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Heartland Gets Lieberman's Point

Issues: Attacks on media violence go over bigger in Peoria than they do in Hollywood.


To some Democrats in Hollywood, putative vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman's attacks on movie and television studios rankled. To some Democrats in the real world, they were welcome, even helpful.

"There are a lot of families with children who think that things have gone too far," said Dorothy James, a Detroit delegate and the mother of two who nodded her approval. "There are a lot of parents who are concerned."

Pennsylvania delegate Keith Bierly, a local commissioner from the State College area, said Lieberman's views would help loosen the Republican grip on voters concerned about morality.

"So often the Democratic Party is identified as the anti-religious party," he said. "With Mr. Lieberman, it helps us across that."

Putting it more bluntly was Garry South, who ran Democratic Gov. Gray Davis' California election campaign in 1998.

"Joe Lieberman is probably closer to where most voters are on the issue at hand than our friends in Hollywood," he said. ". . . That may displease some in Hollywood, but it's the price you pay for winning this election."

The Gore campaign was confident that it had tamped down any lasting negative effect among Hollywood's Democrats, some of whom had raised concerns over Lieberman's efforts to pressure the industry to clean up its programming.

The effort to blunt any dissent over Lieberman's selection started as word leaked out of his ascension to the ticket. Gore, according to an associate, made a round of soothing calls to Hollywood figures, including moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

"What stands out about Sen. Lieberman is the firmness of his convictions and the clarity of his conscience, and those are attributes that are going to be attractive to voters," said a Gore advisor, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The advisor said Lieberman had not been asked to curb--or to amp up--his criticism of sex and violence in movie and television productions.

At a "Hollywood vs. Washington" panel discussion in Santa Monica earlier this week, the head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America said that Lieberman doesn't understand the workings of Hollywood.

"There is not one motion picture industry," said Jack Valenti. "It is a fractured society of little tribes.

"The ultimate arbiters here are the audience. . . . If people did not go see violent movies, then Hollywood would not make them."

But views differ outside the industry's hometown.

"Missouri tends to be a fairly traditional state," said state delegate Shari Garber Bax. Lieberman "has been a bit more moderate on the issues. That goes over well in Missouri."

The issue may play best among finicky independent and moderate voters who slide between the parties based on their affinity for an individual candidate. According to political analysts, it also could help Gore solidify the Democratic base in areas where party members are culturally conservative.

"It plays in Peoria," said Michael Young, director of the Center for Survey Research at Penn State. Surveys undertaken there have shown that as many as a third of Democrats in his state hold very conservative views on social issues. Their allegiance to President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s led to the term "Reagan Democrats."

Michigan pollster Ed Sarpolus said Lieberman's more conservative take on movies and television could help undercut Republican nominee George W. Bush's argument that he alone can bring morality back to the White House. He linked Lieberman's Hollywood comments and the Democratic snit over U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez's canceled fund-raiser at the Playboy Mansion as indications that Democrats are trying to cleanse their image.

Voters, he said, "are not going to believe Al Gore in that message," he said. "They need Lieberman."


Times staff writers Edwin Chen, Matea Gold and Lorenza Munoz contributed to this story.

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