GUESS who's been making the political rounds in Hollywood recently?
Not just Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, though she's made two major fundraising trips to Los Angeles in the last six months. Or Al Gore. (Though he's a frequent visitor.)
Try Sen. John F. Kerry.
Followed by Howard Dean.
Followed by Sen. John McCain.
And this week, it's Andrew Cuomo (2016, anyone?), before Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. drops by.
While the political world's attention has been focused most recently on the travails of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Karl Rove and the Bush administration -- not to mention a bruising California special election called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- Los Angeles has been humming along in one of its favorite roles: early-bird talent scout looking over a steady parade of politicians here to court Hollywood's most influential Democratic fundraisers.
"Los Angeles is like the Iowa caucus of the fundraising scene," said campaign strategist Bill Carrick. "Even people who say they're opposed to Hollywood values are out here raising money."
So three years before a presidential election, and without a single declared major candidate in sight, the West Coast pre-pre-primaries have already begun.
Some politicians arrive quietly, with Secret Service in tow and their schedules kept under wraps by tight-lipped aides. Others come in service of a cause (Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, appeared at an anti-Proposition 75 rally with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa last month).
On a recent balmy Friday evening, Clinton -- raising money for her 2006 reelection campaign -- mingled with Ted Danson and wife Mary Steenburgen at the Women's Foundation of California gala benefit in Beverly Hills. Afterward, she headed to Rob Reiner's Brentwood home, where she stood before a sold-out audience of 150 people, each paying at least $500 to hear the New York Democrat speak in the director's comfortable screening room.
The next day, she was at a private brunch, with about 75 people, at "American Beauty" producer Bruce Cohen's ultramodern Lloyd Wright house off Hollywood Boulevard. From there, she headed to Hancock Park for a 1 p.m. lunch, an event co-sponsored by Barbra Streisand, Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito.
A few days after Clinton headed back to Washington -- with more than $300,000 collected at three fundraisers, on top of the $1 million she raised at a series of fundraisers in May -- there was another gathering of Hollywood bigwigs, this time at the Wilshire Ebell Theater. Some of the same people who had held fundraisers for Clinton had now turned out for the annual Environmental Media Awards, where former Vice President Gore was the guest of honor.
Midway through the festive evening, Lyn Lear and Cindy Horn, the wife of Alan Horn, president of Warner Bros. Entertainment, took the stage. They looked directly at Gore, who was sitting in the front row with his family, and urged him to consider another run for president in 2008. Next, Reiner and his teenage son, one of the young award recipients of the evening, stood before the crowd, also voicing support for the former vice president.
"They said, 'Wouldn't it be great if Gore ran again?' and the whole place went wild," said Lear, wife of entertainment giant Norman Lear.
Amid the praise, the former vice president smiled, and then he privately told some of his supporters that he wasn't interested. But will he change his mind?
"To the surprise of many, Gore has emerged as a candidate who is passionate and who is not as focus-group driven as Hillary," said political columnist Arianna Huffington. "There's a lot of talk about Gore redeeming and transforming himself." That's particularly true among hard-core liberals who may find Clinton too moderate.
Gore has been spending a lot of time in Los Angeles working on a documentary on global warming with "Good Will Hunting" producer Lawrence Bender, who says the former vice president seems more relaxed these days. "I'm hoping he runs," said Bender, who raised $600,000 for Kerry during the last campaign. "I think the only way he'll do it is if enough people tell him to do it."
But Bender also met recently with Kerry.
"He's been touching base with a lot of people, telling them thank you," said Bender, who also hosted a small dinner party with Democratic National Committee Chairman Dean last month, raising $60,000. Kerry running mate John Edwards "did the same thing a few months ago, and we had a party for about 20 people at the house."
Then there's McCain, the Arizona Republican, who appeared on "AirTalk" with Larry Mantle two weeks ago to promote his book "Character Is Destiny: Inspiring Stories Every Young Person Should Know and Every Adult Should Remember."