Eastwood v. Longoria: Conventions' differing Hollywood strategies

(CBS News) CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Mitt Romney had Clint Eastwood, Jon Voight, and skeet shooting Olympic gold medalist Kim Rhode; President Obama has Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian, and Olympic gymnastics all-around champion Gabby Douglas.

During his headline-dominating GOP convention speech in Tampa last week, Eastwood tried to make the case that despite conventional wisdom, a lot of Hollywood veterans vote Republican - they just "do not go around hot-dogging it." Indeed, during the course of his nominating ceremony, Romney scored stage appearances by a handful of other former Olympic athletes, including Rowdy Gaines, Scott Hamilton, and Mike Eruzione. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Victoria Jackson roamed the halls of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, peddling a conservative take on the Rep. Todd Akin controversy.

"Former" celebrities were the name of the game for Romney, and they embodied "the very definition of the word, 'conservative,'" said Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's pop culture center.

"I'm sure the question of the week for a lot of people was: Is this the best the Republicans can do - asked with multiple question marks and maybe an exclamation point," Thompson said. "Their lineup certainly didn't seem like forward thinking, but then again that's not how they framed their message. There are a lot of things they voted on in their platform that some would argue doesn't reflect forward thinking, either."

On the other hand, the guest list for speaking slots and after-parties at the Democratic convention in Charlotte this week has boasted names from Kal Penn to Eva Longoria to Pitbull to Ashley Judd, who's attending as a Tennessee delegate. America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson cruised the convention floor Thursday. Riding the hype of last month's Olympic games, Gabby Douglas was invited to lead the session Wednesday in the Pledge of Allegiance, after appearing with other 2012 Olympic gold medalists in a kids' health event down the street that was "unaffiliated," if opportunely timed, with the DNC.

But it's not 2008 anymore, and President Obama's A-listers are noticeably fewer at this cycle's convention than in Denver four years ago. Thompson said while he wouldn't say Hollywood has "soured" to the president, there's now distance between them - possibly self-imposed.

(Watch: Olympic soccer stars Wambach, Cheney talk politics and policy in Charlotte.)

"The last thing Barack Obama needs, as a sitting president who's had some real challenges and people making real complaints about policy, is for his campaign to make it look like he's putting on a big Hollywood show," Thompson said. Last cycle, in an attempt to make something of a celebrity caricature out of his opponent, Sen. John McCain put out an ad that compared then-candidate Obama to the likes of Paris Hilton.

Democratic Convention 2012: complete coverage

"This is a considerably shorter list of celebrities than we saw last time around, but if I were his adviser I might suggest he make it even shorter," Thompson continued. "I would almost make it a show to specifically not invite some people, if he wants to look like a serious guy." Mentioning reality star Kim Kardashian, who will join actress Jessica Alba, among others, in hosting post-DNC fundraisers Thursday night, Thompson continued, "you might as well invite the entire cast of 'Jersey Shore.' It's just not the image you want as a sitting president trying to get things done."

Even so, while the president may have loosened his ties to Tinseltown, Hollywood's star shone bright at the convention podium Thursday night, leading up to Mr. Obama's acceptance of the 2012 Democratic nomination.

A-list actress Scarlett Johansson tried to appeal to young voters, asking, "why are we only speaking with half our voice when so many issues at stake here directly affect us? You know who I'm voting for. I'm not going to tell you who to vote for; I'm here to ask you to commit to vote."

Kerry Washington made her case to America "not just as an actress, but as a woman, an African-American, a granddaughter of Ellis Island immigrants, a person who could not have afforded college without the help of student loans and as one of millions of volunteers working to re-elect President Obama." Eva Longoria echoed that message in less succinct remarks.

"We're lucky our president understands the value of American opportunity, because he's lived it!" Longoria said, as some in the arena leapt to their feet, and others waved American flags. "And he's fighting to help others achieve it. He's fighting to make college more affordable! He's cut taxes for every working American. He's helping small businesses get loans and has cut their taxes eighteen times. Eighteen times!"

Thompson says at the end of the day, the dueling conventions' celebrity counts are unlikely to matter. "Party conventions used to be gatherings of leaderships to get business done and actually nominate the candidate," he said. "Now they've become something that resembles the 'Ed Sullivan Show,' an old variety show in the 1950s. They put as many singers, dancers, and puppets on as they can, with hopes their audience will sit through the commercial messages.

"But even if the voting public is underestimated," he continued, "I don't see a celebrity lineup - Mary J. Blige, Clint Eastwood, or whoever - changing their minds. You have to hope someone's thought process is not, 'Oh, that guy was in the Olympics a few weeks ago. I guess I'm going Obama.'"

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