by Marcus Baram, ABC News
This town ain't big enough for the two of 'em.
It may not get as bloody as the final shootout in a Western, but the duel between Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois to win the heart of Hollywood could prove to be just as dramatic.
The two leading presidential contenders are vying for the support of the entertainment community, with big stars and powerful producers and agents already making their choices this early in the 2008 race for the White House.
Though Clinton commands the loyalty of the entertainment world's most established players, it appears that Obama currently has the momentum.
Next month, Dreamworks mogul David Geffen and superagent Ari Emanuel are both reportedly planning fundraisers for Obama. The candidate has already lined up strong backing from George Clooney, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey, who pledged to "do everything in my power to campaign for him."
Since Clinton's much-anticipated announcement on Saturday that she's going to run, longtime supporters such as Fox Family CEO Haim Saban, producer Stephen Bing and Paramount chair Sherry Lansing are already gearing up to throw fundraisers for her, say political consultants in Los Angeles.
"Hillary is by far the front-runner in terms of industry support," one fundraiser said. "She has many relationships with people out here, and they're ready to go to bat as soon as she announces."
Among those in Hollywood who've contributed to Clinton's two Senate campaigns and her HILLPAC political action committee are Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Sharon Stone, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Martin Scorsese, Susan Sarandon, and Tom Cruise's producing partner, Paula Wagner.
But Obama is the fresh face that's captivated many in Hollywood with comparisons to both Jack and Bobby Kennedy.
In the fall, Clooney sent out an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times that said, "If SENATOR Obama became PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE Obama it would be the most electrifying thing to happen to the Democratic party since Kennedy."
Geffen and Emanuel have both supported Clinton in the past, but they've apparently settled on Obama when it comes to the presidential race.
Geffen, who has not been a major political player in the past, was reportedly concerned about Clinton's electability. And he remains upset that former U.S. President Clinton pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich rather than Leonard Peltier, an American Indian accused of murder, whose case has become a cause celebre in the entertainment community, sources in Hollywood say.
The support of Emanuel is an important factor since his brother, Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), is the powerful House Democratic caucus chairman. When the agent, who was the inspiration for Jeremy Piven's character on "Entourage," threw open the doors of his Brentwood, Calif., home for a meet-and-greet with Obama in December, a who's who in Hollywood from Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner to Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, showed up to shake the senator's hand.
After Obama gave a brief speech in the foyer of Emanuel's home, "the room was buzzing with excitement," said Edward P. Lazarus, one of Obama's fundraisers in Los Angeles.
But some political observers are more skeptical about Obama's ability to sustain his momentum, pointing out that Howard Dean and Wesley Clark both captivated Hollywood early in the 2004 campaign before slipping away.
"A lot of people want to hear Obama speak, and $1,000 to come to a fundraiser is something that a lot can afford," said Lara Bergthold, a longtime Democratic operative who was John Kerry's liaison to the entertainment community in 2004.
"They're intrigued and excited but in the end, many will continue to raise money for Hillary. You can be loyal to her and still hear these other voices -- Obama, [John] Edwards," Bergthold said.
Indeed, Edwards has longstanding ties to Hollywood's legal community and impressed traditional liberals with his focus on poverty.
On the candidate's swing through Los Angeles last week, one of Emanuel's partners at the Endeavour agency threw a fundraiser for Edwards. "With Barack, Hillary and Edwards, the expectation is that they'll suck up most of the oxygen here," said Andy Spahn, Geffen's top political consultant.
Part of the appeal with Obama stems from the fact that he is such a new personality on the national stage.
"There's a narrative here, and people in Hollywood love a story," said Shawn Sachs, executive vice president of Ken Sunshine Consultants, which represents Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio.
"Barack is hot, and everyone wants to be with him. They want the young, dynamic, compelling guy on the upswing. People are dying to be inspired. They miss that," Sachs said.
But just like their casting decisions or their dinner orders, many in Hollywood remain fickle about their choices.
"Many celebrities aren't going to decide right now," Sachs said. "It's a flirtation. They're interested. They're out buying his book and watching him speak."