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Michael Avenatti has had an incredibly busy and productive few months. The Los Angeles-based attorney, who rose to national prominence this spring with his fervent advocacy for his adult film star client, Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), is getting close to taking on a new case: running for president.
Avenatti has been circling the country in recent weeks, making trips to all the places you’d expect a presidential candidate to visit: Iowa (twice), Ohio (twice), Florida, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
He spent a few days in Iowa last week before attending Democratic National Committee meetings in Chicago, where, according to a Politico report, he “created an unmistakable buzz” and “proved as recognizable and media-savvy as any of the prospects considering running for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from Chicago, Avenatti said he’s had a bunch of “incredibly positive” meetings with Hollywood types over the past few weeks, including actors, actresses, entertainment company executives, agents and people from the world of entertainment law, his bread and butter.
“A number of people have stepped forward and said that they would do whatever I needed in the way of financial support, as well as introductions, hosting events, things of that nature,” Avenatti said of his Hollywood conversations, without naming names.
While he hasn’t yet decided whether he’s going to run, he said people in Hollywood “have been very encouraging and excited about the prospect.” He was a popular presence at the MTV VMA Awards last week, where some journalists asked what he was doing there.
The Democratic Party’s nominee in 2016, Hillary Clinton, got flack for cozying up to the so-called “Hollywood elite,” possibly hurting her appeal with heartland Democrats and independents. But, Avenatti said he’d welcome support from the entertainment industry, a group he thinks has untapped potential.
“I don’t think they’ve been fully mobilized in the past, but I think that they could prove to be an important component in 2020, regardless of who the nominee is,” he said.
Avenatti is a lightning rod and lacks political experience, so it’s no surprise there are plenty of Democrats who don’t think he’d be the right candidate for 2020. Andy Spahn, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s longtime political advisor and consultant, told THR that Avenatti is a “shiny new object.”
“He has shown that he is very good at trolling Donald Trump, effectively using cable as a vehicle,” said Zac Petkanas, a Democratic strategist who worked for Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “However, winning the presidency requires more than trolling.”
Were he to run, Avenatti would be going up against a well funded group of congressional Democrats expected to run for the nomination, including the likes of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with party heavyweights like Joe Biden. Last Friday, he announced the formation of a political action committee, The Fight PAC, that will allow him to throw his weight around by donating to Democratic candidates in the midterms.
Avenatti said he has no timeline for deciding on a run. “I’m taking it day by day, week by week, and I’m going to wait and see what happens,” he said.
Petkanas said that Avenatti “represents an existential threat to the White House,” and can make his mark even if he declines to run. “Michael Avenatti and his work has the potential to bring down the Trump presidency, whether or not he runs against him and gets 270 electoral votes,” he said.
While a lawyer by trade, Avenatti has become something closer to a celebrity over the last few months. He’s done hundreds of hits on cable news to talk about his client, Daniels, and rail against the president, who was hit with a major blow last week when his longtime aide Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes stemming from payments he made to Daniels and a Playboy model on Trump’s behalf.
Avenatti’s ubiquity on cable news has been a running joke for his detractors, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has called him the “creepy porn lawyer” and criticized competitor networks for giving him a platform.
But, recently, the complaints about his TV time have died down. “It’s funny how that works, huh?” he asked, laughing. “None of this happens without the media strategy that I implemented, and anybody that says anything other than that doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
One cable news hit he’s still waiting on is a debate against Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, which doesn’t sound like it’s going to happen, if Avenatti’s sources are correct. “I’ve heard from no less than five bookers at various shows on multiple networks that the White House refuses to allow Rudy Giuliani to appear opposite me on any program,” he said.
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