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The Presidential Candidates and their Star Power

John Mccain on The Jay Leno Show
John Mccain on The Jay Leno Show
John Mccain on The Jay Leno Show

Barack Obama is at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, with a cadre of celebrity supporters from Jennifer Lopez to Kanye West scheduled to make appearances around town.

Meanwhile, John McCain is drumming up star power of his own. He appeared on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno* and attending a big Beverly Hills fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday night. There's no question, celebrities do make a difference in political campaigns: they raise money, draw media attention, and can connect a candidate to a new constituency.
*(like CNBC, NBC TV is a General Electricunit.)

So far, Hollywood is in Obama's camp. According to OpenSecrets.org, Obama has raised $4.7 million from people working in TV/Movies/Music. In contrast, McCain has raised only $815,000 (These numbers as of July 28, 2008).

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And then there's the impact celebrities have had far beyond their dollars donated: Oprah Winfrey's support is estimated to have given Obama a boost of 1 million votes in the primaries and caucuses. Moguls like Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg as well as stars including Scarlett Johannsen and George Clooney helped raise awareness about Obama, especially early in the campaign.

Though McCain rubbed shoulders with supporters like Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Duvall and Jon Voight at his Monday-night fundraiser, he has distanced himself from Hollywood, trying to draw a contrast with his rival.

McCain called Obama a "celebrity" in an attack ad, making celebrity a nasty four-letter word. The issue now: both McCain and Obama want to reach those crucial swing voters, many of whom are in the middle of the country and would be turned off by the luxury and glamour associated with those Hollywood ties. (It's not so different from the issue of how many houses someone has.)

Variety Managing Editor Ted Johnson says he sees some of Obama's biggest entertainment industry supporters laying low right now, realizing that they can have a negative impact on Obama's campaign.

Back during John Kerry's campaign for president, a number of his entertainment-industry supporters publicly bashed George W. Bush at a Radio City Music Hall fundraiser, which derailed Kerry's campaign for a few days. That said, stars including Clooney are still planning on hosting small fundraiser dinners for Obama in coming weeks; and Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen have a big fundraiser planned for this fall.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.