The two top Democratic presidential candidates sparred yesterday as a political battle played out Hollywood-style in a possible preview of the fight to come for superstar dollars.
Democrats with eyes on the White House are playing roles in the Hollywood primary, which is almost as crowded as the real contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Starring in yesterday's drama were Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, whose rival campaigns feuded over some comments made by a major Hollywood player who helped raise $1.3 million for Mr. Obama.
The fundraising figure impressed pundits, but the headline of the day featured remarks that music and movie producer David Geffen made about Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
The fundraiser on Tuesday was hosted by Mr. Geffen's DreamWorks/SKG colleagues Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Mr. Spielberg has promised to hold similar parties for Mrs. Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, but Mr. Geffen is supporting Mr. Obama.
"Obama is inspirational, and he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family," he told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Mr. Geffen in the column called Mrs. Clinton "polarizing" and said he thinks Republicans will use Mr. Clinton against his wife if she gets the nomination. He called the former president a "reckless guy." Mr. Geffen also criticized Mrs. Clinton for refusing to apologize for her October 2002 vote to authorize the Iraq war.
The Clinton campaign demanded Mr. Obama disavow the comments, quoting his own promise to avoid "slash-and-burn" politics.
"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks ... and return his money," said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson.
Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that Mr. Geffen had raised millions for Mr. Clinton and famously slumbered in the Lincoln Bedroom.
"We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters," Mr. Gibbs said.
He added that Mrs. Clinton accepted the support of South Carolina state Sen. Robert Ford, who said recently that if Mr. Obama got the nomination, "everybody else is doomed."
"Every Democrat running on that ticket next year would lose -- because he's black and he's top of the ticket. We'd lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything," Mr. Ford said, according to the Associated Press. He later apologized when his remarks drew wide criticism.
Mr. Wolfson wasn't satisfied with Mr. Gibbs' response, saying it called into question whether Mr. Obama "really believes his own rhetoric."
He added, "When one of Senator Clinton's supporters made an inappropriate statement, her campaign disavowed it immediately and the supporter apologized for his words. Why won't Senator Obama do the same?"
Mr. Geffen said yesterday the quotes were accurate and reflect "solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons."
News reports and the Dowd column both have blamed the Geffen-Clinton rift on Mr. Clinton's not pardoning Leonard Peltier, an American Indian sentenced to life imprisonment 30 years ago for murdering two FBI agents and on whose behalf Mr. Geffen has advocated.
At a campaign forum in Nevada yesterday, Mrs. Clinton managed to dodge a question about the dust-up while working in a dig at Mr. Obama, the only candidate who did not attend because he was campaigning in Iowa.
"I want to run a very positive campaign, and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction," she said.
But when asked by forum host George Stephanopoulos whether Mr. Obama should denounce Mr. Geffen's remarks, Mrs. Clinton said: "I'll leave that up to the other campaign. I'm glad to be here in Carson City."
She then noted her appreciation for "the other candidates who came."
Despite the celebrity drama yesterday, Mr. Obama's star-studded event was well-received. Actress Jennifer Aniston of television's "Friends" fame told a reporter that she finds Mr. Obama to be "lovely," and Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines praised Michelle Obama, the first-term senator's wife. Also in the crowd at the Beverly Hilton were comedian Ben Stiller, director Ron Howard and actors Morgan Freeman and Eddie Murphy.
During the $2,300-per-ticket fundraiser Mr. Obama praised the glitterati for the cultural impact of such films as "Hotel Rwanda" and "Schindler's List," saying "What an enormous power that is, what an enormous responsibility."
The line resembles one from the megamovie "Spider-Man," in which Peter Parker's Uncle Ben tells the superhero: "Remember, with great power comes great responsibility."
Ron Burkle, a supermarket tycoon, will host his own Hollywood fundraiser for Mrs. Clinton next month. Hollywood A-listers Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld and Martin Scorsese are expected to attend.
The other Democrats in the race are also wooing Hollywood stars, whose names often are as important as the checks they write.
Mr. Edwards, the 2004 vice-presidential nominee, was a featured guest on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" on Friday. He also raised $100,000 last week with television actors in Hollywood, according to the New York Times.
Singer and actress Barbra Streisand has made $2,300 donations to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Mr. Edwards.
Should former Vice President Al Gore decide to jump into the presidential race, he could trump all the Hollywood cash seekers by becoming an Oscar winner Sunday night. His film on climate change, "An Inconvenient Truth," has been nominated for best documentary.
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack last week stopped by the "Tonight Show" to exchange yuks with Jay Leno and even jokingly offered fellow guest and comedian Jim Carrey a spot on his presidential ticket.