Howard Dean, Take 1
Former Vermont governor and country doc Howard Dean has officially kicked off his bid for the presidency. The big surprise to a lot of people, though, is how quickly Dean is becoming a major player in a bloated field of Democrat candidates.
What's propelling this little-known Dem from relative obscurity to a place of national prominence? It's the fact that Dean has become the favorite son of one of the most important constituencies that an ambitious liberal can pocket â¤" the well-heeled, facially peeled group over in Tinseltown.
Last February, I wrote in the Left Coast Report that if certain celebrities decide to lend their support to a candidate, they "can change a rarely recognized backbencher into a well-known front-runner overnight." The showbiz industry, after all, was the fifth-largest source of bucks for federal candidates in the 2002 elections. And 83 percent of the money went to the Democrats.
But the statistics don't tell the whole story. That's because celebrity endorsements can't be measured in dollars alone.
Stars provide a synergy and a buzz that can draw contributors from just about every point on the globe. Their presence and/or participation at a fund-raising event can generate gobs of dough. And their name recognition can snare free publicity that can translate into a campaign ad, minus the invoice.
Howard Dean's star-studded campaign cast is enough to make any lib with presidential ambition turn green-eyed.
The first and most significant celeb to back Dean was Rob Reiner. Yes, the Meathead chose the jug of maple syrup almost two years before the Democrat Party officially makes its pick. Reiner indicated that he didn't want to wait, because he wanted to make sure that Dean had the finances to survive a primary season.
As it turns out, Dean's not only going to survive, but it looks like he's also going to pull other candidates, like Ketchup Kerry, even further left.
Then there are other Hollywood hotshots, such as Martin Sheen, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Jett, Norman Lear, Nora Ephron and "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David, who are all keen on Dean, too.
A fund raiser for Dean was held recently at an Upper "Left" Side apartment. The fashionable gathering was hosted by "Cool Hand Luke" Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward. Guests included hyper-libs Alec Baldwin and Michael Moore. Baldwin has actually placed Dean on his short list. He tells Newsweek, "I want to know who's the person that's going to take it to Bush. We've got to get rid of this guy."
The actor also explains that Sen. Bob Graham and Howard Dean are the only two candidates who haven't yielded to Bush on the "most important issue" ï¿12 the one of "national security."
Meanwhile, Rob Reiner hosted a donor party, where approximately 100 of the glitterati showed up and shelled out an additional $125,000 for Dean's campaign. Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest were reportedly in attendance.
Still, there are some important Hollywood figures who haven't yet completely thrown their weight behind a single candidate. Current fence sitters include Barbra Streisand and DreamWorks triplets Spielberg, Geffen and Katzenberg.
Between the years 1992 and 2000, David Geffen raised around $20 million for the Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democrat Party. And, of course, Barbra is capable of getting millions of dollars to flow into liberal campaign lockboxes should she decide to step out of retirement for the 897th time.
There are two factors that are creating some hesitation about Dean. The first involves the question of whether he can really win the nomination. The second has to do with Hollywood's love affair with Bill Clinton.
If Dean's stature continues to rise, the first issue will take care of itself. As for whether or not he's got enough of Bill's personal magnetism and partying potential to win Hollywood's heart, that's yet to be seen.
Whatever the case, the guy does have one built-in advantage as he goes after the coveted role. With competition like Lieberman, Gephardt, Graham and Kucinich, he just may get the Left Coast lead.