Barack Obama Campaign Strategy Keeping Hollywood Out of Sight

Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Industry invites dry up as the President shuns glitz and preps for a populist campaign.

Like every Democrat, President Barack Obama covets Hollywood's financial support. But there's a growing sense that he doesn't want to be seen with industry figures.

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A source close to the White House tells The Hollywood Reporter it was no accident stars were absent from an Oct. 13 state dinner for Korean president Lee Myung-bak. Industry attendees included only American Beauty producer Bruce Cohen and the evening's performers, the Ahn Trio sisters and singer Janelle Monae.

Celebrities have long been a fixture at White House gatherings. Obama's previous state dinners have included such A-listers as Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

But Obama might want to put visual distance between himself and boldface names. Facing a close race, strategists might want to head off allegations that he is starstruck, as GOP candidate John McCain portrayed him in 2008 ads.

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Obama seems to be positioning himself as a guy on the side of the middle and working classes. Being photographed with wealthy celebrities while preparing for a possible run against Mitt Romney could undermine his effort, especially if he intends to portray the former Massachusetts governor as a rich man who doesn't care about working people and who laid a fair number of them off.

"State dinners need to make an imprint, but they shouldn't be ostentatious at a time when Obama is spending all day talking about jobs and the economy," says Donna Bojarsky, a public policy consultant. "Everyone gets it."

The president's longtime friend George Clooney stayed mostly out of sight in 2008, saying he'd learned a lesson when his father lost a congressional seat after a campaign in which his celebrity son was very visible. Still, Obama will be back in Hollywood on Oct. 24 for private fund-raisers co-hosted by Eva Longoria, Melanie Griffith and Will Smith.