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Hollywood loves a comeback tale

Eight years is an eternity in Hollywood. There’s time enough for a career, a downfall (maybe a couple of trips to rehab) and a triumphant return, if you’re lucky. Some actors are still waiting for their second chance.

Does the same hold true for political stars?

In 2000, liberal Hollywood was enamored with all the usual Democratic presidential candidates and one Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who some believe is on the verge of a comeback here. (After all, he was supported this week by the industry’s favorite governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

The entertainment actuators like McCain for much the same reason they like Barack Obama: They both have a good story, and they’re “authentic.” (And Hollywood, being the phoniest place in the world, loves authenticity.)

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In fact, Hollywood’s affection for Obama is one of the things McCain has going for him here this time around.

Some industry politicos are angry with the Clintons for questioning Obama’s experience and character in ways that many people found racially insensitive, according to one longtime Democratic activist and high-level Hollywood insider. “I’ve talked to three people who said that if it’s Hillary against McCain in the general election, they might vote for McCain,” said the insider, who asked not to be identified.

And coming back to McCain wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. People here genuinely like him, although they don’t necessary agree with him politically. And the industry is famous for breaking party ranks for the right candidate. (Look at Ronald Reagan -- and Arnold.) If McCain comes out strong after Super Tuesday, he’ll find an audience in Tinseltown.

Political Hollywood has always been an area of ideological enthusiasms. It’s a place filled with true believers, most of them left, a few of them right. But they don’t call it the industry for nothing. Hollywood, particularly at the upper reaches, is like any other big business. It hedges its bets because access is everything. (“It’s called pocketbook politics,” says celebrity spin-meister Howard Bragman.)

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It doesn’t matter whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House -- Hollywood still has to deal with federal regulators and piracy laws. The practitioners of pocketbook politics make sure the industry’s side gets a hearing no matter which party is in charge.

They know little about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but they know a lot about McCain.

“There was a time when John McCain was seen as an independent maverick,” said Hollywood political consultant Chad Griffin this week. (Although now he’s seen as a conservative Bush Republican, Griffin added.)

McCain became so popular here in 2000 that industry moguls -- most of them hard-line Democrats -- were willing to write checks for his campaign. There was Lew Wasserman, Alan Horn, Brad Grey, David Geffen, Haim Saban, Peter Chernin, Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Sumner Redstone and Norman Lear. Harrison Ford gave to both McCain and Al Gore. So did Michael Douglas. And Quincy Jones and Berry Gordy kicked in a little cash for the Arizona senator.

Before McCain launched his latest presidential bid, he was a frequent Beverly Hills visitor. He could be seen dining at the Grill with Warren Beatty. George Clooney said not long ago that he considered McCain a friend. (“I disagree with him politically,” Clooney said. “But I like him very much as a guy, and I think he’s a nice man.”)

But hanging out with Hollywood doesn’t win votes in Middle America, unless you’re lucky enough to hook up with Chuck Norris. (Is there a Steven Seagal vote?) McCain stopped courting the crowd, and they cooled on him because of his position on the war.

He did maintain a few old supporters. Grey and Diller have given to his 2008 campaign, but they fall into the pocketbook category.

At the moment, McCain’s list of celeb supporters includes Rip Torn, Dick Van Patten and Sylvester Stallone. (Not exactly A-listers. With all due respect to those remarkable pecs, Sly.)

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It’s doubtful that many of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hollywood supporters will defect to McCain if the two square off in the general election. But at least some of the Obama-ites are in play.

How the Clintons treat their candidate will be the deciding factor from here on out.

In a town that values personal connections as much as Hollywood does, McCain’s greatest strength may be that a lot of people can imagine disagreeing with him and still remaining friends.

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tina.daunt@latimes.com


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