When Rudolph Giuliani raised money in Brentwood on Monday night, there were few, if any, jokes about the plight of Republicans in Hollywood, and no apologies for anyone being there.
And that in itself gives some longtime GOPers in the industry hope. After years in the political wilderness, where they have felt all but marginalized in an era of strident, anti-Bush rhetoric, they are encouraged by the candidacy of Giuliani and of John McCain.
The reason is that each has offered moderate, r muted positions on social issues and have been working for quite a while to establish ties to an industry that President Bush has all but ignored. And each offers the kind of star power and charisma that has excited support on the Democratic side for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
McCain and Giuliani “are both perceived as not being captive to the social conservative wing of the party, and they are larger-than-life figures, which Hollywood likes,” said Mike Murphy, a producer and political consultant who ran McCain’s 2000 bid and also has worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mitt Romney.
Director David Zucker said that while Bush has proven to be a “polarizing figure” in Hollywood, McCain and Giuliani “are a lot more user-friendly. They are more centrist.”
Much of the buzz over the past week has been over Giuliani’s rise in the polls. According to a Newsweek survey, he beats not just McCain and the other Republican contenders but would edge out leading Democratic contenders in a matchup as well. Some 13% of registered Democrats say they would cross party lines to vote for him.
It’s still way too early to discern whether Giuliani’s current popularity will last, and, if he is the nominee, whether he or any other GOP contender can draw a sizeable chunk of centrist Democrats. Hollywood’s Democratic political consultants doubt such a prospect.
But despite the perception that Hollywood is a predominantly liberal industry, the actual figures show that it isn’t so lopsided. In the past couple of election cycles, approximately one-third of entertainment industry money went to Republican candidates. Even Bush collected $1.4 million from entertainment sources in 2004 to John Kerry’s $3.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s a sum significant enough to create a dash for donors among the Giuliani and McCain camps. Each has been laying the groundwork for support of well-known industry figures for quite some time, even if their fund-raising in entertainment circles isn’t at the same breakneck pace of their Democratic counterparts.
McCain has long had ties to Hollywood, where through the years even liberals have been intrigued by his maverick status, even if they are not supporting him in the race. Two years ago, McCain and Murphy lunched at the Grill with Warren Beatty.
Some of that bipartisan luster has been diminished by McCain’s support for a troop increase in Iraq, but he still has the backing of a number of powerful industry figures.
MGM chief exec Harry Sloan, a member of McCain’s national finance committee, hosted a fund-raiser for the Arizona senator in January. Univision’s Jerry Perenchio is one of McCain’s national co-chairs. And on March 13, McCain is scheduled to visit Hollywood again at a $1,000-per-person luncheon at the Beverly Hilton.
Giuliani, meanwhile, attracted a crowd of more than 150 people at a fund-raiser at the home of former Ambassador Rockwell Schnabel and his wife, Marna. It was not an industry-centric fund-raiser on par with Obama’s star-studded Beverly Hilton event two weeks ago, but it did draw such names as Gary Sinise, attorney Bruce Ramer, Bernie Brillstein, Dyan Cannon and writer-director Lionel Chetwynd.
“He’s a very authentic leader, and I believe there will be a lot of Republicans, Democrats and independents who will vote for him,” says Brillstein-Grey CEO Jon Liebman, one of the co-chairs of the event. Liebman, a former assistant U.S. attorney, worked for Giuliani.
As on the Democratic side, there’s still a great deal of sampling going on among donors. One source who attended the Giuliani event on Monday said that he saw a number of McCain supporters, apparently there to “hedge their bets.”
“We’re a year and a half away,” said Sam Haskell, the former William Morris TV chief who says he is leaning toward McCain. “There are a lot of people still feeling their way through who and what this race could be.”
Even Romney could draw a few industry figures when he is the guest of honor at a fund-raiser on March 27 hosted by developer Rick Caruso, who built Los Angeles shopping and movie destination the Grove. But Romney’s conservative stances on social issues could limit appeal here.
That’s the problem all of the GOP candidates face if they make serious efforts to court support beyond traditional Republicans. “If they go too far out on social issues, that is where they are going to lose us,” said producer-manager Eric Gold.
A moderate Democrat who voted for Gore and Kerry in recent elections, Gold says he is drawn to McCain for his positions on national security, among other issues, as well as the Arizona senator’s ability to take an unpopular stand. Gold says he supported the invasion of Iraq but believes the occupation was mishandled.
McCain “fought Bush when Bush’s approval ratings were high, but he supports him now, when they are low,” Gold said. “He’s not afraid to go against the grain.
“I trust the guy,” he said. “I met with him several times. I ask him a question and he answers it.”
He is concerned, however, that McCain may lurch too far to the right on social issues in the primary to attract conservatives. It’s certainly no secret that McCain is anti-abortion, but there were many doubts that he would ever do anything about it. But at a recent speech in South Carolina, according to the Associated Press, McCain said that Roe v. Wade “should be overturned.”
“The liberals in Hollywood who like McCain don’t like to see him do the things that he needs to do to win the nomination,” Murphy said, adding that the big test will come if he emerges from the primaries and can then “be himself and can attract some of that Hollywood support.”
Despite all of the early strategizing, events in Iraq could change the dynamics of the race. Or, if antiwar Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel decides to run, he could attract centrist donors who want a withdrawal. “So many people I talk to are keeping a watchful eye on what is going on,” said producer Craig Haffner. “I’m not quite sure where people are going to find their footing.”
At the very least, Republicans see a chance to take part in the discourse — without some of the animosities of the past. Joel Surnow, the exec producer of “24,” has become a much more visible Hollywood Republican as the producer of new Fox News series “The ½ Hour News Hour,” a counter to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”
Zucker, a former Democrat who switched to supporting Bush after 9/11, said he’s gotten the feeling that “you are an oddball if you are a Republican here.”
In the 2008 field, however, “There’s less of the extreme. It’s going to be different this time,” he said.