Director Rob Reiner, one of liberal Hollywood's most courted presidential fence-sitters, said Wednesday that he has decided to endorse New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Her campaign staff is set to make the announcement today.
To seal the deal, Reiner also will throw a fundraiser party for Clinton's 60th birthday at his Brentwood estate Oct. 21.
"I've been around a long time in the political wars, and I've been on the front lines of them," Reiner said in an interview. "I'm interested in someone who can really manage those political waters.
"Every one of the Democratic candidates is strong, but Hillary is head and shoulders above the rest," he said.
For months, the director was part of a group of prominent Hollywood Democrats who have insisted on kicking the tires of every presidential hopeful traveling through town.
Along with entertainment icon Norman Lear and former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing, he met with Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and sat through evening after evening of white wine and stump speeches. (Steven Spielberg was on the fence for a while, too, but announced in June that he was backing Clinton.)
Reiner began telling his friends about his decision last week. He ran into Lansing on Friday evening in the valet line at Morton's restaurant, a film industry favorite, where he sprang the news.
"He said, 'Have you made up your mind yet?' " Lansing said. She told him that she was still busy fundraising for all the Democrats and she didn't plan to make a decision until after she holds her own event for Edwards. "He said, 'Well, I'm coming out for Hillary.' I told him that I think it's great. I think she's wonderful," Lansing said in an interview Wednesday.
Reiner also informed Lear, considered by many as political Hollywood's elder statesman, about his decision. Lear was supportive, although he said he was not yet ready to pick a candidate.
"I certainly support Hillary," Lear said. "I certainly support Obama, and I support Edwards. It will take me a little more time."
Reiner -- who directed "When Harry Met Sally," "A Few Good Men," "Stand By Me" and "The Princess Bride" -- is considered a catch in Democratic politics because of his demonstrated ability to raise money and run statewide voter initiatives in California -- not an easy proposition.
"He'll be a good ambassador for Clinton," said Democratic Party strategist Bill Carrick. "He has a good, sound network of people he's able to reach."
For the most part, Reiner represents mainstream Hollywood liberalism. He's a staunch Democrat. (He wouldn't support his Republican friend Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor's race, even though other Hollywood Democrats did.) At the same time, Reiner is also too grounded among party regulars to back the increasingly vocal elements on the Democrats' left.
He said Wednesday that he found it "deplorable" that MoveOn.org recently characterized Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, as "General Betray Us" in a controversial New York Times ad. "This is a guy who is a military officer who is working hard to do his job," said Reiner, who has made ads for MoveOn.org in the past but is not sure if he will in the future.
Reiner went on the national campaign trail with former Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 election. (He was with Gore the night he told the nation that he would not fight the Supreme Court decision that ended his quest for the presidency.)
The director had held out hope that Gore might enter the 2008 race, but Reiner said Wednesday that didn't seem likely.
He's ready to go on the stump for Clinton.
"We need to look at who has put themselves in the race," Reiner said. "Hillary is definitely the best. . . . I've watched her. She is the next president of the United States."