US Presidential Election 2012

Clint Eastwood and George Clooney add star power to White House race

While Romney and Obama woo electors in the run-up to election day, A-list supporters are adding their star power to the presidential race

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 4:14am

Film legend Clint Eastwood claims that Hollywood's image as a Democratic bastion is exaggerated. But the evidence says otherwise, with big-hitters such as George Clooney leading an A-list cast for Barack Obama.

The star of A Fistful Of Dollars - whose discussion with an empty chair stole the show at the Republican convention - issued another endorsement for Mitt Romney last week, warning: "There is not much time left ... our country is at stake."

But while his high-profile backing is no doubt welcomed by Republicans - even if his August skit wasn't quite what they expected - he is a lonely figure among Hollywood's top names in backing Romney.

The list of Obama's celebrity supporters includes Clooney, Robert De Niro, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford - to mention but a few.

"Hollywood actors still do lean toward liberalism and the Democratic Party," Steven Ross, a University of Southern California professor and author of Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, said.

Eastwood, now 82, who also starred as rogue policeman Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, insisted this was not the case when he made his infamous appearance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, shortly before Romney formally accepted his party's nomination.

"I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, what's a movie tradesman doing out here? You know they are all left-wingers out there, left of Lenin," he told his conservative audience. "At least that's what people think. But that's not really the case. There's a lot of conservative people, a lot of moderate people, Republicans, Democrats, in Hollywood."

He explained: "It's just that the conservative people, by the nature of the word itself, play it a little more close to the vest. They don't go around hot-dogging it. .. But they're there, believe me, they're there."

Ocean's Eleven star Clooney might object to the description "hot-dogging it" - showing off - but he's certainly not shy about posting his colours. He hosted a fundraiser at his Hollywood Hills home for Obama in May.

Dubbed "Starmageddon" and organised by DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, the event was said to have raised about US$15 million.

The guest list included Barbra Streisand, Robert Downey Jnr, Jack Black and Billy Crystal.

Katzenberg in particular has delivered millions of dollars and much celebrity power for the president's bid for a second term, conjuring energy from what had been a deflated constituency.

"Katzenberg recognised early that without the support of the entertainment industry's millionaires and billionaires, Obama would have a tough time getting re-elected," said Tina Daunt of The Hollywood Reporter.

"He became Obama's top advocate in the industry, simply because others were not willing to go all out for the president."

Katzenberg has spent more than US$3 million of his own fortune on the contest, making him Obama's top donor.

He has also almost single-handedly persuaded much of Hollywood to again back the president.

Katzenberg reportedly said he expected nothing for his services.

However, it was noted that the State Department seated him near China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping at a lunch in February. Hollywood is keen to expand its market share in China.

As Obama and Romney battle down to the wire ahead of Tuesday's election, the money is important in itself.

But equally important is the "star power" it brings to the commander-in-chief, who is battling for airtime and exposure that is not simply another rally in the exhausting home stretch of the election race.

"The main power of celebrity endorsements is to bring attention to a candidate, to persuade people who might otherwise not pay attention to check out a candidate and see what they represent," said Ross.

But a friend like Hollywood, and the glamorous life that it embodies, is a double-edged sword.

Obama has frequently been criticised for hobnobbing with movie and pop stars, eager to get a slice of Obama's own undoubted star power. When pop superstar Beyonce and her hip-hop mogul husband Jay-Z hosted a US$40,000-a-plate fundraiser for Obama at an exclusive New York club in September, the club's famous 350-bottle champagne tower that usually greets guests became a subject of scorn for Obama's opponents. That the ostentatious display was covered up during the president's visit didn't spoil the critics' glee.

The risk of befriending a celebrity endorser is something that Obama himself acknowledges.

In an interview in August, Obama said that Clooney, perhaps his most visible champion in Hollywood, knew not to get too close.

"He's very protective about not bothering me. And he's also sensitive to the fact, you know, that if he's around a lot, then somehow it'll be tagged as 'Obama is hanging out with Hollywood stars' , and that's not who he [Clooney] is," Obama told Entertainment Tonight.

Nevertheless, it's clear that the pair have bonded. "George is a low-maintenance guy, as am I," the president joked.

Obama tried to portray the friendship as one based on serious issues and not star power. "He is a terrific advocate on behalf of the people of Darfur and to the people of Sudan who've been brutalised for a long time," Obama said.

He added that their friendship was forged when he was a senator, not president.

"We got to know each other, and he is a good man, and a good friend," Obama added.

But for all the Obama cheerleading from the entertainment industry, not everyone in Hollywood who supports Obama does so with the enthusiasm of four years ago.

Oscar-winning Thelma and Louise actress Susan Sarandon said: "I've gotten to the point where I'm very unemotionally involved, actually.

"It kind of feels like if Obama doesn't get in and everything falls apart, maybe that's the way it's supposed to be, in order for us to rebuild it. I'm going to vote. I've contributed in many ways but it's not going to kill me."

She added: "Obama should get elected, except there's so much money involved now, and there are a lot of people sulking because they're disappointed in Obama. Nothing can match the last time when he got in there. It was just so huge."

Additional reporting by The Guardian