In a series of events over the weekend, Barack Obama and John Edwards sought to reassure Hollywood donors that they can still win the Democratic nomination even as Hillary Clinton’s campaign starts to take on the air of inevitability.
Clinton, meanwhile, was scheduled to attend a fund-raiser Sunday night at the home of Rob Reiner. The event, which is being co-hosted by a group including Greg Berlanti, Lyn and Norman Lear and Alan and Cindy Horn, was doubling as celebration of her 60th birthday.
Not only is Clinton way ahead in national and California polls, but she has lined up industry endorsements from Reiner and Steven Spielberg, adding to a base of support that includes Ron Burkle, Steve Bing and Haim Saban.
But the other campaigns have been eager to prove that backers of their candidates have not been wavering, drawing a series of boldfaced names to events and often turning to recent political history for examples.
In remarks at separate events, Obama and Edwards each cited the example of Howard Dean in 2004 — far ahead in the polls until January, when his campaign started to collapse and Iowa caucusgoers began to make up their minds.
“I recently spoke with President Howard Dean,” Obama said to laughs at a Saturday morning breakfast fund-raiser at the Malibu home of Kelly and Ron Meyer. Some 250 guests — including Jamie Lee Curtis, James Whitmore and David Kissinger — gathered around the backyard pool of their bluffside estate, as Obama mapped out a campaign strategy built on strong showings in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
He also dismissed concerns among donors that his campaign was not doing better in the polls.
“I’m a 46-year-old African American male running for the leader of the free world,” Obama said. “I was always the underdog. It was not going to be easy.”
Kelly Meyer, who introduced the candidate, said that she was drawn in part to his promise to heal divisions in the country.
Obama sounded those themes throughout the day, not just at the Meyers but at a lunchtime fund-raiser at the Beverly Park home of Irena and Mike Medavoy and an evening gathering at the Hancock Park home of Ellen and Jon Vein, where he was introduced by Jamie Foxx.
But in doing so he walked a tightrope, seeking to distinguish himself from Clinton not on the issues but in judgment. Among those in the crowd were some donors who praised the candidate and his message of a new way forward, but who were nevertheless caught because of their loyalties to the Clintons and because of Hillary Clinton’s experience. One donor said he was “confounded” by the choice after listening to Obama.
Indeed, even Obama made remarks praising Clinton and her campaign, but he once again criticized her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq as well as her vote in favor of a recent resolution that called Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a “terrorist” organization. Obama missed the vote, but has said he would have voted against it.
“I think that Hillary will do the right thing until it is politically inconvenient to do so,” Obama said at the Malibu event.
Obama told donors that, if elected, he would “not still be fighting the battles of the ‘60s,” like the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution, and that his presidency would help heal racial divisions and improve America’s standing in the world.
Edwards, meanwhile, appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on Friday and called Clinton’s vote on the Iran resolution “very troublesome.”
He also attended a fund-raiser at the Benedict Canyon home of Brett Ratner, where the candidate addressed poverty and other issues.
Joining Edwards was his wife, Elizabeth, and about 125 supporters including James Denton, Jean Smart and Madeleine Stowe.
Also present was producer Tony Blain, who said he was backing the candidate in part because, “The most refreshing thing to me is to go to a political event and listen to someone I can trust. He is talking the truth and talking straight.”
Like Obama, Edwards is banking on a top showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, or one that exceeds whatever the expectations are at the time. Voters in the early states, he said to Maher, “want you to believe what you say, so when the crunch comes, they can count on you to fight for what you actually believe in.”
Clinton campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino responded to Obama and Edwards’ comments. “As they are both aware, Senator Clinton has repeatedly and consistently called for negotiations between the United States and Iran aimed at ensuring that Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons,” he said. “Their efforts to misrepresent her record represent an unfortunate departure from a time when they each billed themselves as the positive candidate.”
As much as they are making their appeals to these donor pools, the fear among other campaigns is that Clinton’s lead will convince new donors that it is a foregone conclusion. In other words, they’ll be scared away from giving to anyone other than her.
Obama last winter had a surge of initial enthusiasm in the entertainment industry; that quickly came down to earth when Clinton landed endorsements from the likes of Spielberg and Peter Chernin.
“There are still people enthusiastic about Obama,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky. “Hillary has had the momentum in Hollywood for a while now. Some Obama supporters are, I think, playing for his long-term future, irrespective of what is likely to happen now.”
Obama has almost matched Clinton in money raised in the entertainment industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has drawn endorsements from Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jamie and Michael Lynton, and actors like George Clooney and Matt Damon. About 70 people attended his event at the Medavoys’, and 250 came to the Veins’.
And though it is a bit hard to believe, given the sheer length of the campaign season and the number of visits candidates have made to Hollywood, there are still the undecideds in the business.
Political consultant Andy Spahn doesn’t see it as a bad thing. He said, “What I hear is people torn between ‘I love Hillary.’ ‘I think Barack is tremendous.’ And ‘Boy, did you hear John Edwards, wasn’t that great?’ ” Let’s hope it stays that way. Let’s hope it is a contest of ideas and policy positions that produces the strongest nominee.”