Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders: Hollywood Donors Take Sides

Hillary Clinton may have won the Iowa caucus by just a sliver. She may be on her way to a defeat to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. But donors in the entertainment business are still expressing confidence that she will capture the nomination, even if the battle may be tougher than expected.

Supporters of Sanders, meanwhile, are enthusiastic in particular about his bonanza of online fundraising, which appears to have accelerated after his showing in Iowa, where he enjoyed lopsided support among the under-30 set. That will be on display on Friday, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers are headlining a “Feel the Bern” concert at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, with tickets already sold out. Shepard Fairey, who designed the “HOPE” poster in 2008 that became a symbol of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, designed a poster for this event.

What few are predicting, at least not yet, is the type of drawn-out primary battle between Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008 that created bitter email strings and vocal arguments between rival groups of entertainment industry supporters. Back then Larry David, who is making a mark this cycle for his portrayal of Bernie Sanders on “Saturday Night Live,” memorably posted a harsh Huffington Post op ed in 2008 against Clinton.

“I think it will be a robust campaign, but I’m confident that Hillary’s lead will widen, especially after New Hampshire and Nevada,” writer-producer Howard Gordon said via email. Gordon co-hosted one of Clinton’s first industry fund-raising events this cycle, as well as an event at his Brentwood home for Ready for Hillary, the SuperPAC that was a prelude to her getting into the race.

He added: “In the end, as exciting as Bernie’s rhetoric sometimes sounds, voters recognize that Hillary understands how to govern and is by far the most qualified candidate to lead our country in an increasingly challenging world. Also, that our most qualified candidate happens to be a woman represents a tremendous opportunity for us to make history in the same way we made history by electing Barack Obama.”

After Iowa, “I don’t think much has changed. I think everybody assumed it would be a tight race,” said Lara Bergthold, political adviser and principal at Rally, a communications firm in Los Angeles.

In Hollywood, Clinton has dominated fundraising among all presidential candidates, with more than $11 million raised for her campaign or SuperPACs supporting her White House bid, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Showbiz sources were the second major source of campaign support for her candidacy, after donors from the securities and investment industries.

She will be returning to Los Angeles for a fundraising swing on Feb. 22, her seventh visit to Los Angeles since the start of her campaign. Her schedule includes an event at the home of Marketshare CEO Jon Vein and his wife, producer Ellen Goldsmith-Vein.

Sanders has raised just $218,559 from showbiz sources, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and he’s held only a handful of fundraisers in Los Angeles. The campaign has emphasized its small-dollar online fundraising and its lack of dependence on a network of well-connected bundlers.

Among those who have been volunteering for his campaign is Jamie McGurk, independent producer and marketing consultant. She did phone banking before the Iowa caucuses, and may go to Nevada in advance of the caucuses there.

“Most of my friends are Hillary supporters,” she says. “We have been keeping it very civil. It does flare up very occasionally, particularly lately as he has been doing better in the polls.”

The differences between Sanders’ and Clinton’s campaigns were apparent at the MSNBC debate on Thursday. They sparred over what it means to be a progressive, with Sanders citing the need for a “political revolution” and Clinton defining the label as someone “who makes progress.”

The Sanders campaign has been deploying celebrities on the trail, like “Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson and the band Vampire Weeknd, while drawing a list of Hollywood backers that includes Seth MacFarlane, Danny DeVito, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. McKay’s “The Big Short,” which chronicles those investors who bet against the mortgage market in the face of Wall Street corruption, reflects the themes of Sanders’ populist campaign, and he even has gone out of his way to see the movie and endorse it.

Susan Sarandon campaigned with Sanders in Iowa, characterizing it as a race against the Democratic establishment and comparing it to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008. “And now here we are again facing the machine, with the same complaints, except with a man who has proven over and over again that he is consistent, that he is principled and that he is incredibly brave,” she said in one appearance.

Without naming her, Sarandon compared Sanders’ endorsement of same-sex marriage to that of Clinton’s. “It’s one thing to be for gay rights and gay marriage once everybody else is for it. That’s not difficult,” she said.

Clinton, too, has enlisted celebrities on the campaign trail, like Katy Perry, Lena Dunham and Demi Lovato, while some high-profile figures who are backing her have expressed serious doubts about Sanders.

Cher, always outspoken on Twitter, wrote in caps earlier this week, “Bernie will get push back on every single policy, from despicable GOP congress. He has some great ideas that will never pass.”

Sanders has drawn some high-profile support from entertainment, but political strategist Donna Bojarsky says there are limits to who will back him in entertainment. “Hollywood has long voted against their personal pocketbooks,” she said. “The people out here are liberal, but they are not anti-capitalists. The creative community is still a business.”

Even as there have been some fault lines emerging among Clinton and Sanders supporters, Bergthold said that there was probably more concern “about what is happening on the Republican side.”

“I think there is great relief that Donald Trump did not win the Iowa caucus, as it would have been a message to the world of gross American excess,” she said.

Still, Trump’s loss may have been Marco Rubio’s gain, and some of Clinton’s backers view him as perhaps the most formidable of all potential GOP rivals. Rubio, 44, would likely cast himself as the candidate of the future in an effort to cut into the Democratic advantage among young voters and non-whites.

“I thought his speech was very good, and I think he will moderate like crazy in a general election,” Bergthold said.

Sanders, 74, has proven that age doesn’t disqualify appeal to younger voters. In their debate, Clinton acknowledged his support in among college students and those at the start of their careers.

Rubio often cites his biography, as the son of working class Cuban immigrants, and how he is the candidate of the future, and is not a Bush or Clinton. Bojarsky predicted that despite his age, Rubio would still have trouble appealing to young voters, who lined up heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Rubio “has a much more narrow base than Barack Obama,” Bojarsky said. “”Young people are ideologically committed. Ideology is a greater pull than ethnicity.”

 

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