Blockbuster endorsement for Clinton’s campaign

IT was the Hollywood fight Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton felt she couldn’t lose. And on Wednesday, she took home the political equivalent of the Oscar.

Director Steven Spielberg, who flirted with the possibility of supporting a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, announced that he would back the New York senator’s bid.

Spielberg’s endorsement underscores what Hollywood politicos have been saying for several weeks: Members of the largely Democratic entertainment industry are getting over their crush on Obama and are now looking at Clinton as a more likely presidential prospect.


In a statement released through Clinton’s campaign, Spielberg said: “I’ve taken the time to familiarize myself with the impressive field of Democratic candidates and am convinced that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate to lead us from her first day in the White House.”

He added: “Hillary is a strong leader and is respected the world over. As president, she will bring America back together, rebuild our prestige abroad and ensure our protection here at home.”

Spielberg’s endorsement comes after weeks of intense lobbying by Clinton loyalists, who were determined not to lose the director to Obama. The Academy Award winner’s support is considered the industry’s Holy Grail; not only does Spielberg’s name resonate in Hollywood’s plushest power suites where his movie grosses are admired, but also in middle America, where he is seen as one of the most esteemed directors.

If Spielberg had gone with Obama, after he had strongly supported Bill Clinton for so many years in the White House, it would have been seen by many as a vote of no confidence for Hillary Clinton’s bid.

“Spielberg is the heart of Hollywood for America,” said longtime celebrity publicist Howard Bragman. “He is one of the few people not in front of the camera who really has a profile. People grew up watching his movies. They respect him.”

In many ways, the contest for Spielberg’s endorsement became a symbolic grudge match, particularly after his former DreamWorks partner David Geffen went public with his pointed reservations about Clinton earlier this year. In February, Spielberg, Geffen and their third partner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-sponsored an Obama fundraising dinner that brought in $1.3 million. Under pressure to keep an open mind by Clinton backers, Spielberg also co-hosted at least two events in Los Angeles for the New York senator.

Top Clinton aides and key local fundraisers talked frequently to the director, urging him to get off the fence and declare his support for Clinton. The recent fundraiser Spielberg co-hosted for Clinton at News Corp. President Peter Chernin’s house, which raised more than $800,000, was an indication that the once-frayed lines between the Clinton camp and Spielberg had been strengthened.

Hollywood political consultant and Clinton supporter Chad Griffin noted that “early in the race, many major Hollywood donors supported several candidates. But that stage of the campaign is coming to an end. Now, donors and voters alike must choose someone to take us to the White House, and that momentum is headed Hillary’s way.”

Obama supporters were disappointed by Spielberg’s decision, but they tried to put a good face on it.

“I’m hopeful it’s not indicative of a trend regarding big Hollywood money people,” said Obama fundraiser and political consultant Kermin Maddox. “Barack doesn’t need all the big Hollywood money players. He just needs to remain competitive in that space because raising money is so important in this compressed election cycle.”

Hollywood plays a significant role in raising funds for both parties, but particularly for Democrats. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the entertainment industry contributed $23.1 million to federal candidates during the 2006 election cycle; 63% of that went to Democrats.

Democratic strategist Bill Carrick said he believed Hollywood would continue to support -- and fund -- multiple candidates, even if a majority of the town favors one over another. “I have felt for a long time there is plenty of money for both Hillary and Obama in Hollywood,” Carrick said. “But now we’re moving from the first wave to the second wave. People are leaning on their friends to give.”

In Hollywood, everything is all about relationships -- not only cultivating them, but also tending them. The bigger the name, the larger the need for attention. Over the last few years, some people in the entertainment industry who had been strong Clinton supporters have felt that the former first lady was not paying enough attention to them.

Clinton campaign staffers made it a priority to remedy the situation almost since she declared her candidacy.

By now, every fragile ego west of Doheny has been tended to, everyone’s self-esteem affirmed. Clinton paid particular attention to Spielberg, a leader in Hollywood’s centrist Democratic circles, according to those close to the director and the candidate.

Spielberg’s statement endorsing Clinton echoed two of her campaign’s major talking points about the junior senator from Illinois: One is to point out Obama’s comparative lack of national experience, and the other is to question his assertion that, as the Democratic nominee, he would be best suited to bridge the gaps that divide an increasingly polarized electorate.

Spielberg now moves into the Clinton camp with Haim Saban and Ron Burkle, who already have declared for her, along with Steve Bing, Quincy Jones and others. George Clooney is an Obama supporter, as are Lawrence Bender, Nicole Avant, Geffen and Katzenberg

Going forward, Spielberg’s endorsement may not lead directly to more Clinton support, but it could force other high-power activists with influence -- Norman Lear, Barbra Streisand and Sherry Lansing among others -- off the fence where they’re perched.

“Steven is a very savvy and smart guy who did the right thing for America,” Saban said.

“I think there’s a perceptional inevitability to Hillary getting the nomination,” Bragman said.

“The smart money is starting to align behind her. Hillary’s people have been very aggressive in dealing the message: ‘If you aren’t with us now, we don’t care much about what happens with you after the nomination.’ The one thing an important political player in Hollywood never wants to be is irrelevant.”