Obama campaign ramps up use of celebrity surrogates

Elizabeth Banks appears in a new Obama campaign web video talking about the value of Planned Parenthood for “working-class ladies.” NBA stars past and present are signing on to shoot hoops with the president in New York later this month at the “Obama Classic.” And Academy Award winners are going door to door in battleground states.

Four years after John McCain’s campaign linked his rival to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in a television ad calling him “the biggest celebrity in the world,” the president’s reelection campaign doesn’t appear the least bit reluctant to showcase his most famous supporters – and certainly not to put them to work on his behalf.

Of course, A-listers like George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker opened their homes for high-dollar fundraisers that doubled as lucrative contests drawing millions more from small donors. But of late, bold-faced names are in the trenches, turning up in campaign field offices and on neighborhood canvasses in even remote corners of battleground states all across the country.

Mitt Romney has some star supporters of his own. Clint Eastwood just endorsed him last month. Kid Rock headlined a concert before a campaign rally in the primaries. And campaign aides listed Jeff Foxworthy, John Voight and, yes, Donald Trump among their noteworthy endorsers.

But it’s safe to say the Democrats will have the advantage in a Hollywood arms race, and in leveraging their support on the ground.

The Obama campaign says it has no shortage of requests from celebrities looking to do what they can for the president. And whenever possible, they aim to send them to the front lines of the campaign, giving a boost to hard-working volunteers, bringing new people into campaign hubs, and, of increasing importance as election day nears, generating positive media coverage.

Just last week, as part of a major 100-days-out nationwide organizing initiative, the campaign deployed former “Scrubs” co-stars Zach Braff and Donald Faison to go door to door in Las Vegas registering voters. Alfre Woodard went to beauty shops in Richmond, Va. while Don Cheadle left the set of “Iron Man 3” in Durham, N.C., to stop by area barbershops.

Justin Long refereed a dodgeball game at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, on a multi-state tour for him that also included a young professionals happy hour in central Virginia. And Ryan Philippe will soon head to Iowa for other events targeting young voters.

The campaign says the activity will only continue to ramp up in the coming weeks. Celebrity surrogates, aides say, play a key role carrying the president’s message to key constituencies at a time when the principals -- the president and vice president -- must divide their time between politics and governing. Eva Longoria, for instance, traveled to Florida last week to open local campaign offices and hold summits on women’s issues with the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And there was the video from Banks released Wednesday ahead of a women’s-focused event Obama held in Colorado.

The campaign appears to have calculated that the risks associated with being tied too tightly with the Hollywood crowd at a time of economic unease are outweighed by the benefits their advocacy brings.

Twitter: @mikememoli