The Spielberg Primary

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Jack Kurtz / ZUMA Press

John Edwards, 2006.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama visited Southern California last month to address 1,000 pastors at an AIDS conference in the Orange County mega-church of evangelical leader Rick Warren. But Obama made another stop that evening, a private meet-and-greet in the home of Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, who's a partner in the powerful Endeavor Agency and brother of Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel. A small clatch of celebrities and entertainment industry bigwigs — Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Normal Lear, Christine Lahti and her husband, Studio 60 producer Thomas Schlamme — came out to meet Obama, who hasn't officially announced his candidacy but is regarded as a frontrunner among Democrats considering a White House run.

Obama isn't the only Presidential hopeful to come through town in recent months. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who recently announced his candidacy in New Orleans, made a stop in Los Angeles to promote his book Home: The Blueprint Of Our Lives, and, like Obama, had a few discreet meetings with entertainment industry figures. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sen. Chistopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden have all visited Hollywood. Some come to test the waters; others are raising money. But all of them are looking for face-time with celebrities, entertainment industry heavyweights and Hollywood's Democratic powerbrokers. "I call this the courting phase," says Los Angeles political consultant Andy Spahn, who gets a call almost every day from a politician or his aide inquiring about a meeting with his clients, the Dreamworks power bloc of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

At this point, Hollywood's Democrats are being relatively discreet in announcing their favorites. While Hillary Clinton certainly has a devoted following in town — although her stand on Iraq has alienated some — Obama has a fresh-face appeal. Former Vice President Al Gore, who's beloved by the Hollywood environmental community, is also someone with lots of fans. "I would do everything in my power to convince Gore to run again," says environmental activist Laurie David, who is also be the wife of Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David. "But he says he's not seriously considering it."

Washington's fascination with Hollywood is nothing new, and has always been mutual. Bill Clinton's candidacy and presidency — like John F. Kennedy's 40 years before — was closely tied to Hollywood, first because of his old pals, producers Linda Bloodworth and Harry Thomason, and later through friendships with industry bigshots like Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and others.

Hillary Clinton is likely to draw on those friendships for her own possible Presidential bid."People in Hollywood who care about changing the world see people in Washington as a way to do it,"observes Marge Tabankin, Streisand's political guru and former director of the now-disassembled Hollywood Women's Political Committee (HWPC), of which Streisand was a founder."And people on the Washington axis recognize that Hollywood has been an incredibly generous zip code for political giving. They view celebrity as a megaphone which can be useful."

As positioning for the Presidential race heats up, they'll be calling on that megaphone even more frequently. For most potential candidates, a trip out west will include a visit with a couple of the industry's notable Democratic activists — producer Norman Lear, Warner Brothers Entertainment President Alan Horn, actor-director Rob Reiner, George Clooney, to name a few. There will be breakfasts, private get-togethers in Hollywood homes, parties to recruit younger Hollywood supporters and bigger fundraisers. Just which candidate most of the Hollywood crowd winds up back remains to be seen, but one thing is fairly certain: Streisand will sing. "Barbra has been performing for every major Democratic candidate for almost 20 years," says Tabankin. After all, not only can she help raise a lot of money, but she can teach the pols a thing or two about working a crowd.