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Obama Is Hollywood's Man Once Again, But What Will Renewed Celeb Enthusiasm Cost Him?

By JOCELYN NOVECK 05/11/12 06:11 PM ET AP

-- Under a tent on George Clooney's basketball court, the cheers were loud and warm for President Barack Obama.

"I want to thank Clooney for letting us use his basketball court," Obama quipped to a glittery crowd that included Barbra Streisand, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Salma Hayek and Tobey Maguire. "This guy has been talking smack about his basketball game ever since I've known him."

It can't feel too shabby to be applauded by Barbra, Salma and Tobey while you're teasing your buddy George. And though many of the guests Thursday night at Clooney's home in the Studio City area of Los Angeles were, like their host, longtime supporters, there was no question the president was feeling some special love at this fundraiser. He had, after all, thrilled the community a day earlier with the support for gay marriage they'd long awaited.

Only months ago, it seemed uncertain whether Obama would get the same kind of loving embrace from Hollywood that he did in the 2008 campaign. Actor and former supporter Matt Damon in particular voiced his displeasure last year, saying the president had "misinterpreted his mandate" and that he needed guts, though he used a blunter term. will.i.am, creator of that "Yes We Can" viral video that ended with the word "HOPE," said: "I don't want to hope anymore." Even Obama's top fundraisers acknowledged the mood was more muted – unavoidably, they said – than during Obama's first campaign.

To be sure, the issue was also one of timing – during the GOP primary season, when a different candidate seemed to be on top each week, there hadn't yet emerged a clear opponent to the president.

"Last year there was no sense of urgency," says Andy Spahn, a political adviser to entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, who organized the Clooney event, as well as a top Obama fundraiser himself. "As the race came into focus and the choice became clear, people have been rushing to support the president."

But the gay marriage decision, he says, "will certainly add to the enthusiasm behind the president's campaign. It translates into more energy." And hopefully, dollars: "Funds are critical as we enter the summer months," he says, to counter the "super PAC" money flowing to Republican Mitt Romney. "The re-election is going to need these resources."

He and other fundraisers in the community, though, hasten to note that Obama events had been selling out even before Obama's gay marriage announcement – as Clooney's did, raising nearly $15 million, a record for a single fundraiser. (The total included a raffle for small dollar donors.)

"I've never been part of any event that didn't sell out," says Chad Griffin, a member of Obama's National Finance Committee and a prominent gay rights leader. But now, he says, crowds at events like the fundraiser/concert in June he is co-hosting, the LGBT Leadership Council Gala, "will be more energized, more enthusiastic."

"What the president did yesterday was historic," says Griffin, also the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign. He added that he, like many fellow gay rights advocates, will never forget where he was when he heard Obama's words this week.

Hollywood's obvious happiness went beyond the mood at Thursday's fundraiser. Actress Marlo Thomas, for example, wrote a letter on the Huffington Post website saying: "Thank you, Mr. President, for this remarkable triumph." The co-creator of the monster TV hit "Glee," Ryan Murphy, signed on to host a fundraising dinner that will dovetail with the June 6 concert, featuring the singer Pink.

But does all the enthusiasm come at a cost? Obama's opponents tried as hard as they could in 2008 to make the candidate's Hollywood connections a liability, painting him as a celebrity darling hopelessly out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Most famous of those efforts: the John McCain campaign ad linking candidate Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. The ad was ridiculed by many – the two celebs were no longer even current, some noted – and parodied by Hilton herself. But the Obama campaign did downplay the role of celebrities at the Democratic convention that summer.

This time, there's already a similar ad circulating from the pro-GOP super PAC called American Crossroads. "Four years ago," it starts, "American elected the biggest celebrity in the world."

It shows Obama in dark sunglasses, Obama dancing with Ellen DeGeneres, Obama "slow-jamming" the news with late-night host Jimmy Fallon, Obama singing an Al Green song, and calling Kanye West a "jackass" for his Taylor Swift debacle. Then in bold writing it asks: "After 4 years of a celebrity president is your life any better?"

("Typical Republican grousing," retorts Spahn, adding that the Republicans have no problem with singer Ted Nugent publicly supporting Romney.)

