Powerful Hollywood women may be despondent over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s departure from this year’s presidential race, but they’re not ready to throw in the towel — not by a long shot. Indeed, Clinton and Barack Obama supporters in Hollywood are joining forces for a show of superstar talent that could change the fortunes of Democratic candidates in down-ballot races across the country.
Los Angeles’ top liberal female activists are planning the political fundraiser for Sept. 27 at a private home. It should be an even tougher ticket than next week’s star-studded Obama events at the Los Angeles Music Center. The organizers hope to raise nearly $1 million for Democratic Senate candidates.
One hundred of Hollywood’s most politically savvy women, ranging in age from early 20s to 75 years old, have been quietly gathering over the past few months, planning the event. It should benefit at least seven challengers to GOP incumbents this November — all of them in Senate seats that might make a serious difference in swinging crucial votes over the next two years, no matter who sits in the White House.
There’s no real organization in place yet, not even a rudimentary website. Going by the formal-sounding name Voices for a Senate Majority, the group has already signed agreements with a half-dozen Democratic challengers — Maine’s Tom Allen, Alaska’s Mark Begich, Minnesota’s Al Franken, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen and cousins Tom and Mark Udall from, respectively, New Mexico and Colorado — and is pledging a minimum of $100,000 to each of their campaigns.
The idea started with alums of the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, a Reagan-era power PAC that included Jane Fonda, Kate Capshaw, Penny Marshall, Daryl Hannah, Laura Dern, Sarah Jessica Parker and others. The political action committee disbanded shortly after raising $4 million for Bill Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. Following some recent informal reunions, former HWPC members brought along friends, and soon the gatherings grew to include dozens of new activists, all concerned about the Senate vetting process that might determine future nominees to the Supreme Court.
“In the middle of the whole Clinton-Obama drama, we realized that if [John] McCain won, we would have a big problem,” says one of the veteran activists. “Everything now is ‘Obama, Obama, Obama,’ but we’re also concerned about the Senate, which is critically important no matter who wins the White House. We need to give the Democrats a majority totaling at least 60 senators.”
Among those involved with the new effort are HWPC veterans such as Oscar-winning songwriter Marilyn Bergman, political consultants Marge Tabankin and Lara Bergthold, and film producers Paula Weinstein and Julie Bergman, as well as their younger counterparts, including former public relations executive Katie McGrath and “The Great Debaters” co-star Jurnee Smollett.
The Sept. 27 benefit promises to be a “conceptual evening of A-list entertainment,” according to an insider, who says only 350 tickets, ranging from $2,500 to $10,000, are available. No talent has been confirmed, but the organizers have ins with stars ranging from Barbra Streisand to Jennifer Lopez, so there should be plenty of soaring high notes as well as scripted repartee from Hollywood’s snappiest script doctors.
Aside from the cash being raised — $500,000 is already committed — our source said the real thrill is watching “these multiple generations of women — the alte kockers and those who weren’t even born in the 1960s or ’70s — banding together to do something critically important.”
Dances With Pundits
The late Tim Russert was first and foremost a television journalist, but he did appear in a handful of feature films, mostly via “Met the Press” archival footage used in Michael Moore’s record-breaking “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Eugene Jarecki’s brilliant “Why We Fight.” But Russert is also billed as an interview subject — along with Dan Rather, Joe Scarborough, Pat Buchanan and Terry McAuliffe, among others — in “What it Takes,” a low-budget documentary about the 2008 primary season, expected to be completed this summer.
One film in which Russert does not appear is “Swing Vote,” the upcoming Disney family comedy that stars Kevin Costner as a drunken single dad whose recast vote after a botched ballot decides the presidential election. The Capra-inspired flick, set for release on Aug. 1, boasts many top pundits, critics and commentators, including Larry King, Chris Matthews, Tony Blankley, Campbell Brown, Bill Maher, Tucker Carlson and Mary Hart, as well as Russert’s frequent online bête noire, Arianna Huffington.
According to director and co-writer Joshua Michael Stern, scripts were sent out to a lot of high-profile TV political types, but a number of them — including Rather and Anderson Cooper — passed on the project. “Pat Buchanan read the script and thought it was a hoot,” for example, but ultimately he did not appear. Andrea Mitchell was another hotly pursued personality who didn’t sign on.
For those pundits who came through with cameos in “Swing Vote,” fees were determined according to a standard favored nations clause, and none of the real-life interviewers (aside from “Entertainment Tonight’s” Hart) appeared with Costner or other actors, who had filmed their parts earlier. “They were all ‘one-take’ people,” the writer-director says of the TV punditocracy. “Chris Matthews loves films. He’s almost obsessed with them, and he can quote dialogue and arcane references from pictures made back in 1953.”
Apart from those who had to pass for one reason or another, “we pretty much got everyone we wanted,” says Stern. “We had a very hard time getting anchors and correspondents. The networks’ news departments often would not release people due to the division between news and entertainment.” Thankfully, he says, “cable is very different,” and enough commentators signed on to keep the movie real — or as real as you can get in a Disney fantasy about a red-state dad with a blue-state daughter and a chance to pick the next president with his revote. (And if you think we’re going to reveal the candidate he chooses, then you’re living in a fantasy world, too.)