon, Obama does have the endorsement of Oprah Winfrey, who helped raise more than $3 million for him at a recent fund-raiser, but it’s not yet clear how or whether that will translate into votes. Although it has been rumored, the campaign has not as yet announced any plans for Winfrey to go out on the campaign trail for Obama.

Because of Reiner’s political involvement, his endorsement may have resonance within the industry, particularly among those who are undecided or who have yet to contribute to a campaign.

In addition to his advocacy of early childhood health care and education, Reiner has stumped in the past for John Kerry, Howard Dean and Al Gore. He said that he has no plans as yet to go out on the trail for Clinton, but “I am going to do whatever the campaign asks me to do.”

First up will be a Clinton fund-raiser that he and his wife, Michele, will have at their home on Oct. 21. That event will double as a 60th birthday celebration for the New York senator (she celebrates the milestone on Oct. 26).

While Reiner has longtime ties to the Clintons, he is close friends with Gore, and the director admitted that he had at one point held out hope that Gore would get into the race.

“A long, long time ago, I thought he might get in, but he made it very clear he wasn’t going to be a candidate, so I took him at his word and then went through the process of saying, ‘Who is the most qualified?’ The answer was Hillary.”

His endorsement comes as the pace of fund-raising begins to slow, with many donors already having made their maximum contributions and candidates spending more time actually courting votes. The Clinton and Obama camps each have signaled that contributions for the third quarter, which ends on Sunday, will be lower than in the previous period.

Nevertheless, campaigns are preparing for what could be one of the last big blitzes through Hollywood next month. In addition to her event at the Reiners’, Clinton will attend a fund-raiser on Monday at the home of Marc Nathanson, who is co-hosting the gathering with his sons, Adam and David. John Edwards will attend a fund-raiser on Oct. 19 at the home of Brett Ratner, his second this year at the director’s home. And Obama will attend a series of fund-raisers on Oct. 19-20, including separate events hosted by Irena Medavoy, Ron Meyer and Jon Vein.

Although Edwards and other White House hopefuls have high-profile endorsements of their own, in Hollywood the race has been dominated by Clinton and Obama. Although Clinton has led throughout the year in industry fund-raising, Obama has been close behind and has topped her in fund-raising nationwide. According to his campaign, more than 343,000 donors have contributed to his effort — a record for any race.

Yet with Clinton posting significant leads in national polls, as well as a recent poll in New Hampshire, Obama’s donors are getting antsy. Even after the event at Winfrey’s home, some expressed impatience that his campaign has not made a bigger splash on the trail or that he hasn’t been more aggressive in taking on Clinton.

Reiner said that he found Obama charismatic and “very smart,” but “he just doesn’t have the experience yet. …We can’t afford on-the-job training at this point. We have got to have somebody, when they get into the White House, (who can) hit the ground running.”

Reiner’s endorsement of Clinton is not unexpected. He hosted a fund-raiser for her Senate re-election bid last year, and when he chaired the effort for an early childhood development initiative, Proposition 10 in 1998, she helped him campaign for it.

In his campaign, Obama has highlighted his opposition to the war from the start — and the fact that Clinton supported a Senate resolution in October 2003 to give President Bush the authority to use force.

Reiner, too, was an early and vocal opponent of the war in Iraq. In fact, Reiner was an early supporter of Howard Dean in 2003 because of Dean’s early opposition to the war.

But Reiner accepts Clinton’s explanation for her vote. He said, “She has said on many occasions, knowing what she knows now, knowing what (President Bush) was going to do with it, not only to ignore the weapons inspectors but to ignore the U.N., to not build a coalition … that she would have not voted the way she did. But now, given where we are, I think she is the most qualified to get us out of this mess.”

Asked why he was more skeptical back then about the rationale for war than Clinton, Reiner said, “Maybe my thing came from a much more naive place. I am not privy to all the discussions that she has with people. All I (was) doing is seeing what I read here and putting two and two together and saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, we have got weapons inspectors to go back in, why don’t we wait to see what they have said?’ But at that point they had already voted for the resolution.”

Reiner was at one time viewed as a possible gubernatorial candidate. After the 1998 initiative passed, he chaired the First 5 commission but resigned in 2006 after questions were raised over whether he should hold the post while campaigning for another initiative to fund preschool education. An audit concluded later in the year that no laws were violated.

“I have actually been in the trenches fighting for certain things that I care about here in California,” Reiner said. “So hopefully the fact that I am endorsing Hillary will have some impact on the people in this town who will understand that this is something that I do not come at lightly.”

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