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Hollywood ramps up for campaign season—and we don't mean the Oscars

The Red Hot Chili Peppers held a  fundraiser for Bernie Sanders earlier this month at the Ace Hotel Theater in Los Angeles.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers held a fundraiser for Bernie Sanders earlier this month at the Ace Hotel Theater in Los Angeles.
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Iowa and New Hampshire don't produce big box office returns for Hollywood, but every four years those small states get a lot of attention from actors and other industry types as the presidential campaigns get serious. 

Ted Johnson is a senior editor at Variety and has been covering how Hollywood intersects with politics. He recently wrote the articles "Hollywood Conservatives Spread Support Among GOP Field" and "Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders: Hollywood Donors Take Sides."

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Johnson about who in Hollywood is endorsing which candidates, and how it might impact the upcoming election. 


Before we talk about which candidates are getting what kinds of support from Hollywood, I want to talk about the broader questions about celebrity endorsement in an election. Are they particularly notable this year and what do they actually mean outside of giving money to a candidate? 

They are pretty notable. We saw, last weekend in Iowa, Bernie Sanders appearing with Vampire Weekend in Iowa City. He was getting a lot of college support and I think that got people energized, it got them out to the caucuses. It's pretty difficult to get people to show up at one particular time. The thing about endorsements is that I never thought that a celebrity endorsing a candidate will make someone say, I'll vote for that person, but what it can do is draw attention to the candidate and get people to the polls. 

Can you think of a celebrity endorsement in a political race that has had a material impact — for better or worse — on a candidate? 

Well the endorsement to end all endorsements is Oprah Winfrey. Why it worked so well [in 2008] is she had never endorsed a political candidate before, she was at the height of her talk show fame, and she was endorsing a candidate that a lot of Americans were familiar with. 

This is when Oprah endorsed Barack Obama.

Yeah, and it helped his campaign and it got people to pay attention. There was one study that said she may have been responsible for one million votes in some of the early primary states for Obama. I'm not so sure I believe that, but what I do believe is that she really did help the Obama campaign in terms of organizing. 

Let's talk about the Republican field. It sounds like even though the idea of Republicans in Hollywood sounds like an oxymoron, there are some conservatives in town and it does feel like they are very divided about which candidates they are supporting. 

Actually he hasn't officially endorsed yet, but former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at a campaign event last week for John Kasich, the former Governor of Ohio. He's one of the names out there for Kasich, so there seems to be this contingent of people within the industry who like what he says. 

On the other side of the coin, you do have people supporting the more conservative candidates. There's a group called Friends of Abe and it's a fellowship of Hollywood conservatives. Donald Trump appeared before them last year and it was a rousing success. It kind of gives you the idea of just how all over the map Republicans in the entertainment business are out here. 

Let's come back to the Democrats. When President Obama was running against Hillary Clinton, the town was very much divided. Is the same thing happening this time around between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders? 

We're starting to see a little more harshness between people within the industry who like Hillary Clinton and people who like Bernie Sanders, but right now it's nowhere near what we saw in 2008. First of all, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, their support was almost even. You could actually look at the fundraising numbers and they were raising almost equal amounts of money from the entertainment industry. 

That isn't the case with Bernie Sanders. First of all, he hasn't been out here raising money nearly as often as Hillary Clinton has, but that said, I talked with Sanders supporters and they notice that Hillary Clinton supporters are starting to change their tune. 

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