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Biden looks to Hollywood for 2024 boost. It hasn't been that simple

Skylar Woodhouse, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Joe Biden is banking on Hollywood’s A-list to help propel him to victory in November, but their star power has yielded a mixed bag for the embattled president.

Big-name actors and musicians, from Robert De Niro to Barbara Streisand, have enticed donors to back Biden’s reelection effort but there’s little evidence they’ve energized their fans to come out in support of him. Meanwhile, a cadre of younger stars have yet to publicly back Biden in his race against Republican Donald Trump.

Biden is intensifying his efforts to capitalize on celebrity support Saturday at a high-dollar Los Angeles fundraiser with stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, as well as former President Barack Obama. The group will be interviewed by TV host Jimmy Kimmel.

Roberts, Clooney, Kimmel and other stars, including "White Lotus" actress Connie Britton, have already sent texts to supporters soliciting donations. The event is set to raise $28 million, according to the Biden campaign.

All recent Democratic presidents have sought to transform the loyal fan bases and name recognition of the Hollywood elite into support. But Biden’s team has struggled to make the endorsements stick this year, especially among young people displeased with his handling of the Israel-Hamas war and other issues. The toxic nature of the nation’s political debate may also be keeping celebrities on the sidelines.

“There is a difference between motivating donors and motivating voters,” said Aubrey Montgomery, president of Democratic consulting firm Rittenhouse Political Partners. “Not all celebrities like to be associated with partisan politics.”

Arguably the two biggest U.S. musicians — Beyoncé, a vocal supporter of Obama, and Taylor Swift — have yet to endorse Biden this year. Swift has a massive following with younger voters that has grown as she toured at sold-out stadiums over the past year and began a relationship with Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce.

Still, Biden’s Hollywood support has helped him rack up a cash advantage against Trump — albeit one the former president has started to close. DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg is Biden’s campaign co-chair and has leveraged his relationships into financial support. Director Steven Spielberg is helping with messaging efforts for the Democratic National Convention in August.

Saturday’s event is expected to be a cash cow. Guests could purchase tickets for as little as $250, according to Eventbrite. For as much as $500,000, they can have a photo taken with Biden and Obama and gain access to a VIP entrance and after-party. Actors Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Jack Black will play a role in the night’s events and more celebrities are expected to be in attendance, People Magazine reported.

“This Saturday we are going to see an unprecedented and record setting turn out from the media and entertainment world,” Katzenberg said in a statement. “The enthusiasm and commitment for Biden/Harris couldn’t be stronger.”

Some celebrity interactions have fallen flat and failed to generate the viral moments Biden’s campaign is seeking. De Niro’s fiery denunciation of Trump outside the Manhattan courthouse where the Republican was on trial earned plaudits from Biden supporters but was mocked by others.

Tom Hanks and Spielberg were in France alongside Biden for ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but did not have a public-facing role. "Star Wars" actor Mark Hamill made a surprise appearance at the White House in May to praise the president he jokingly dubbed “Joe-B-Wan Kenobi.” But White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre later struggled to explain why he was at the executive mansion.

 

During a Juneteenth concert, Biden went viral, but not in the way his campaign desired. Videos of the 81-year-old president appearing to freeze during one of the musical performances circulated on social media, raising concerns about his age.

Trump has also made inroads with celebrities, posting his first video to TikTok this month alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship CEO Dana White. Trump has already amassed more followers and likes than Biden’s campaign account, which debuted in February. Trump in May held a rally in New York's Bronx borough and invited rappers Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow in an attempt to connect with Black voters.

“The only people in America who support Joe Biden’s failing campaign are elitist Hollywood celebrities,” Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement.

Biden’s Democratic predecessors navigated the celebrity universe with greater ease. Obama routinely hosted birthday parties attended by the biggest stars in music, movies and sports. Bill Clinton’s signature moment in the 1992 campaign came when he played saxophone on "The Arsenio Hall Show."

Both men have lent help to Biden at high-profile events involving entertainment stars. Biden in March raised $25 million at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, a one-day bonanza that included the two former presidents and performances by Broadway stars. That event was interrupted by protesters angry with Biden’s handling of the Middle East conflict, which could also be top of mind in Los Angeles.

While overwhelming support from Black voters was key to Biden’s 2020 victory, there’s evidence in polls that Trump is making gains. That’s increasing pressure on Biden to connect with voters of color.

“The celebrity can be really useful in helping to put resources together and I think it is just a question of like how celebrities engage voter contacts,” Montgomery said. “Using celebrities for fundraising and using celebrities for voter engagement are two very different tactics.”

During his 2020 campaign, Hollywood stars from Will Smith to Mindy Kaling and Ben Affleck donated to Biden, according to campaign finance data. But Biden is having trouble regaining the support of some stars. Rapper Cardi B and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson backed Biden before but have indicated they will not do so again.

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(With assistance from Bill Allison, Nancy Cook and Akayla Gardner.)


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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