Filmmaker chooses Hillary over Obama

Steven Spielberg’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton may not mean much to middle America, but in Hollywood it could send a clear signal that the New York senator is solidifying her support among traditional industry donors who may have been tantilized by the candidacy of Barack Obama.

Still to be determined is just how much time and energy Spielberg will have to co-host a future fund-raiser for Clinton, or contribute in some other way to the campaign. There are no plans as yet to do so, and Spielberg will be busy in the near future with the next installment of the “Indiana Jones” franchise.

But Clinton’s backers say that the nod still gives her a boost not just because of Spielberg’s obvious cachet, but because he’s an example of a high profile figure who did the due diligence of meeting with other hopefuls and considering their views, and in the end decided to go with Clinton. The hope is that his nod will help convince donors still on the fence, or lure those who threw their support initially to Obama to her side.

“I’ve taken the time to familiarize myself with the impressive field of Democratic candidates and am convinced that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate to lead us from her first day in the White House,” Spielberg said in a statement released by the campaign on Wednesday morning.

“Hillary is a strong leader and is respected the world over. As president, she will bring America back together, rebuild our prestige abroad and ensure our protection here at home.”

At fund-raisers, Clinton emphasizes her experience, and her command of the issues, while Obama stays with an inspirational theme of hope. Although Obama’s Hollywood events have drawn fervent crowds, over time it has left some wondering when he would get around to pressing specific issues with specific proposals.

Earlier this year, it seemed like the industry had caught Obama fever, with those who’d met him comparing him to Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

But what really drew attention was a February fund-raiser hosted by Spielberg and the director’s partners at DreamWorks, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Yet even as Geffen and Katzenberg endorsed Obama, Spielberg held off and said that he wanted to consider the field before making a final decision. Others, like Norman Lear and Mike Medavoy, have done the same thing.

Spielberg apparently was surprised at the level of attention that the event drew, and the notion that Hollywood was turning away from Clinton after years of support. When the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd ran a column in which Geffen blasted the Clintons, it created the first major public tiff between the campaigns, and there was some speculation that Spielberg would back Obama.

But Andy Spahn, whose political consulting firm represents Spielberg and Katzenberg, said the director “was not endorsing at that time and said he wouldn’t in a few months.”

On May 30, the DreamWorks partner co-hosted an event for Clinton at the home of Peter Chernin that raised about $800,000. Spahn said that Clinton’s visit then “set [the endorsement] in motion.”

Obama’s Hollywood supporters had been anticipating the endorsement (it was written up on the Wilshire & Washington website on June 2) and chalk it up to the normal ebbs and flows of a campaign. And they note that the senator still enjoyed enthusiastic backing at a fund-raiser on Monday at the home of Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton; as well as another event on Tuesday featuring Obama’s wife, Michelle. Appearing at the Hancock Park home of Giselle Fernandez, Michelle Obama was asked about her husband’s second-place position in the polls. According to some people who were there, Michelle Obama noted that her husband has been able to draw far more individual donors nationwide than any other candidate.

Moreover, Obama’s camp is looking forward to a high-profile endorsement of its own: Oprah Winfrey. She is expected to host an event for him.

In response to Spielberg’s endorsement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, “We’re more than pleased with the level of grassroots support in California and around the country.”

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