In The Know

Hollywood gives Biden’s digital campaign final star-studded push

With less than three weeks until Election Day, Joe Biden’s campaign is making its final push of star power, rolling out a series of virtual events featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest names in an attempt to propel the former vice president past the finish line.

The Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign scheduled celebrity-filled events for nearly every day this week. Tuesday featured three separate functions with some star wattage: a Latino-focused roundtable with comedian George Lopez, a “Star Trek” discussion with “Next Generation” alumnus LeVar Burton and a military service celebration with legendary TV producer Norman Lear.

The following day, the cast of NBC’s “The West Wing” reunited for a virtual trivia night to benefit the Biden Victory Fund, the joint fundraising committee set up between the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee. On Friday, another fundraising reunion is poised to take place: The original cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton” — including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Renée Elise Goldsberry, among others — are joining together for a virtual performance and Q&A.

On Friday, the Biden camp announced that NBA great Magic Johnson would be hitting the campaign trail over the weekend for the ex-VP, traveling to Detroit and Lansing, Mich., for a “roundtable conversation about voting with Black men” and a voter mobilization event. “Scandal” star Kerry Washington and actor Nnamdi Asomugha are also poised to head to North Carolina on Saturday with the Biden campaign to advocate for early voting.

“We’ve been doing surrogate events with celebrities, influencers, high-profile individuals for a long time, but as we’re getting close to Election Day, we’re obviously ramping up,” says Adrienne Elrod, the Biden campaign’s director of surrogate strategy.  

Megastars “bring in their fanbase who might not be engaged in the election, who might have questions about the candidate and the candidate’s positions,” Elrod says.

Packing a starry punch on social media and through virtual events can create buzz and positive news in campaigns that are otherwise handicapped by restrictions on in-person gatherings and fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the nearly all-virtual environment, the Biden camp has also found success in matching up famous names with policy gurus, elected officials, or campaign staffers.

In August, “Nashville” star Connie Britton joined Valerie Jarrett, the former senior adviser to President Obama, and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) for a pre-Democratic National Convention watch party, while “That 70’s Show” actor Wilmer Valderrama joined former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro earlier this month for a Facebook chat about mobilizing the Latino vote.

“We’re able to put those pairings together so that they can have an authentic conversation about the campaign and what we stand for, and as a result we’re opening up our campaign, our message to a broader audience that we would not normally be able to reach,” Elrod says.

Multiple A-list entertainers are also blessing Biden with their endorsements in the final stretch of the campaign. Last month, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson delivered his first public political endorsement for Biden, telling his more than 200 million Instagram followers he’d be casting a ballot for him and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris because “progress takes courage, humanity, empathy, strength, kindness and respect.”

Taylor Swift and “Captain America” star Chris Evans have also announced their support for Biden. In an interview with V magazine earlier this month, “Cardigan” singer Swift said, “I will proudly vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in this year’s presidential election. Under their leadership, I believe America has a chance to start the healing process it so desperately needs.”

President Trump’s reelection bid has, perhaps not surprisingly, found few celebrity backers from left-leaning Hollywood throughout the campaign, including the final stretch before Nov. 3.

While some prominent voices have spoken out in support of Trump — including former NFL player Herschel Walker; rapper Kanye West, who launched his own long-shot presidential bid in June; and actors Jon Voight and Antonio Sabato Jr. — the campaign hasn’t exactly flooded the political scene with endorsements from entertainers.

“Generally speaking, when it comes to celebrity endorsements, Donald Trump is the celebrity,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell says of the former “Apprentice” star.

“Hearing from Trump directly is what spurs Republicans to the voting booth — not celebrities,” says the political analyst and former congressional candidate.

A tsunami of celebrity support also doesn’t necessarily equate to votes. In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton counted a galaxy’s worth of stars — from George Clooney to Madonna to Beyoncé and Jay-Z — among her fans.

But as the Trump campaign — which has largely poo-pooed virtual events during the pandemic in favor of in-person rallies — points out, that ultimately didn’t land her in the Oval Office.

Asked about the star power backing Biden versus the commander in chief, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Ken Farnaso says, “Hollywood sure did a great job getting President Hillary Clinton elected.”

The athletes, musical artists and actors turning out for Biden, O’Connell says, won’t necessarily “have the impact the Biden campaign thinks that they’re going to have, and I don’t necessarily think they’re going to have an impact with the voters that are going to decide this election.” But, he says, it’s “totally understandable” why the ex-VP’s campaign would team up with famous faces and influencers with gigantic platforms who reach millions of young people and women: “These celebrities talk to the voters that they need.”

Campaigns, Elrod says, have to be careful about how they’re utilizing any surrogate, whether an entertainer or an elected official.

“You want to make sure you’re using voices who are authentic to what they’re talking about and authentic to who they’re supporting and why they’re supporting the campaign,” she says. 

Hollywood, of course, has long served as a huge source of fundraising for political candidates, particularly Democrats. This election cycle, the unexpected virtual world could prove to be a boon for Biden and for White House hopefuls going forward.

Online events, Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an associate professor of history at Purdue University, says, can “get more people involved in the political process” since they’re more accessible.

“Whether that will bring more voters in, whether that will change anyone’s minds, I don’t necessarily think that you can rely on Hollywood to change people’s minds about a candidate,” says Brownell, the author of “Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life.”

As Election Day inches closer and closer, more and more Hollywood heavyweights are likely to lend a star-studded boost to Biden’s campaign, both in person and online.

Celebrity campaigning via the computer, Elrod says, may very well last beyond the 2020 race: “We’re just able to really use surrogates in a virtual manner that we’ve never done in past cycles. And I think that is here to stay.”

Tags 2020 2020 campaign 2020 endorsements Donald Trump Hamilton Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Kanye West Maggie Hassan Star Trek Taylor Swift The West Wing Valerie Jarrett

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