Friday, August 24, 2007

The queen of vampire Goth lit — check.

Hollywood‘s favorite she-pimp — right on.

The list of new celebrity endorsements continues to mount for the Democratic presidential run of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who leads the pack in election polls, all the while picking up an ever-more interesting cadre of announced political admirers.

“I’m a big fan of Hillary’s. Any woman who’s smart, how can you not be?” Democrat Heidi Fleiss, 41, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal earlier this week.

“Even if you’re a Republican, if you’re a woman and you’re smart, you have to respect her,” she said.

Powerful stuff from a woman who did hard time for routing glamazon sheet surfers to Left Coast power players, and who owns a yuppie laundromat and plans a Vegas-area brothel with a cunningly feminist twist — female customers, male employees.

The newly born-again Christian Anne Rice announced her support for Mrs. Clinton on her Web site in a long letter posted Aug. 10, touting Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic values as being closest to hers.

But the Fleiss pronouncement was unexpected if not possibly unwelcome. And came while skinnier-by-the-moment porn star Jenna Jameson, who announced her retirement from adult films, recently set the public record straight that she is also solidly in the Clinton camp.

The question remains: Does celeb power translate into political clout or is it more hype designed to make the famous look thoughtful?

“Celebrities like to endorse candidates because it gives them the appearance of being intelligent,” said William McKeen, a University of Florida professor who studies popular culture, politics and the media. “I think actors are hyper-conscious of fashion and will be the first to test the waters of hip, determine who the hip candidate is and jump on that ship.

“When I hear all these people talking about [Illinois Sen.] Barack Obama and his ideas, I keep thinking: ‘Wait a minute. That chain-smoking little cuss hasn’t been around but 12 minutes. He may be a swell guy but for God’s sake, do what Percy Sledge’s mama said to do: Take the time to get to know him,’ ” he said.

As the longest-ever run-up to the primary and nomination process unfolds, the value of Hollywood and the use of star names to create star candidates continues to be debated.

Since the 2008 presidential election is predicted to be the most expensive in history, with estimates that as much as a billion dollars will be spent by the time a new president takes office, fast funds from Tinseltown do help with fundraising for front-runners, all eager to outplay, outlast and outspend in what was described as a “money primary.” The price tag just to get in the game: $100 million by some estimates.

Although Mrs. Clinton set the bar high with her name recognition and her husband”s political clout, the blessing of Tinseltown could be key for the lesser-connected but charismatic Mr. Obama, who is winning new friends — and big checks — from the glitterati, thanks to the blessing of the Big O.

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey adopted Obama as her candidate of record and is set to host a massive fundraiser Sept. 8 in her California megamansion with a guest list that will reportedly include A-list film stars and Oscar winners Halle Berry, George Clooney and Jamie Foxx, as well as studio turbo-honchos David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

But she recently told CNN”s Larry King that it’s more her seal of approval than the cash itself that will help Mr. Obama.

“My money isn’t going to make any difference. My value to him, my support of him is probably worth more than any other check that I could write,” Miss Winfrey said.

Rob Pfaltzgraff, executive director of the Moving Picture Institute, a foundation with offices in New York and Los Angeles that supports independent filmmakers who want to make movies contrary to Hollywood’s usual values, said the Hollywood political scorecard is valuable for presidential candidates looking not only for money, but power by association and name recognition. Such endorsements, he reminded, are historic.

“In Ancient Rome, the support of famous gladiators and stage actors was prized by candidates to elected office. It is no different in modern America. The Kennedys have used ties to culture and art to great advantage,” he said. “Oprah holds up a book on her show and it becomes a bestseller. Why wouldn’t her choice of candidate garner a similar boost for her favorite? It’s a no-brainer that this matters.”

But get the wrong folks in your camp and it could also hurt, Mr. Pfaltzgraff said.

Sean Penn champions left-wing dictators who hate America,” he said. “If you were running for office, would you want Penn’s endorsement?” Mr. Penn met with such tyrants as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Even when a celebrity doesn’t come with much political baggage, it’s often hard to see the impact.

Madonna’s ringing endorsement of former Gen. Wesley Clark in 2004 earned mention in the entertainment press but did nothing for his candidacy. And while the affable actor Ben Affleck did his bit by arm-candy stumping for John Kerry — a boon for the MTV set — his presence likely did little to ultimately rock the vote.

Virginia-based Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders said he won”t discount celebrity endorsements, depending on how involved and committed the actor or artist wants to be.

“If they are just showing up and saying ‘I”m for you,” then it doesn”t mean much. The ones who really come out into the heart of America, if they”ll get out with you and work on the campaign, then I do think it means something. Put it this way: You got to have a good horse to endorse.”

Mr. Saunders, who advises the John Edwards campaign on its rural initiatives, added that who you have with you matters. In Appalachia, for example, Mr. Edwards is pairing with bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley, who will work the homefolk in the hills and hollows.

While he doesn”t have the broader marketing mojo of Oprah, “Out there, his name means something,” Mr. Saunders said.

Adds Florida”s Mr. McKeen, author of an upcoming biography of celebrity political writer Hunter S. Thompson:

“The culture is obsessed with celebrity in an obscene way and the elections show us that. Endorsements are often more about the celebrities than the candidates. I’m sure entertainers check with their publicists to see which candidate endorsement would do the most for them. All I know is that Gary Coleman has not been wrong about the winner of a presidential election since [Jimmy] Carter nudged out [Gerald] Ford in 1976. My rule has always been simple: Whoever Judd Nelson supports, gets my vote.”

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