Casting for West Wing

Times Staff Writer

Just the hint of a possible presidential run by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama -- who is expected to be in town Friday to promote his book “The Audacity of Hope” -- has Hollywood Democrats talking.

The e-mail from George Clooney arrived at 1:46 a.m. Pacific time (he’s in Europe).

The subject: Illinois Democrat Obama.

“If SENATOR Obama became PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Obama it would be the most electrifying thing to happen to the Democratic party since Kennedy,” Clooney wrote.


Media mogul Haim Saban, however, was less impressed by Obama’s disclosure this week that he’s thinking about running for president in 2008. Saban is already electrified by another possible Democratic candidate: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“Only Hillary,” Saban said, via BlackBerry message. “I hope she does announce soon so we can all go to work all out to make sure she wins ... and BIG!!!!!”

The 2006 midterm elections are only two weeks away, but Hollywood is already looking toward 2008 -- even though no one has formally joined the race.

“It would be hard for me to pretend that I’ve not heard some of the talk,” Obama said in an interview with The Times. “There’s an old joke that every senator is thinking about running for president -- all 100 of them.”

Obama said that at the moment he’s focused on getting Democrats elected on Nov. 7. After that, he’ll consider his presidential prospects.

But while he’s pondering his options, you can bet that some people in Hollywood are already envisioning his inaugural bash.

Director Rob Reiner compared a possible run by Obama to Abraham Lincoln’s victory.

“How poetic would it be that a one-term congressman from the state of Illinois could be elected president and free the slaves,” said Reiner, reached on his car phone Monday, “and now a one-term African American senator from that same state could become the next president?”

“Everyone admires him,” producer Norman Lear said of the freshman senator. “They are very excited about the possibility that he’s in the race. I think the people who are very much with Hillary will remain with Hillary. But the discussion is a good thing for the party.”

Almost anyone who has met Obama will tell you that he’s charismatic and warm, but not giddy.

“My wife and I have tried not to get caught up in the hype,” Obama said. “We still live in Chicago and I go to the same barbershop.... “

But there’s no denying that since he rocked the Democratic National Convention in 2004 with an impassioned speech about America, his life has changed. For one, he became an instant political star.

His first book, “Dreams From My Father,” released shortly after the 2004 convention, shot to the top of bestseller lists. His new missive promises to be equally as successful. Last week, he was in 15 cities promoting his book and raising money for the Democrats.

On Friday, he will be in Los Angeles to discuss the book at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum of Greater L.A. and the California African American Museum.

Later that evening, he will attend a fundraiser for the state Democratic Party with gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides.

“This is an important election,” Obama said. “The Democrats will win the House and we could win the Senate.”

As he travels, Obama said, he finds that people -- regardless of their party affiliations -- have similar anxieties. “They’re worried about whether they have enough healthcare for their kids, what’s happening with the global economy. People have the same hopes and dreams. There’s a stubborn self-reliance and optimism in the American people.... And I think people are in a serious mood.”

Obama says he appreciates the supports he’s been shown by Hollywood Democrats. (Obama, who was born in Hawaii to an American mother and a Kenyan father, counts Clooney and Bono as friends.)

“There are some celebrities who have really done their homework and know what they are talking about and are terrific advocates for justice and peace and opportunity around the world,” he said. “I want all citizens to get involved. Whether they are the secretary in an office building or a movie star, I think the more engaged and interested people are, the better off we all are.”

The column explores the intersection of celebrity and politics. Tips and comments can be e-mailed to