Will Franken Open the Hollywood Floodgates?

Creating a stir this morning: Comments from NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Morning Joe,” in which he claims that some Democrats are hoping that Al Franken loses his Senate race in Minnesota.

It’s a rather startling statement, given that Todd is a very respected and even handed journalist in Washington.

“I have had multiple very high level Democrats on the Hill sit there with their fingers crossed,” Todd says. “They are scared of Franken winning. More importantly, they fear that if Franken wins, then every liberal Hollywood type is going to say, ‘Hey, I can run for office, too.’ And they are going to get a rush of these.”

Imagine it: Sen. Tim Robbins, Sen. Jackson Browne…

It speaks to the fact that the track record of liberal Hollywood figures entering politics pales in comparison to Republican stars who have made the plunge: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono, Fred Grandy, George Murphy and Ronald Reagan.

When Reagan was first elected governor of California in 1966, there was speculation that a wave of Democratic Hollywood figures would suddenly pursue higher office. But, as recounted in Ron Brownstein’s book, “The Power and the Glitter,” it never materialized. Figures like Paul Newman, Warren Beatty and James Garner were approached. Beatty flirted with the idea of running as an independent for president in 2000, but it seemed to be an effort to get the media to pay attention to some of his pet issues like campaign finance reform.

Yet nothing ever materialized. Major stars just didn’t want to go through the scrutiny. Democrats like Ralph Waite, the father on “The Waltons,” and Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane Hathaway on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” ran for Congress and lost. About the only Democrats to make it to Washington in recent years have been Ben Jones, aka Cooter on “Dukes of Hazzard,” a congressman from Georgia from 1989 to 1993, and former Orleans singer John Hall, a New York congressman elected in 2006.

Why the gulf between industry Republicans and Democrats?

I think it simply comes down to the fact that when a Hollywood figures make the plunge into politics, they enter the public arena with name recognition and baggage. As it has traditionally been easier to run as a conservative than a liberal, the political stripes of Hollywood Democrats are magnified when they enter the public arena. It is easier for Republican opponents to tag them as part of the entertainment elite, a phrase that we have heard quite a bit of this election. Example: George Clooney’s father, Nick, who already had an uphill battle in seeking a Kentucky congressional seat in 2004, also had to fend off such criticism. Many performers simply don’t want to go through the agony of it all.

By contrast, conservative Hollywood Republicans can make the case that they have been outsiders running against the grain in a business dominated by Democrats. When Schwarzenegger ran for governor and Reagan ran for president, Democrats tried to paint them as “just an actor,” but the dismissive labels didn’t seem to stick.

As Todd notes, maybe the dynamics will be different if Franken wins. But I can’t see the challenges changing much.

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  1. Key says:

    I think that the questionable background issue was made pretty null and void by Bush and Clinton. If those two are clean enough to be elected President twice then Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt should have a decent chance.
    Heh, now that I think about it if one of those two ISN’T gearing up for a run for office at some point I’ll be terribly suprised, their PR rating is so high there really isn’t anywhere to go but to Washington and heck, Angelina certainly has more experience with world leaders than a couple people in the race now do.

  2. ronfromhollywood says:

    well, i dont recall arnie or ronnie saying hateful or shameful things about America. they love this country.
    its hard for liberals actors or not, to win elections if they hate or are ashamed of this country, its history, and think Cuba or Chavez are noteworthy uh… comparisons.
    if al franken wins, then get ready for Air America style politics, beyond the pale, of what we see even now.
    here’s what we as americans want from our actors, we don’t want to hear their political view. if they are politically active, great, go be a politician for REAL, OR be at a rally to support a politician. it goes like this, “hey, there’s a celebrity, STANDING IN THE CROWD, with the rest of us! wow, cool.” but using entertainment microphone time to spout Obamaganda or Palinhatred… …mmm… no.
    and i know why you support Obama. ITS EASY. you won’t be accused of racism, and all will smile & adore you.. that are on the crew set or at award shows of course. or in the catering lines…

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