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Tennessee roots, L.A. connections

September 29, 2006|Tina Daunt | Times Staff Writer

Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. of Tennessee has the charisma of a Southern preacher and the looks of a leading man.

So when the young Democrat came calling on Hollywood last year to help with his race for the Senate this November, they lined up in droves, struck by the idea that he could be Tennessee's first black senator since Reconstruction. (Plus, they loved the fact that Ford was running for conservative Sen. Bill Frist's seat.) Quincy Jones hosted a fundraiser. So did Clarence Avant. Soon others were onboard -- the Horns, the Lears, the Reiners, the Davids and the Zimans -- galvanized in a way not seen since Bill Clinton tapped Hollywood for support during the 1990s.

But, as most politicians eventually learn, Hollywood's affection comes with a price: Not everyone thinks it's cool to hang out with the glitterati. The congressman's Republican opponent, businessman Bob Corker, has made it a keystone of his campaign, giving his challenger a nickname: "Fancy Ford."

"The only other person who receives more money from Hollywood than my opponent is the guy who actually represented Hollywood," Coker complained recently to a Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter.

Certainly, Ford hasn't done much to dispel the image. He's in town every few months for a fundraiser, winning the political season's frequent-visitor award. (He's here even more than New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.) And, Ford's back this week, for a gala tonight at Haim Saban's house. (Michael Eisner is on the guest list, as is Al Gore).

Ask the congressman's press secretary to talk about her boss' liaison with the entertainment industry, and you'll get one answer: "No comment."

Hollywood insiders, however, have a lot to say.

"He's captured people's hearts, and not just here," said Brave New Films co-founder Rick Jacobs, who served as Howard Dean's California presidential campaign chairman. "What he brings out here is hope. He's a completely fresh face who can win."

In reality, Ford is a little on the conservative side, by Hollywood standards. (A recent front-page story by L.A. Times staff writer Peter Wallsten described Ford as a "centrist, pro-war, anti-gay marriage, deficit hawk of a social conservative who once criticized former President Clinton for lying about infidelity and mounted a challenge to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi by calling her 'too liberal.' ")

But all that doesn't seem to matter. At the end of the day, Ford is still seen as being on Hollywood's favorite side of the aisle. Celebrity political consultant Andy Spahn sums it up this way: "People see this as a real chance to win a Democratic majority in the Senate. All roads lead through Tennessee."

The golden state

Actor George Clooney was back in the political spotlight this week in his fight to raise awareness about the plight in Sudan, where ethnic strife has resulted in the deaths of at least 200,000 people and the displacement of more than 2.5 million others in the nation's western Darfur region.

Clooney joined Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday at a news conference in Burbank, where Schwarzenegger signed a bill requiring the state's public pension systems to rid themselves of investments in companies that help the Sudanese government.

The actor had heard that Schwarzenegger was considering vetoing the legislation, so he and actor-friend Don Cheadle put an emergency call into the governor's office and discovered that the rumor was false. Seizing an opportunity, however, Schwarzenegger asked if they would come to the news conference in Burbank to show their support. They agreed.

"With the stroke of a pen the state of California has done more to hold the government of Sudan fiscally responsible than the U.S. or the U.N.," Clooney said. "It was a great day for the people of Darfur who have no voice."

The state's effort mirrors a divestment campaign two decades ago, when California joined the movement to end apartheid in South Africa.

Clooney, who was in New York recently urging the U.N. Security Council to act on Darfur, said he is hopeful other states will follow California's lead.

A Colbert report

Stephen Colbert? Sexy?

Yes, it's true. The saucy Maxim magazine has named the endearingly goofy Colbert, of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report", as one of TV's top 10 sexiest news anchors.

"Sure, he lacks functional cleavage and, in his hermetically sealed suits, flashes less skin than Diane Sawyer," according to the magazine's website. "But shame on you, liberal media, to tell us that

The news was greeted with a flurry of discussion on John Amato's political website Crooks and Liars.

"Bill O'Reilly is going to be crushed," wrote one respondent.

Late-night chatter

Much of the political news this week was dominated by reaction to the heated exchange between Fox News' Chris Wallace and Bill Clinton. (Clinton reacted with anger when Wallace asked if he had done enough to fight terrorism before 9/11.)

David Letterman and Jay Leno decided to weigh in with their own analysis.

"President Clinton lost his temper in an interview with Chris Wallace," Leno said on his show this week. "I like Bill Clinton, but if he can't be pleasant and polite, I don't think he's gonna be the kind of first lady Hillary's going to need."

Letterman asked his crowd: "Did you have the chance to see former President Bill Clinton on the Fox News show on Sunday? He got very upset. He went ballistic. He was loud. He was angry and confrontational. So, Fox gave him a show."

This column explores the intersection of celebrity and politics. Tips and comments can be e-mailed to tina.daunt@

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