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In some parts of the country, Hollywood’s political contributions and celebrity endorsements still can be a double-edged sword: They provide a candidate a life line of ready cash and glittering associations, or they can be used to imply that an office-seeker is the fellow traveler of liberal elitists, out of touch with Heartland lives and sentiments.
The latter is clearly the case Republican candidate Sarah Steelman is trying to make against Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill in their struggle for the Democrat’s U.S. Senate seat. Steelman, who is one of this election cycle’s Tea Party favorites, recently survived a bitterly bruising GOP primary to win the right to challenge the incumbent. Most reliable polls show McCaskill and Steelman are locked in what amounts to a dead heat, though national Republican strategists regard Missouri as one of the states in which they have a good chance to pick up one of the seats they need to recapture control of the Senate.
In fact, Steelman sent out a recent fundraising appeal to conservatives across the country, attacking McCaskill for accepting contributions totaling $49,699 from Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Susan Sarandon and Danny DeVito.
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“My friend, make no mistake,” Steelman writes, “this race is between the conservative Heartland values that you and I share and the distorted ethics of the Hollywood crowd,” which the GOP candidate describes as part of the “Hollywood-liberal-elites. … trying to hijack this Senate Seat — and that’s no exaggeration!”
Steelman begins her appeal by writing, “Hollywood already has two Senate seats in California. Now they’re trying to buy a third one here in Missouri. … What might seem like a fairly normal Senate race has been transformed into one of the most important races this year. … This is why I had no choice but to write you and a few other dedicated conservatives today. Bottom line — we need to match the $49,699 Claire McCaskill has raised from Hollywood, starting right now.”
Steelman goes on to describe herself as “a no-compromise conservative woman. I’m a wife and a mother … and I’ve been endorsed by the Tea Party Express. In short, I’m exactly the type of woman that today’s liberals can’t stand. … Please join my campaign today, and send a message to Susan Sarandon that this seat isn’t for sale.”
In fact, McCaskill, one of the more conservative Senate Democrats, is hardly a liberal darling. Missouri, however, is a relatively conservative state and there’s a long tradition of GOP fundraising among national conservatives built around demonized liberal celebrities. For a time in the late 1970’s and 80’s, Jane Fonda was an icon of Republican direct mail campaigns.
But even in Massachusetts, one of the bluest of blue states, Democratic Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren — who definitely is one of this cycle’s Hollywood darlings — has come under fire for her connections to the entertainment industry. Warren is trying to defeat another Tea Party favorite, Sen. Scott Brown, and recapture Ted Kennedy’s old seat for the Democrats.
In one Boston Herald story, the Democrat had to push back against allegations that she’s Hollywood’s dazzled captive:
“A starstruck Elizabeth Warren admitted yesterday she never expected to be on the center stage amid the bright lights of Hollywood or nab the glowing support of megastars Cher and Barbra Streisand — but insisted the glare of the glitterati won’t blind voters to her middle-class roots,” the Herald wrote. “An astonished Warren said that if she’d been told as a child that legendary diva Cher would be swooning over her on Twitter, “I would have said, ‘That’s an alternative reality.'”
Like the Missouri race, the Warren-Brown contest currently is too close to call.
None of the risks attendant on Hollywood fundraising and celebrity endorsements seem to bother President Barack Obama at the moment. The chief executive is in L.A .pursuing Hollywood money so often these days he may qualify to vote in the next mayoral election. Nor is Obama any longer wary of showing off his celebrity support. Sunday, his campaign aired its first national ad during the MTV music awards — a spot featuring Sarah Jessica Parker.
“The guy who ended the war in Iraq, the guy who says you should be able to marry anyone you want, the guy who created four million new jobs. That guy — President Obama — and his wife Michelle are coming to my house for dinner on June 14,” the actress says in the spot, before urging viewers to contribute to the campaign on line, where they can win a pair of tickets to the event at her Manhattan home. “You have to go to JoinObama.com for a chance to win and the contest ends tomorrow night,” the actress told viewers, “so go right here right now because we need him and he needs us.”
On Monday, the campaign sent out an email from the First Lady praising Parker as “a loving mom, an incredibly hard worker and a great role model.”
“She’s one of those people you can’t help but admire,” the First Lady wrote. “Barack and I are thrilled that we’re invited for an evening at her home in New York next week.”
She then urged supporters to “chip in $3 or whatever you can” to enter to win to tickets to join the First Couple at Parker’s house for dinner.
Whichever way such celebrity contributions and endorsements cut, it’s now clear that Hollywood is going to have a starring role in this year’s national election campaign.
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