Stars shine again in 2012 campaigns

Posted Monday, Oct. 01, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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Country star Trace Adkins is singing about it. Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman wrote a $1 million check for it. And Madonna said she'd strip for it.

These celebrities -- among the many who aren't shy about expressing their feelings about this year's presidential race -- seem to be willing to do nearly anything to help elect the candidate of their choice.

Many of them are picking up where they left off four years ago.

"2008 set the new bar. Before then, we hadn't seen that much Hollywood in campaigns," said Victoria M. Defrancesco Soto, a fellow at the University of Texas in Austin's LBJ School who follows campaigns, elections and political psychology. "Now, 2012 isn't too much different than 2008."

Four years ago, celebrities turned out in droves, jumping on the bandwagons of Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

This year, they've followed suit for Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, donating millions of dollars, giving shout-outs during concerts, making political appearances on behalf of the candidates.

"Celebrities are just being good citizens and helping candidates attract attention -- and raise money," said George C. Edwards, a political science professor and specialist in presidential studies at Texas A&M University in College Station who currently is at Oxford University in England.

But despite all the attention celebrities may draw to one presidential candidate or another, that attention may not mean any additional support at the ballot box.

"Stars may help mobilize kids to register," said Soto, a contributor to MSNBC. "But if you are an independent and you hear a Trace Adkins song, or hear Madonna is going to strip, it's probably not going to motivate you to vote a certain way."

Actors, musicians, directors and professional athletes are among those recently to speak out for -- or donate to -- one of the presidential campaigns.

Clint Eastwood was front and center at the Republican National Convention, giving Romney his support and a controversial speech that involved an empty chair and a conversation with an invisible Obama.

Country star Trace Adkins likewise threw his support behind Romney and performed a new song, Tough People Do, outside the GOP convention, a song supporters say could easily be the campaign theme song for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket.

Mike Rowe, who hosts the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs show, has appeared at campaign events with Romney. He wrote a letter to Romney about trying to remove stigma from manual labor and said that if Romney would read his entire letter, "I'll vote for you in November."

Passionate support

Rowe's cool demeanor is a contrast to the flamboyant Hank Williams Jr., who drew national attention recently when he said during a performance at the Stockyards Music Festival at the North 40 in Fort Worth that "we've got a Muslim for a president who hates cowboys, hates cowgirls, hates fishing, hates farming, loves gays and we hate him."

On the other end of the political spectrum, a number of celebrities including actor George Clooney have hosted fundraisers at their homes for Obama or attended them voicing their support.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker appeared in a campaign ad for Obama.

Madonna recently said during a concert that she hoped the concertgoers would vote for Obama. After stripping down to her underwear to show the word Obama stenciled in large letters on her back, she said,"When Obama is in the White House for a second term, I'll take it all off."

And Oprah Winfrey, whose public support of Obama four years ago was believed to give him a big boost, has repeated her support for his re-election bid although she said she can't be as involved as she was in 2012. "I'm 100 percent behind our president. I actually love our president, and have the utmost respect for him and that office and what it takes to be there," she said this year on CBS' This Morning.

"Celebrities covet attention and their support of the president gives them this in abundance," said Allan Saxe, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Money talks

More than 150 celebrities have donated more than a half-million dollars to Obama's re-election bid in this campaign cycle. They include Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller, Will Smith, Scarlett Johansson, Barbara Streisand, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Melanie Griffith, Cameron Crowe, Ellen DeGeneres, Jack Black, Jamie Foxx and Jamie Lee Curtis, according to a review of federal election documents by OpenSecrets.org, which is part of the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

And 89 celebrities donated to DNC Services Corp., known as the Democratic National Committee, which is the real fundraising power for the party. Five celebrities, including Morgan Freeman and Bill Maher, who donated $1 million each, donated to Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Obama.

Data crunchers at the center used labels listing the donor's occupation, such as actor, musician, playwright or professional athlete, to determine celebrity donors for both candidates. Any celebrity who donated money but didn't list his or her occupation wouldn't make it onto the list. They say this is certainly not a comprehensive list of all celebrity donations, but a "constantly evolving" list, said Russ Choma, a writer with the center.

Romney picked up more than $15,000 from celebrity donors including playwright Neil Simon, Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, actor Orson Bean, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon and his wife, Linda, who is running as a Republican for the Senate seat from Connecticut that Joe Lieberman will retire from in 2013.

McMahon and his wife also were among those donating to Restore Our Future, a conservative super PAC backing Romney's presidential bid. And the Republican National Committee picked up $78,886 from celebrity donors who include the McMahons, Bruckheimer, singer Pat Boone, New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Simon.

Overall, more celebrities tend to give money to Democratic presidential candidates.

"It's the way the universe is ordered," said Larry Sabato, political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "Businessmen and dentists vote Republican; Hollywood celebrities and college professors vote Democratic.

"Don't question it," he said. "It may go back to the big bang."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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