But some celebrities undeniably wield influence – let's not forget Oprah Winfrey's clout in 2008.

"Celebrities can attract a lot of attention, and some people take the comments of celebrities quite seriously," says Todd Boyd, a professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California. "I'm not sure if celebrities alone can make or break a campaign, but they can be a potential factor."

Boyd says McCain's efforts to use Obama's celebrity connections against him obviously failed in the end, given the results. But, he adds, since Obama's newness has worn off, even to his Hollywood base, celebrities on the whole will likely play a lesser role this time.

Whatever the role, Griffin, the fundraiser and gay rights activist, says the wealthy Hollywood Democratic community is now firmly and enthusiastically behind its candidate.

"I don't know anyone staying on the sidelines," Griffin says. "We've got a head-to-head. We're in the game."

_

Associated Press Writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Earlier on HuffPost:

Below, politicians from all parties with celebs who love them
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  • George Clooney & President Obama

    Actor George Clooney leaves after he spoke to the media March 15, 2012 at the White House in Washington, DC. Clooney had meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the current situations in Darfur, Sudan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • President Obama & Tyler Perry

    Actor and director Tyler Perry hugs US President Barack Obama during a campaign event at Tyler Perry Studios March 16, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Obama is spending the day traveling to Chicago, Illinois and Atlanta, Georgia to attend private and public campaign events. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The Obamas & Oprah Winfrey

    US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama chat with talk show host Oprah Winfrey during a taping of the Oprah Winfrey show April 27, 2011 at Harpo Studios in Chicago. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • President Obama & Magic Johnson

    In this handout image provided by the U.S. Navy, President Barack Obama is greeted on the court by NBA Hall of Fame basketball player Earvin 'Magic' Johnson and Michigan State University assistant coach Mike Garland. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class James R. Evans/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

  • Willow Smith Performs At The White House

    Willow Smith, daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smitt, performs during the White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Roger L. Wollenberg-Pool/Getty Images)

  • Antonio Banderas & President Obama

    Antonio Banderas and his wife Melanie Griffith hosted a fundraising event for President Obama in October 2011. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

  • Tom Hanks Narrates Pro-Obama Film

    This 17-minute film released by President Obama's re-election campaign was directed by Davis Guggenheim (director of "An Inconvenient Truth") and narrated by actor Tom Hanks.

  • Gov. Mitt Romney & Jeff Foxworthy

    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes a campaign appearance with comedian Jeff Foxworthy at the Whistle Stop cafe March 12, 2012 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Gov. Mitt Romney & Kid Rock

    Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets musician Kid Rock during a campaign rally at the Royal Oak Theatre on February 27, 2012 in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • David Mustaine & Rick Santorum

    David Mustaine of Megadeth expressed support for Rick Santorum in a February <a href="http://www.musicradar.com/news/live/interview-megadeths-dave-mustaine-talks-guitar-politics-and-todays-music-529703" target="_hplink">interview with Music Radar</a>.

  • Kelly Clarkson & Ron Paul

    Kelly Clarkson tweeted about her love for Ron Paul in late 2011, but dialed it back slightly after a backlash accused her of supporting Paul's racist and homophobic publications, <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/03/09/kelly-clarkson-never-endorsed-ron-paul/" target="_hplink">reports Fox News</a>. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Snoop Dogg & Ron Paul

    In December 2011, Snoop Dogg posted a picture of Ron Paul on his Facebook page with the caption "Smoke Weed Every Day," <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/31/us-snoopdogg-ronpaul-idUSTRE80U04220120131" target="_hplink">reports Reuters</a>. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Keep Memory Alive)

  • Oliver Stone & Ron Paul

    In January, Oliver Stone told <a href="http://www.rockcellarmagazine.com/2012/01/12/director-oliver-stone-on-history-and-america-jim-morrison-ron-paul/" target="_hplink">Rock Cellar Magazine</a> that he would vote for Ron Paul over Barack Obama if Paul was named the GOP nominee because "he's the only one of anybody who's saying anything intelligent about the future of the world." (Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images)


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