Jeffrey Katzenberg's Secret Call to Hillary Clinton: Hollywood's 2016 Support Assured

6:00 AM PST 10/30/2013 by Tina Daunt, Kim Masters
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Illustration by: Oliver Barrett

Norman Lear, Irving Azoff and more industry supporters tell THR they're lining up behind the former secretary of state and first lady. Says Katzenberg, "Four years of seasoning has made her the best-qualified candidate."

Of course, a few bumps could pop up along the way. There's the question of whether Joe Biden throws his hat in the ring. "There is only one other person who could be a serious candidate, and that's Vice President Biden," says one longtime senior Hollywood politico. "He has relationships in the industry, but none as deep and as long-lasting as Hillary's. I don't know anyone who dislikes him, certainly since he's been vice president. But if Hillary runs, the town is likely to be — unlike they were in the last contested primary — united around her."

And it's always possible that a candidate to the political left of Clinton could appeal to the most liberal elements of Hollywood. "Looking across the cast of characters, she's far and away the best," says Lear. "Unless Elizabeth Warren were running, and I don't think that's going to happen." He goes on to muse, "Hillary as president with Elizabeth [in her cabinet] — that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished. … I think people [in Hollywood] feel very good about Hillary. She'd be far and away my choice."

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It's a radical 180 from 2007. As Hillary Clinton prepared to launch her campaign then, it seemed reasonable that she could count on Hollywood to deliver big for her. After all, no president and first lady ever had enjoyed closer ties and deeper support in the film, television and music businesses than Bill and Hillary. What the Clintons hadn't reckoned on was just how strongly Obama's personal story, message and the excitement generated by the prospect of electing the first black president would grip some of Hollywood's leading Democratic activists.

One of the first major players to abandon Hillary was Katzenberg, despite him having been a close Clinton ally when Bill was in the White House as president. An associate says it was nothing personal — he simply felt that 2008 would be a year of change, and Obama represented that. In February 2007, he banded with his former DreamWorks partners — Spielberg and Geffen — to host the industry's first big fundraiser for the then-Illinois senator. The invitation to the Beverly Hilton event brought curiosity seekers, such industry people as Universal Studios president and COO Ron Meyer and Paramount Pictures chairman and CEO Brad Grey as well as headlines like one on the ABC News website: "Hillary's Hollywood Friends Switch Sides."

As the increasingly bitter primary campaign dragged on, even Clinton's most loyal Hollywood supporters were dismayed by her conventional, top-down-driven campaign. The operation's dysfunction was well chronicled by the media nearly from day one and accelerated the defections to Obama's technologically superior operation. Bitter disagreements between her deputies became public, and her top deputies were shuffled. Worse, Bill Clinton's comparison of Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary to that of Jesse Jackson's victories in previous campaigns angered African-Americans as a thinly veiled attempt to marginalize Obama as a black candidate with limited appeal. Hillary Clinton never recovered with black voters.

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The stigma of that poorly run campaign — led by longtime Democratic pollster and strategist Mark Penn until he was forced to resign — remains a serious concern for some key supporters of Clinton. But, says the Democratic operative, "She, in their eyes, has handled herself with grace and served Obama loyally, which many of them never imagined she could do."

Adds the operative: "She ran such a crappy campaign, but they are looking not at the woman who ran this terrible campaign but the woman who ran the State Department really well. She is not the long-suffering wife of Bill Clinton, and she's not the person who ran a terrible campaign but this
loyal Obama ally who ran this really big agency competently."

Raising the quality of her ground game and adopting the social media effort Obama's handlers perfected in two general elections is key, say supporters.

"Obama raised the bar," says industry political consultant Andy Spahn. "There isn't anyone you would talk to who wouldn't say whoever runs for president needs to build on Obama's success."

Among the new-generation power brokers likely to form Hillary Clinton's Hollywood cabinet are CAA agent and former Clinton aide Michael Kives and UTA's Sures. By this time in the 2008 election, invitations to fundraisers for Clinton, Obama and a handful of other Democratic hopefuls were humming across the Internet from La Brea to the Palisades. In 2011, the town was abuzz with excitement at the possibility of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who made at least two trips to Los Angeles to raise money for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign — running for president in 2016. But all that has faded as the Waiting for Hillary game continues.

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Of course, all of this depends on whether Clinton decides to make another run for the White House. It might seem like a foregone conclusion that she will, but, says the national Democratic strategist, "It's not 1,000 percent sure." On Nov. 8, 2016, Election Day, she will be 69 years old. "What I worry about is her health, the grind," says Azoff.

But few of her supporters believe she will pass up the opportunity to break through what she called, when she conceded the nomination to Obama in 2008, the "highest, hardest glass ceiling."

Says veteran Hollywood political consultant Donna Bojarsky: "She is going through her own internal decision-making process to decide what she really wants. People are hopeful she will do it. There's a readiness for it. This is a historic moment. Women, especially, want to see this in their lifetime.

"In 2008, everyone was talking about Clinton fatigue. It will have been eight years of Obama. That's a long time to get over any fatigue."

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