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Celebrities dive into midterms, hoping to thwart Trump

Many Hollywood celebrities, appalled by President Trump, are ready to dive into the midterm elections. But there’s also a sense of caution, and in some cases retreat, after their enormous support failed to push Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over the finish line in 2016.

Sunday marked 100 days until Election Day, and at least one expert on the entertainment industry and politics says the next three months could see an explosion of celebrity involvement.

{mosads}“I would not be surprised that, given this more highly politicized environment of Hollywood and the frustration of many celebrities of the outcome of the 2016 election, that they would see this as an opportunity to push forward the change they want into the midterm elections,” says Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an associate professor of history at Purdue University.

“Given the experience of the 2016 election, and just in general the changes in Hollywood and #MeToo America, you see more people thinking about, ‘OK, how can I get involved in these issues?’” adds Brownell, the author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life.”

Ronny Chieng, a senior correspondent on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” says stars will “definitely” raise their voices louder than in any previous midterm election.

“I don’t know how Hollywood can be more vocal,” Chieng says.

Even as recently as the last midterm elections in 2014, he says, “we didn’t know what it meant to be active.”

“Why be politically active? Now we see — oh this is why,” the star of the upcoming film “Crazy Rich Asians” says. “Because if you’re not, people get in who don’t represent your values.”

Traditionally, left-leaning Hollywood has poured money into political races, even in lower-profile midterms.

In 2014, in an apparent effort to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, several A-listers pumped cash into campaigns across the country. Barbra Streisand donated $10,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and gave thousands more to GOP-targeted House races. Other top celebs, including Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Garner, maxed out with donations to Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was locked in — and ultimately lost — a tight battle with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

“Especially for the Democratic Party, celebrities have tended to be more focused on the fundraising aspect,” explains Cramer Brownell. “On the right, overwhelmingly celebrities are more attuned to electoral politics, and many have actually run for office themselves.”


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The money is already pouring in. “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane donated an eye-popping $2 million to the Senate Majority PAC, which has ties to Democratic leadership, in April. “Desperate Housewives” alum Eva Longoria gave $10,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in May. And a number of entertainers, including Will Ferrell, Kate Capshaw and Michael Douglas, have donated to Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) reelection bid.

Actor John Leguizamo and Broadway star Audra McDonald have both given money to Democrat Andrew Janz’s campaign, who is running to unseat Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), while “West Wing” alum Bradley Whitford gave thousands to Abby Finkenauer’s House bid. Finkenauer’s midterm opponent, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), is considered a top target for Democrats.

November’s midterms could also see the same stars turning up the volume on their political activism, instead of simply cutting a check and calling it a day.

“We saw some of this in ’14 and I assume we’ll see more of this in ’18: celebrities using their power online to spur people, especially younger voters, to go out and vote,” says Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist with Rokk Solutions.

“It’s not necessarily using celebrities to sway undecideds, it’s using celebrities to get our people out,” adds Mollineau, who worked as a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Already, a who’s who of Hollywood has joined former first lady Michelle Obama in a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote push. Launched earlier this month, the nonprofit effort, “When We All Vote,” aims to “spark a conversation about our rights and responsibilities in shaping our democracy.” It features a bevy of famous faces, including actor Tom Hanks, country music stars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, singer Janelle Monae, and NBA star Chris Paul.

Actress Michelle Monaghan says she is already hearing more entertainment industry vets speaking out.

“I think they are,” the “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” star said of her colleagues in Hollywood. “I think they are more vocal.”

“I think every American citizen should be more vocal and should be talking it. I would encourage everyone to be having conversations,” Monaghan said.

Clinton’s list of celeb supporters in 2016 read like the cast of an epic summer blockbuster, with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Katy Perry, Madonna, Beyoncé, Jay-Z and countless others all lending their star power to support the 2016 hopeful’s White House bid against Trump.

“Didn’t Hillary just colossally overdo it?” asks Ed Rogers, a GOP consultant and co-founder of the lobbying and public relations firm BGR Group. “[The Clinton campaign] thought they could get some derivative energy by associating with celebrities.”

The amount of celebrity activism going into the midterms, Rogers says, will depend on “just how much Democrats learned their lesson” in 2016 and if they’ve “learned how to utilize celebrity in the most productive way.” Rogers says the most useful way to utilize stars isn’t through spokesmanship, but via fundraising.

“Celebrities just don’t fill a political spot in most voters’ minds,” Rogers adds. “They are not good political messengers. They’re predictable. They don’t just preach to the choir, they kind of rant to the choir.”

With less than 100 days until the midterms, Republicans have already pounced on some of Tinseltown’s most outspoken Trump critics. In an ad called “Unhinged,” released by the Republican National Committee last month, clips of prominent Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), are spliced between controversial remarks made by TBS “Full Frontal” host Samantha Bee, Johnny Depp and Madonna.

“I have thought a lot about blowing up the White House,” Madonna says, in comments culled from a speech she made in Washington at last year’s Women’s March.

“I just think the Democrats have overplayed their celebrity hand to the point where there’s a bit of a backlash,” Rogers says.

But Mollineau rejects the notion that celebrities adding their voices to midterm season could backfire: “I think that’s one of those talking points that Republicans use in order to change the topic or muddy the conversation. They really don’t have any star power on their side — they don’t.”

“I think it’s great that celebrities want to be involved. I think they can help motivate. I think it’s great when someone that you know who’s famous validates something you believe in,” says Mollineau.

No matter if Hollywood turning out for the midterms ends up hurting or helping congressional races, Rogers foresees a celebrity-filled political future.

Asked if performers may end up staying away from politics given the 2016 outcome, he replies, “I don’t know. They seem to find it irresistible.”

Tags Devin Nunes Donald Trump Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Maxine Waters Michelle Obama Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Sherrod Brown
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