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

Skylar Woodhouse and Jennifer Jacobs, 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 sought to capitalize on celebrity support Saturday at a high-dollar fundraiser at the Peacock Theater in Los Angeles, joined by stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, as well as former President Barack Obama. Roberts, Clooney, and other stars including White Lotus actress Connie Britton, sent texts to supporters soliciting donations ahead of the event. The night is set to raise $28 million, according to the Biden campaign.

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel warmed up the audience with jabs at Trump, mocking him as an “orange Julius Caesar” before moderating a discussion with Biden and Obama. Asked by the late-night host how they would appeal to Republican voters frustrated by their presumptive nominee but wary of backing a Democrat, Obama cited Trump’s recent conviction for falsifying business records — a verdict that made the Republican the first former U.S. president found guilty of a felony.

“Part of what has happened over the last several years is we’ve normalized behavior that used to be disqualifying,” Obama said. “The nominee of one of the two major parties, sitting in court and being convicted by a jury of his peers on 34 counts.”

Saturday’s event was a star-studded affair, which also saw actors Jason Bateman, Kathryn Hahn and Jack Black participate.

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 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 — Beyonce, 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.

Guests could purchase tickets for Saturday’s event for as little as $250, according to Eventbrite. For as much as $500,000, they could have a photo taken with Biden and Obama and gain access to a VIP entrance and after-party.

“The enthusiasm and commitment for Biden/Harris couldn’t be stronger,” Katzenberg said in a statement ahead of the fundraiser.

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 the Bronx, New York, 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 their help to Biden. Biden in March raised $25 million at New York’s Radio City Music Hall a one-day bonanza with 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. Demonstrators gathered outside Saturday’s venue as well.

“We have a lot of differences in our own party and that’s healthy,” Obama said.

Polls showing Trump making gains among Black voters, who were key to Biden’s 2020 victory, are increasing pressure on the president to connect with voters of color. Earlier Saturday, Trump courted Black voters at a church in Detroit in swing-state Michigan.

Obama dismissed those efforts, joking that the one thing Trump did for Black Americans was “he made them feel even better about the first Black president.” And he urged Democrats to turn out in November, saying “a bunch of folks for whatever reason sat out” in 2016 when Trump won the White House. “Hopefully we have learned our lesson.”

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.

“Using celebrities for fundraising and using celebrities for voter engagement are two very different tactics,” Montgomery said.

(Bill Allison, Nancy Cook and Akayla Gardner contributed to this report.)


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

 

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