Bernie Sanders’ supporters point to his New Hampshire primary blowout as proof that his candidacy is not a fluke. Hillary Clinton’s backers point to the calendar ahead to insist they are not in a funk.
What is certain: Hollywood Democrats are now looking at the significant possibility of a battle for the nomination much different than imagined a year ago — a longer, more contentious, less predictable race.
“New Hampshire chose Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Really? I’m excited about Nevada, South Carolina and Super Tuesday,” Andy Spahn, president of Gonring, Spahn & Associates, said via email. His firm represents clients including Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg.
Sanders’ showbiz backers, meanwhile, point to the results as proof that he’s not a fringe candidate. “This isn’t a fluke and the man is not in a hermetically sealed box,” tweeted Mark Ruffalo, pointing to a story that showed Sanders beating Clinton among nearly every demographic group in New Hampshire.
“He has been putting together a different kind of coalition that has never been put together before,” said producer Jamie McGurk, who has been volunteering for his campaign. Exit polls showed Sanders also drawing New Hampshire working-class voters, who went for Clinton in the 2008 primary.
McGurk said that when she began supporting Sanders last year, as he launched his campaign, she would hear dismissive talk along the lines of “He will add a lot to the discussion,” or “He will make her a better candidate.”
“I have truly, from the very beginning, believed that there was this untapped anger at the system, and I believe he is tapping into it,” she said. “A lot of people I have talked to, they are still very focused on ‘the party, the party, the party.’ He won with the overwhelming support of independents. I don’t think that people understand that this is a whole new paradigm.”
Clinton supporters, including a contingent that trekked to New Hampshire to canvass, knew that she would face a loss, but they believe that her prospects are much more favorable in upcoming states. Some are upset with the media coverage — what they see as a broadside of reporters and pundits eager to craft a storyline of a campaign in trouble.
Some longtime industry Democrats, while confident that Clinton will win the nomination, have concerns over how the campaign has tried to counter Sanders’ populist appeal and its lopsided loss among younger voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.
And there is the prospect of an added twist in the contest: Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and media mogul, is weighing an independent presidential bid. If he were to get in — and it is a big if — the worry is that he would end up pulling more support from Democrats than from Republicans. One top media executive and Democratic bundler said that “everybody I talk to says, ‘Oh my God, Bloomberg.’ They perk up, like he is a ‘silver bullet.'”
“I think it is always concerning because you don’t like to lose,” the executive said of Clinton’s loss. “The flip side is that this was expected. They are professionals, and they have been through this before, and it was anticipated to a large degree.”
Hollywood has been the ATM for the Democratic Party, but the campaigns have tapped industry support in different ways. In fact, the flow of money into politics is at the heart of Sanders’ campaign and, last night, was a theme of Clinton’s concession speech.
Clinton will return to Los Angeles on Feb. 22 for a series of fundraisers, including a $2,700-per-person event at the home of Marketshare CEO Jon Vein and producer Ellen Goldsmith-Vein. It will be Clinton’s seventh fundraising visit to the region since announcing her candidacy. Her husband, former president Bill Clinton, also is expected to trek to Los Angeles for events.
Jon Vein said that he was “unconcerned with the result.”
“Much of the press is trying to make this more of a horse race than it is in order to drive ratings, but she will run the table between New Hampshire an Super Tuesday, and that should tamp things down a bit,” he said.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, with $11 million backing her candidacy, showbiz sources make up the second-largest share of Clinton’s fundraising totals, after securities and investment. The figures include money raised for SuperPACs backing Clinton, with figures such as Katzenberg, Spielberg and Haim Saban giving seven-figure sums.
By contrast, Sanders has raised just over $218,000, and has made two fundraising trips to Los Angeles. He has made a point of shunning SuperPACs, and instead is seeing a bonanza of online fundraising. The campaign said it raised $5.2 million since his New Hampshire victory.
In his victory speech, Sanders once again took aim at big money in politics, including SuperPACs, and said that he was holding a “fundraiser right here, right now,” directing viewers to his website to contribute.
“What the people here have said is that given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for the same-old, same-old establishment politics and establishment economics,” he said, a not-too-veiled contrast to Clinton and her dependence on high-dollar campaign bundlers.
In her speech, Clinton tried to match Sanders in taking aim at the flow of money into politics, calling the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision one of its worst and noting that the case was instigated by a right-wing group’s determination to release an attack on her 2008 campaign via a documentary. It was called “Hillary, the Movie.” Some of those who are raising for her SuperPAC also decry big money in politics, but say the reality is that the other option is to disarm against an expected flood of money from right-leaning billionaires come the fall.
One studio executive and campaign bundler, who is currently on the sidelines, said that the Clinton campaign and her high-dollar donors don’t seem to grasp the mood of younger voters — the kind that drove enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
“A lot of big bundlers are saying, ‘You have got to think pragmatically,'” the executive said. “But people are not saying, ‘Let’s support Hillary because we are believing in her. It is, ‘Let’s support her because we believe she has a better chance.'”
The problem, the executive said, is that Clinton’s campaign underestimated Sanders’ ability, despite his age, to reach voters with a message that sounded authentic.
Younger voters “are not thinking like the influential bundlers. They are thinking like ‘This person is resonating with me.’ ”
In her speech, Clinton herself said that she knows “she has some work to do, particularly with young people.”
In Los Angeles, Sanders drew a crowd heavy in college-age and twenty- and thirtysomething supporters last August, when he filled the 16,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for a rally. It was a rarity for any presidential campaign to stage anything other than a fundraiser in the state at that point, given that the California primary in June may not be a factor in the nomination contest. But the campaign said it was important in building enthusiasm and organizing.
Sanders returned to Los Angeles in October when his campaign held a low-dollar, $25-per-person fundraiser at Hollywood nightclub Avalon, where he was introduced by Seth MacFarlane. Later that evening, he attended a fundraiser at the Beverly Hills home of Syd and Linda Leibovich, with tickets starting at $250 and going to the max of $2,700 per person.
His campaign at the time made a point of noting that it was only his ninth traditional fundraiser, and the candidate himself joked about the “proletariat” home.
By contrast, Clinton’s visits to Los Angeles have been almost entirely for high-dollar fundraising, as the finance team tried to maximize her time. She, too, held a rare Los Angeles campaign event in August — it was not a rally but a roundtable discussion on home care at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.
Tickets for an event in January at the Jim Henson Co. were aimed at families, starting at $500 per person, but lower-dollar fundraising has so far been left to surrogates such as daughter Chelsea Clinton and campaign manager Robby Mook.
The campaign also has tried to reach young voters in Iowa and New Hampshire by deploying surrogates like Demi Lovato and Lena Dunham, but in the build-up to Tuesday’s vote, the one who got the most attention was Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state. She said, a bit flippantly, that there was a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” That created some friction among young female supporters of Sanders.
David Wolf, a Clinton campaign fundraiser in Los Angeles, suggested that too much can be made of her loss in New Hampshire, noting the number of politicians from neighboring states who have held an advantage there.
“Campaigns are marathons, not sprints,” he said via email. “Our last three presidents came in second in New Hampshire: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.”
On Wednesday, the Clinton campaign was making the most of the fact that Vivica Fox, Sean Patrick Thomas and Angela Bassett were stumping in South Carolina, where Clinton’s prospects look much better than in New Hampshire.
Of course, if Tuesday’s results showed anything, it’s that the biggest risk this cycle is taking anything for granted.