Republicans are usually scrambling to add a little star power to their conventions, but in Tampa, Fla., last week, Clint Eastwood stole the spotlight and set off his very own Twitter war, galvanizing both the right and the left like few other convention speeches in recent memory.
Now, it’s the Democrats’ turn to show off their celebrity supporters, and the expected Hollywood guest list — at least so far — is less sparkly than in previous years.
There’s no doubt that there will be a strong Hollywood contingent trekking to Charlotte, N.C., this week. Eva Longoria, a co-chairwoman of President Obama’s campaign is confirmed, as are Ashley Judd and Jon Hamm, and Marc Anthony, who will sing the national anthem one of the nights.
But a few of the Democratic convention regulars — Ben Affleck, Susan Sarandon and Spike Lee — have decided to sit this convention out, the Associated Press confirmed last week.
Even Oprah Winfrey, one of Mr. Obama’s biggest boosters in 2008, who said she “cried my eyelashes off” during the president’s convention acceptance speech in Denver, isn’t expected to make an appearance in Charlotte.
The reasons for the lower star wattage are myriad. Mr. Obama is an incumbent now, and a re-election is just not as gripping as the historic run of the first black presidential candidate who had a real shot at winning.
Some like George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker and Anne Hathaway have already shown their support by hosting or headlining fundraisers for Obama this year and prefer to stay home during the convention.
Others, like Matt Damon, have said they are experiencing a case of buyer’s remorse with the president.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who worked for Obama at the grass-roots level,” Mr. Damon told Elle magazine late last year. “One of them said to me, ‘Never again. I will never be fooled again by a politician.’ You know, a one-term president with some balls who would have actually got stuff done would have been, in the long run of the country, much better.”
Also, this year the convention is taking place in an atmosphere of uncertainty about the shaky economic recovery and whether millions of unemployed Americans workers will be able to find jobs in the months ahead.
Well aware of the dynamic, Democrats are trying to inject a different kind of tone this year — making a point to spend less money than they did four years ago and limiting corporate and special-interest donations to the host committee itself.
Holding an over-the-top convention full of Hollywood luminaries and lavish parties could make Democrats vulnerable to attacks that Mr. Obama and elite Washington politicos are out of touch with out-of-work moms and dads around the country struggling to pay their bills.
Republicans received their fair share of criticism last week for the same type of awkward visuals of lobbyists sponsoring boozy late-night parties for political A-listers (one firm even bought out the space in a restaurant for a whole week) while millions are still out of work.
But parties, as well as celebrities, have become a staple at conventions. Delegates pay thousands of dollars to travel across the country to watch their party put on a show, and no one expects them to become dour affairs.
“We have the same number of celebrities, if not more, coming this year,” said Robin Bronk, who heads the Creative Coalition, an arts-advocacy group. “Ours come because they feel the need to participate in the democratic process … because the country is in a bit of a crisis, there’s even more reason to devote time to coming.”