To understand President Barack Obama’s up and down and up again relationship with Hollywood, you need to understand former President Bill Clinton’s. Clinton visited the homes of the Hollywood elite often during his eight years in office.
“He loved the movie moguls. He loved the stars," said Variety Politics Editor Ted Johnson. "Obama is not like that. He is a little more distant."
Obama also has disappointed many Hollywood Democrats who think he should have been more aggressive in rolling back President George Bush's anti-terrorism policies, advancing environmental regulations and addressing the growing gap between the rich and poor with higher taxes.
"Hollywood was not happy," Johnson said.
Some have come to terms with the president’s need to compromise with Republicans. Others changed their view just this week, with Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage.
“With the entertainment community, it was a big blockbuster hit," said Hollywood Reporter Editor Alex Ben-Block.
Hours after Obama’s statement, TV producer Norman Lear — the man some call the Dean of Hollywood Progressives — said he and his wife would donate the maximum $80,000 to the president’s re-election campaign. Others, particularly those on the business end of Hollywood, remain angry at Obama for his opposition to anti-piracy legislation earlier this year. Ben-Block says he recently had breakfast with one of them.
“This particular person who’s very wealthy, very connected guy in the business world of Hollywood said ‘I don’t forgive him for that’," according to Ben-Block.
At the same time, Hollywood still favors Democrats over Republicans in their campaign donations by a three-to-one margin. And many in the industry fiercely oppose Mitt Romney — particularly on social issues like gay marriage.
Ben Block says the Obama campaign has been working hard to repair its relationship with Hollywood, and the fundraiser at actor George Clooney's Studio City home may represent some of the fruit of that labor.
The fundraising dinner was expected to net the Obama campaign, Democratic National Committee and state party organizations upwards of $15 million. bout 150 attendees, including Barbara Streisand and Robert Downey Jr., paid $40,000 apiece.
But the Obama campaign raised more than half of the total in a novel and enormously successful Internet lottery in which small donors got a chance to win two tickets to the dinner. The winners were Beth Topinka, a science teacher from New Jersey, and Karen Blutcher, a stay-at-home-mom from Florida. They brought their husbands as guests to the dinner.
Veteran Democratic political consultant Bill Carrick is impressed by a single fundraiser topping $10 million, commenting that it's "a hell of a lot of money.” Carrick also says Obama may benefit from Clooney’s star power.
“George Clooney is clearly the biggest movie star in the world right now," he said. "Like-ability is a huge factor in how people vote.”
So maybe a little highly publicized time with a popular guy like George Clooney will help the president with a few of those undecided voters in swing states come November.
Because some of them no doubt pay more attention to the movies than politics.