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Prime time power base

Times Staff Writer

Stumping for the nation’s first female president, Susan Estrich is forming a different kind of party.

Estrich -- USC law professor, author and longtime Democratic insider -- has invited about 50 area VIPs to a “house party” at her Hancock Park home, promoting ABC’s Tuesday premiere of “Commander in Chief.” The series stars Geena Davis as President Mackenzie Allen, who struggles to balance hectic workdays in the Oval Office with the harried demands of motherhood.

Estrich -- who says she hasn’t seen an advance copy of “Commander’s” pilot episode -- got involved at the urging of her friend Marie C. Wilson, who runs the White House Project, a nonpartisan group that promotes women for senior leadership roles in government.

Invitees include supermodel Amber Valletta, actress Morgan Fairchild (defeated Friday in her bid to become president of the Screen Actors Guild) and LA Weekly columnist Nikki Finke, an Estrich friend since college.

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“If you want to put women in the White House, people have to start changing their view of what the president looks like,” Estrich said. “We’ve had one after another handsome, white, male chief executives.”

Wilson’s group is holding similar house parties around the country, a campaign wholeheartedly endorsed -- albeit not subsidized -- by ABC executives. In fact, the network got involved thanks in part to White House Project’s ties to Anne Sweeney, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, according to Mike Benson, ABC’s senior vice president of marketing.

White House Project officials “look at our program as being in lock step with what their mission statement is, and they can help us with marketing,” Benson said. The party idea also fits in well with ABC’s cost-effective approach to marketing, he added: “You need to be a little unexpected” in marketing TV shows, where costs can easily reach into the millions of dollars. “You can’t just throw the kitchen sink at everything.”

Estrich also benefits from the bargain.

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Early next month, Regan Books will publish her book, “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” which argues, according to one published synopsis, that the New York senator “offers the Democrats a once-in-a-lifetime chance to break the White House glass ceiling and be the first party to elect a female president.”

But Estrich denied that the “Commander” parties are merely early tools in Clinton’s presumed campaign.

“I imagine quite a few people in the White House Project are willing to be stalking horses for Condi as well,” Estrich said, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


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