Resolving the Rift

Updated

More than once, I have talked to a Clinton supporter or an Obama supporter in the entertainment industry who suggests that come November, they will vote for John McCain, or not vote at all, should their candidate not secure the nomination. These vows of anger come from people who are otherwise the polar opposite of McCain on the issues, most of all on a prolonged presence in Iraq. By now, we’ve all heard it, and it is certainly evident in the polls.

But how realistic is it? As one political consultant said recently at a Santa Monica conference, people are poor predictors of their own future behavior.

And despite acrimony that has spilled out into the open in Hollywood — I write more about it here — there are indications that it that supporters of the Clinton and Obama camps in the industry are cooling it. At one recent meeting, there was a more sense of unifying to win in the general election.  Their support is almost equal in the entertainment business — they each have raised  nearly  $3 million, and only $300 separates the two  according to the latest figures from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Several weeks ago, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean held a fund-raising event that included major donors of Obama and Clinton, the first time that many had gathered in quite a while.There was some tension going in: it was held at the Santa Monica home of Charles Rivkin, CEO of Wild Brain and co-chair of Obama’s California finance committee, so there was some question as to whether it should have been held at some “neutral” territory.

Rivkin was joined by other Obama supporters like Nicole Avant and Jeremy Bernard, and among those from the Clinton camp were Sim Farar, John Emerson, Yeshar Hedayat, Noah Mamet and Diane Hamwi. Also present was Andy Spahn, neutral as he represents Steven Spielberg, who has endorsed Clinton, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is backing Obama.

Yet it’s safe to say that many Clinton supporters weren’t too happy with Dean, primarily over what they perceived to be his reluctance to take a greater and more aggressive role to mediate the dispute over Michigan and Florida. In fact, one Clinton supporter, a donor and fund-raiser in from Florida,  asked Dean directly, “How could you dare not count my vote?”

Dean warned the March 20 gathering that he had answers that would not please all sides. In essence, he said that Michigan and Florida were warned, but they moved their primaries anyway. So anger should not be directed at the DNC, but at the state officials and committees who went ahead with moving up their primaries. As for a re-vote, Dean said that there is only so much that he could do. In other words, he can’t force the campaigns to agree to it.

But Dean also had words that would not please Obama supporters, either. The rules also state that superdelegates can vote their conscience, and are under no obligation to make their pick based on the will of the people. Farar, a national finance co-chair of the Clinton campaign, was among the Clinton donors who sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi, upset with her remarks that seemed to favor the idea that superdelegates should vote for whoever has the most pledged delegates. Given Obama’s lead, her comments were seen as favoring him.

In the end, cooler heads prevailed.

Farar dismissed notions that the divisions would send one side or another to McCain. In fact, by the end of Dean’s meeting, he called on the crowd to support whoever the nominee was, and drew applause.

Those at the meeting, while among the most passionate, have been part of the process for quite some time. They know each other, like each other, consider each other friends. Disagreements have, by and large, been not personal but political. Yet many more people from entertainment have gotten involved in the campaign this time around, and there are still lingering animosities. It’s also hard to see a David Geffen, or others who have so publicly made their feelings known about the Clintons, suddenly supporting Hillary should she become the nominee.

Also tricky will be just what happen when a nominee is selected. How will the losing camp — the donors and supporters, who have invested so much time and energy into the campaign — merge into the winning camp? In 2004, some long-time Kerry supporters were resentful as some big-time Dean backers (ironically) entered the fold and commanded the candidate’s time and attention.

“The whole idea (of the Dean meeting) was to talk about getting people together, to work together for general election, no matter who the nominee is,” Emerson says. “It was a very cordial and successful meeting. The fact is, I walked in the room and half those people are really good friends of mine. I  think the sense in the donor world is, if anything, that there is frustration with their own campaign, at least certainly more on the Clinton side than the Obama campaign. I think most people out here are ready, willing and able to jump with both feet into either campaign.”

As Spahn notes, much depends on how the losing candidate makes an appeal to supporters to back the winning candidate.

He says, “We will hit the edge in June, and that edge is going to be between the feeling that we have an embarrassment of riches, two great choices; tipping toward the other edge, which is ‘My candidate or the highway.’ It is imperative that we resolve this by the end of June.”

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