By Judy Kurtz
A battle between Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders laughs off Trump's third-party question Sanders: Clinton showing 'tinge of arrogance' Trump and Sanders whip up debate buzz MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump sticks by 'Pocahontas' nickname after being challenged Trump: Warren ‘as Native American as I am’ The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE could easily divide entertainers, creating a showdown that might split Hollywood and force A-list stars to choose sides.
“They draw on different parts of the artistic community,” Darrell West, author of the book Celebrity Politics, tells ITK. “Warren, being more liberal, does very well among progressive artists, various Hollywood stars who worry the Democratic Party has become too centrist.”
Entertainers including Susan Sarandon, Olivia Wilde, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo have all signed on to support Warren. Celebs in the 65-year-old lawmaker’s camp, West says, welcome her “populist rhetoric.”
After banding together to form a group called “Artists for Warren,” more than 90 performers penned an open letter last week urging the freshman senator to make a White House bid.
“Senator Warren, we’re ready to show you that you have the support needed to enter this presidential race,” the message stated, which was also signed by celebrities including “Fahrenheit 9/11” director Michael Moore, "Big Love's" Chloe Sevigny, Julia Stiles and Natasha Lyonne, among others.
“There are a lot of people in grassroots organizations pushing for Sen. Warren to run in 2016. This same sentiment exists in the Hollywood community," Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an assistant professor of history at Purdue University said.
In a video posted on Vanity Fair’s website, “Firecatcher” and “The Avengers” star Ruffalo lauded Warren, saying, “She’s someone that gets the progressive values that I believe we all share.” He added, “We don’t know that she’s going to run, so we’re sort of taking a leap of faith. But that’s the only way to really implement the changes that need to be changed in the world today.”
Clinton, however, generally appeals to a different type of Hollywood heavyweight, says West, the Brookings Institution’s vice president and director of governance studies. “I think with Hillary Clinton, she attracts celebrities who are more pragmatic and are interested in winning, regardless of what the political message is,” he added.
Some of Hollywood’s biggest A-listers have said they’d buy a ticket to see Clinton storm the 2016 campaign box office. Music chart topper Katy Perry, George Clooney, big-time Democratic donor Barbra Streisand, “Happy” singer Pharrell Williams, Eva Longoria, Ashley Judd and Elton John have all expressed support for the former first lady.
Longoria, a 2012 Obama campaign co-chairwoman, said as far back as 2013 that she would “absolutely” campaign for Clinton in the next race for the White House. “Lord of the Rings” actress Liv Tyler rooted Clinton on during a 2014 fashion shoot, donning a “Hillary for President” T-shirt in a series of glam images.
Brownell, the author of the recently released Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life, says it’ll be “fascinating” to see how Clinton uses her celeb cache. “I think Hillary Clinton is really a political celebrity herself,” she said. “I think that Hollywood celebrities will be key in fundraising for her, using entertainment events to help raise a lot of money."
“The Clintons have been around for 20 years, so they’ve had plenty of opportunities to cultivate artists and actors. So they’re basically getting the pragmatic problem-solvers,” West says.
Although Clinton, 67, is a veteran of the political arena, Brownell says Warren — who has repeatedly denied she’ll be throwing her hat in the presidential ring in 2016 — might actually come out on top in terms of the number of Hollywood-types showing her the love. Having “prominent people to urge her to run created a groundswell of enthusiasm and support" for the former lawyer and professor, says Brownell. “I think celebrities would play a more prominent place in her campaign to generate excitement surrounding the potential of her candidacy."
And while there’s a danger of appearing “too Hollywood,” West says, if Warren or Clinton were to run, they would likely embrace the entertainers who are publicly cheering them on.
“They provide credibility, especially early in a campaign. It’s a way to demonstrate that your campaign is able to attract famous people,” says West. “It’s the age of celebrity in which we live, so having star power is part of contemporary politics.”