Other than the presidential race, there are a bevy of downballot contests that have drawn interest from industry activists, amateur politicos and corporate moguls and union chiefs. Here is a list of contests drawing some of the biggest interest from Hollywood players. It is a snapshot — and by no means complete.
Berman vs. Sherman: There’s no doubt who show biz is backing in this nasty, bitter and expensive race pitting two Democrats against each other in Hollywood’s backyard. Rep. Howard Berman is the top recipient of show biz contributions among all candidates, save for President Obama and Mitt Romney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. There’s a reason for it: Hollywood has lined up behind him, as he is viewed as one of the most strident champions of copyright issues on Capitol Hill, enough to where he has been dubbed “Hollywood’s congressman.” His district lies in the San Fernando Valley, where he is in an uphill battle against Rep. Brad Sherman, who often falls in the same pattern with Berman when it comes to piracy issues but who simply rubs many in the show biz lobby the wrong way. That is why many of Berman’s backers saw an opening when Sherman grab-hugged him at a recent debate, and said to him, loudly, “Howard, you want to get into this?” Yet polls still show Sherman with a significant lead, and a loss by Berman will put the onus on the show biz lobby to find a new point person to champion IP issues.
McCaskill vs. Akin: Claire McCaskill has collected more show biz contributions than any other Senate candidate in a competitive election, as her unlikely reelection in an ever-reddish state suddenly became plausible with a far right candidate Todd Akin, who badly stumbled over the issue of rape. The ignited a wave of public and financial support for McCaskill, who has seem to overcome traditional attacks on middle-America Democrats who take show biz money.
Warren vs. Brown: If there is a ‘star” challenger seeking a Senate seat this year, it is Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who became a star with her criticism of the financial industry, trying to unseat Republican Scott Brown in heavily Democratic Massachusetts. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon co-hosted a star-studded fundraiser for her in May, and Norman Lear provided early support at an event he hosted last year. In fact, Brown’s allies have tried to make an issue of Warren’s out-of-state Hollywood support, although that issue has faded as Warren has gotten a boost in the polls.
Baldwin vs. Thompson: This Wisconsin Senate race between Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Tommy Thompson has been brutal, but surprisingly free of much talk at all about Baldwin’s sexual orientation. If she wins, she will be the first openly gay U.S. senator. She’s drawn support from Hollywood’s LGBT community, including Blake Byrne, Rich Ross and Bruce Cohen.
Duckworth vs. Walsh: Showbiz liberals crave a chance to defeat an outspoken conservative firebrand, and they may have found their opportunity in the House seat held by Tea Partier Joe Walsh. Duckworth has been to Los Angeles to raise money, drawing support from none other than the other Joe Walsh, the Eagles singer and guitarist.
Marriage Equality: A quartet of same-sex marriage ballot initiatives in Minnesota, Maine, Washington and Maryland has drawn interest and money from the likes of Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt, hopeful that marriage equality will prevail in at least one of the elections. If so, champions of same-sex marriage say that they will have denied opponents a talking point, that voters in 32 elections have consistently decided in favor of marriage being only between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court will decide later in November whether to take the Prop 8 case and/or challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act. Some observers suggest that the November result could, in their own way, have an impact on what the justices decide.
Proposition 30: California Gov. Jerry Brown’s call to raise taxes on wealthy residents, as a way to resolve persistent budget crises, means higher taxes for many in Hollywood, but Brown has tried to appeal to education advocates by highlighting how the measure will prevent severe cuts. Although the initiative has led in the polls, its margins have fallen in recent weeks.
Proposition 32: Show biz unions are among organized labor fighting this initiative that would prohibit unions from using payroll deducted funds for political purposes. It prohibits union and corporate contributions to candidates and their committees, but critics, like SAG-AFTRA’s Gabrielle Carteris, calls it a “sham.” She says that loopholes in the initiative still would allow corporations to funnel money into the political process while organized labor would be sidelined.
Proposition 34: The initiative to repeal California’s death penalty has drawn the financial support of Barry Meyer, J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, the Saul Zaentz Co. and Gary David Goldberg, among others, while Martin Sheen, a longtime foe of executions, has narrated commercial spots. A coalition of peace officers associations oppose the initiative. Support was growing in a recent Field Poll, although passage will depend on late deciders who have a history of voting no.
Proposition 37: A host of industry figures, including Marisa Tomei and James Franco, have campaigned for this initiative to require labeling of genetically engineered food. It may be a no brainer to health advocates and organic enthusiasts, but the food industry is mounting a heavy campaign against it, warning of higher grocery bills for the average Californian.