Millions view online endorsement pre-election

Never one to force his will in Hollywood, Ron Howard decided to use some of the clout he had earned over decades in the television and movie business for something quite personal.

It wasn’t to get a pic greenlit or have a certain actor cast but, rather, for what he believed was the good of the country. So, with the help of old pals Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler, Howard created a video a few weeks before Election Day 2008 that endorsed Barack Obama for president.

The result: a few million hits on websites You Tube and Funny or Die, and Obama about to put his hand on the Bible to become the country’s next commander in chief come Jan. 20.

Coincidence? Probably. But, as they say on the Catskills circuit, it didn’t hurt.

“I felt like this is my 50th year in this high-profile business, and if I’m ever going to apply my capital, this was it,” Howard explains. “I can understand people disapproving, but it’s a democracy and I’m a citizen.”

The four-minute video time-travels backward. A few snips and cuts in the makeup trailer (and new head of red hair), and Howard returns to yesteryear, as if he’s a young actor all over again. He’s Opie Taylor talking to his pa, and then, Richie Cunningham from ABC’s hit “Happy Days.”

Griffith speaks as if he’s still the sheriff of Mayberry, and Winkler returns, naturally, as the Fonz.

“I’ve always been politically interested but was never public about it,” Howard says. “I saw the polls tightening and thought more deeply about my position as a citizen. Then I had this idea and, even though it runs counter to my personality, I honestly felt that when Henry and Andy wanted to endorse Obama, too, I had to cut through the clutter. I just couldn’t forget it.

“They encouraged it, and if either had balked, I would’ve ended it right there. In fact, once they heard the idea, they really took the bit in their mouths.”

The clip became an Internet sensation, and the Obama campaign took notice. It booked the spot on a marathon of “The Andy Griffith Show,” which played across the country.

Mayberry, of course, is in North Carolina, and locals, it could be surmised, took to the homespun message: For the first time since 1976, the state voted Democratic.

“I got a copy of it where it says, ‘I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.’ It made me very proud,” says Howard.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more