President Obama’s re-election is likely to maintain the status quo of Hollywood’s relationship to the levers of power, following a campaign that depended heavily on industry money and a flurry of star figures for support.
Obama’s victory after a hard-fought, often negative campaign may not have produced the same boundless enthusiasm or endless doses of inspiration of his first campaign for the presidency, but his heavy contingent of industry backers celebrated the victory.
NBC News called the race for President Obama first at about 8:12 p.m. PT, followed by other networks, and cheers erupted in Chicago at McCormick Place, where supporters and donors had gathered.
“It is almost like Grant Park four years ago,” said Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, co-chair of the Obama campaign’s Southern California’s finance team, who was in Chicago with a number of other donors and supporters, including Will.i.am, Davis Guggenheim and Alfre Woodard. When Ohio was called, “everyone floated off the floor.”
“It feels like a real victory,” Solomon said, noting the contentiousness of the campaign. “Everyone here feels real justice in the results. There were times when it was hard not to doubt that.”
At Romney’s headquarters in Boston, supporters were dejected by the loss, confirmed when Romney came on stage at about 10 p.m. to say that he was conceding.
In Manhattan, cheers of “O-ba-ma!” ramped up at the large ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, where NBC News had inlaid a map of the United States, filled in with blue and red coloring as each state was called. In Times Square, several hundred people gathered in the November chill and cheered as screens showed Obama winning key states like Iowa and New Mexico.
Word of Obama’s re-election inspired instant reaction across social media, as well as among the president’s supporters in the industry.
“My movie instincts say that the relative ‘likability’ of the competing stars had a lot to do with who ‘won the weekend,’ so to speak, but whatever the reason, the outcome is one I am very personally happy about,” Tom Rothman, co-chairman of 20th Century Fox, said via email. “I believe that the President will exceed all our high hopes for the next term. Forward (with an !)”
Norman Lear had a number of people at his home to watch the results. Clearly jubilant, he quipped, “I was planning for more tension. What happened just now I wanted to happen 10 minutes after 11. Everyone’s ecstatic. We just miss a little tension. I’m just going to have to settle for this, that’s all.”
Rob Reiner said when Ohio was called, putting Obama over the top, “we were all jumping up and screaming.” He called it “a great day for the country.”
“It just goes to show you that all of the SuperPAC money and all of the lies that the Romney campaign tried to throw out there against Obama, about his welfare plan, his Medicare plan, saving the car industry, all of those things, eventually people figure it out and they go with the truth,” Reiner said. “It’s a really great day for America.”
In an e-mail to Variety, Ben Affleck noted that his 70-year-old mother moved to Florida for months to work on the campaign, sleeping on a couch. “Today she told me about knocking on doors, talking to people, giving rides. She stood in line for two hours today for someone who otherwise would not have voted.”
He added, “I don’t care who you vote for, but if you give three months of your life to the democratic process, tonight is about you. I am thrilled tonight for my mom and everyone like her on both sides who care enough about the country to work for it. They are my heroes.”
With the Senate expected to stay in Democratic hands and the House looking on track to remain in Republican control, election night was tinged with irony given that four years ago the enthusiasm for “change” inspired much speculation as to whether the cultural shift would extend even to Hollywood.
Although Obama’s campaign was heavily negative in its advertising and relied on a smaller electoral map than four years ago, his re-election was a relief to many of the studio chiefs and prominent showbiz figures who put their weight behind him.
With the money he gave to the campaign — raised from friends and provided to a pro-Obama SuperPAC — Jeffrey Katzenberg was Obama’s biggest donor. His influence with the White House may grow, given the prominent role he played in the campaign.
Showbiz support for Obama was reflected in the lopsided balance of contributions.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of the end of September, Obama had collected just over $6 million from showbiz sources, while Romney had drawn about $1.1 million. The Obama campaign depended heavily on the entertainment sector, not just in lining up bundlers like Harvey Weinstein, Eva Longoria and Colleen Bell, but in using stars like George Clooney to help spur small-dollar contributions.
Meanwhile, a pro-Obama SuperPAC, Priorities USA Action, attempted to achieve parity with well-funded Republican counterparts by drawing contributions from Bill Maher, Morgan Freeman, Chelsea Handler, Sidney Kimmel and Haim Saban, in addition to Katzenberg. While some in the industry, like David Geffen, refused to contribute as way of taking a stand against big money in politics, contributions accelerated in the waning months of the campaign, particularly as signs pointed to a neck-and-neck race.
A number of industry figures volunteered on the campaign’s final day. Sony Pictures Entertainment topper Michael Lynton was among the hundreds of volunteers working phones at an Obama campaign phone bank set up at Culver Studios. His wife, Jamie Alter Lynton, rounded up volunteers to make calls to swing states, and industry figures like Amy Pascal, Cameron Crowe and Julia Louis-Dreyfus did shifts.
“I will be here until we get to declare victory,” said Jamie Lynton, sporting a custom-made silver necklace with the Obama campaign’s rising-sun logo. “I sent out an email to about 500 people and told them to get out here.”
Obama’s first event of his re-election campaign took place on the Sony lot in April 2011, kicking off a frenzy of fund-raising that depended heavily on Hollywood support as well as contributions from Silicon Valley.
On the business side, Obama’s re-election could mean a reshuffling of figures in key posts like the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the U.S. Trade Representative and the Secretary of Commerce. But his victory also spares the biz from having to realign its relationships to reflect a new administration.
MPAA chairman Chris Dodd was quick to issue a congratulatory statement to the president on Tuesday night. “In an era of partisan discord, there is bipartisan agreement that protecting American creativity and innovation is critical to our competitive edge in the marketplace,” Dodd said.
Farther down the ballot, there were a number of races drawing interest, perhaps led in Southern California by the bitter battle for a San Fernando Valley congressional seat, where Democrats Howard Berman and Brad Sherman faced off against each other in a newly redrawn district. Industry donors also contributed heavily to a number of Senate candidates who won victories, including Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Another closely watched race was in Wisconsin, where Tammy Baldwin appeared to be winning. She would be the first openly gay candidate to win a Senate seat.
Studio moguls and union leaders had heavily backed Berman, a longtime champion of copyright issues on Capitol Hill, while Sherman underscored his support among local leaders. Sherman held significant leads in the scant polling that had been done in the run-up to election night, and Berman held out hope that a debate incident — in which Sherman grab-hugged him in a contentious moment — would turn voters to his side.
Significant victories for same-sex marriage occurred in Maine and Maryland, where voters approved initiatives to legalize it, reversing a record of loss in 32 other statewide votes. Two other states with marriage initiatives on the ballot, Washington and Minnesota, were too early or close to call.
(Justin Kroll and Gordon Cox contributed to this report.)