IN Hollywood, they love winners, but they also love underdogs.
Perhaps that explains the celebrity support for some of the most implausible presidential candidates these days.
• Barry Manilow gave $2,300 recently to GOP Texas Congressman Ron Paul's campaign.
• Mark Ruffalo is a strong backer of former Democratic Sen. Mike Gravel from Alaska.
And Democrat Dennis Kucinich? He's got a cultlike following in Hollywood that dates back years. Sean Penn gave to his congressional race in 2004. His presidential bid has the backing of Paul Haggis, Esai Morales, Deidre Hall, Alexandra Paul, Tom Ortenberg and Max Palevsky.
If Haggis' "Crash" could surprise the industry and win the Oscar for best picture, could his candidate win the presidency? Probably not. But the support sends an important message.
"People do it to make ideological statements," said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "They see candidates like Dennis Kucinich, and they think he's better on the war, that he supported universal health care, and he's the most progressive on the issues that turn them on."
And there's another factor: Politicians spend years cultivating support in Hollywood. As a result, celebs get to meet candidates years before they become household names.
Actor Morales said he chatted with Kucinich at a small gathering at producer Mike Medavoy's house in 2000. (Penn was also there.)
"He's the most unprocessed politician I've ever met," said Morales, calling on his cellphone this week from the Simi Valley set of his revived TV show, "Jericho." "He's a good man. He stands for what he believes. He's an evolved soul, and he's fearless."
The outsider factor is a big deal. Ruffalo, phoning from Toronto, where he's filming his latest movie, called Gravel "a straight shooter, and he's not owned by anyone."
Morales echoed that sentiment.
"Look, I've met a lot of politicians. You understand the nature of the game. You have to please as many people as possible. Unfortunately, we have a system where money controls the political process. He whose bread you eat, whose song you'll sing.
"Dennis seems independent. He reminds me of others who speak their minds, like Gravel and Ron Paul on the Republican side."
Recently, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson asked Paul about Manilow's support. "We saw these FEC reports, including those from your campaign, and were amazed to learn that Barry Manilow has given to your campaign
Do you know Barry Manilow?"
Paul responded: "No, I do not. I was very pleased to find that out."
Asked if he was a fan of Manilow's music, Paul said: "I really like it now, I will tell you that."
Manilow could not be reached for comment this week, but federal records show that Paul was not the only presidential candidate to receive a donation from the singer. He also gave to Obama, Clinton, John Edwards and Joe Biden.
"A lot of people here don't see any reason not to give to multiple candidates," Carrick said. "They want to support the field. I'll tell you, though, people on the East Coast think we're nuts. They're more inclined to pick a team there. They don't get this 'let a thousand flowers bloom' philosophy of politics."
In addition to Gravel, Ruffalo has also donated to Kucinich, a man he says he admires and respects. In the end, the actor said, he'll support whoever wins the Democratic nomination. (Want to know who's backing whom? Check out the campaign reports on Newsmeat.com, a flashy, celebrity name-dropping website with software wired into the Federal Elections Commission.) But Ruffalo's heart is with the former senator from Alaska.
"I've seen Gravel in these debates, and I was shocked by him but also inspired by his independence," Ruffalo said. "I like that he's an elder statesman. He has been there, done that. He's not beholden to anyone.
"And I guess I also have an underdog thing. It's part of the American dream that someone like this could have a long shot."