By JIM KUHNHENN (Associated Press)
No presidential candidate worth his chauffeured SUV has reached his personal zenith without this: celebrities to vouch for them. They are the glam and glitter of political campaigns, sure to turn even jaded political operatives into fawning celeb watchers.
Nobody commands the nexus of stardom and politics more than President Barack Obama. Mocked by opponents during his 2008 campaign for being a celebrity himself, he draws from a broad assortment of personalities — Hollywood liberals, NBA stars and more.
Friday offered a case in point. Obama raised money in film producer Tyler Perry’s sprawling southwest Atlanta studio at a gala event featuring a performance by pop star Cee Lo Green. Then he spoke to those in a more elite group, including Oprah Winfrey, at Perry’s 30,000-square-foot French provincial mansion along the Chattahoochee River.
His just-released campaign biopic is narrated by actor Tom Hanks. On Thursday, a White House visit by Obama backer and Oscar winner George Clooney to meet with the president over conditions in Sudan drew a gaggle of press coverage. Obama, though, has no monopoly on big names.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has campaigned with Jeff Foxworthy, the genial comedian with a repertoire of redneck jokes, convinced rocker-rapper Kid Rock to perform at a campaign rally and won supportive words from KISS lead singer Gene Simmons. Romney won in Illinois to take a commanding lead in the delegates to the Republican Convention in August. He was also endorsed earlier this week by former Florida Gov. Jed Bush.
Newt Gingrich, who won Georgia and South Carolina, has action film star Chuck Norris in his corner. Rick Santorum has been endorsed by Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, and Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” have made campaign appearances with him. Ron Paul has an eclectic list of shout outs from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Snoop Dogg, Oliver Stone, Juliette Lewis, Vince Vaughn, Joe Rogan, and Jesse Ventura. Paul came in third in Illinois, while Gingrich came in last.
Such proximity to stardom can reap big benefits for a politician. Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who’s had his brush with the stars working for Al Gore and Bill Clinton, says personalities help alter the typical, antiseptic look of a political event.
“These celebrities, one of the reasons they are celebrities, is they have a unique ability to connect with people,” he said. “You’re using them as a bridge to connect with their fans and their audiences.”
Or as Obama neatly summed it up, when he thanked Winfrey on Friday at Perry’s home: “Just like books and skin cream, when Oprah decides she likes you, then other people like you, too.”
For Obama, whose campaign so far has focused primarily on fundraising, celebrities such as Clooney, Will Smith, Magic Johnson and Antonio Banderas help attract the big-dollar givers. First lady Michelle Obama was fundraising Monday in New York with actor Robert DeNiro at a TriBeCa Italian restaurant.
On Friday, March 16, Obama was on a furious fundraising pace, hitting five events in two cities in one day and raising at least $4.8 million. At day’s end, Obama will have participated in 108 fundraisers since last April when he filed for re-election last April with the Federal Election Commission. During the same