Stars shine for Obama

Barack Obama is the “biggest celebrity in the world” with a cast of supporting characters from Hollywood.

Oprah Winfrey, George Clooney and Scarlett Johansson have all backed Mr Obama’s bid to become the first African American president of the United States.

Such celebrity endorsements rarely produce results in presidential contests but the scale of the star-studded support for Mr Obama this year has never been seen before.

Winfrey, the queen of US television, crosses every demographic and is watched by around nine million people every day.

In her 25-year career she has never endorsed any candidate before, Americans trust her, and she is a clear example of the non-partisan politics of change which has been Mr Obama’s key message.

But his Republican rival John McCain used his opponent’s rock star-status, star endorsements and record-breaking crowds to label him as nothing more than the “biggest celebrity in the world” in a negative campaign advert.

Mr McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis said the Obama campaign owes “more to the development of an international celebrity status than it does to a traditional campaign for president”.

The advert, which questioned Mr Obama’s experience and ability to lead, was released after the Democrat spoke in front of 200,000 people in Berlin as part of a world tour, which led many observers to comment on his Messiah-like image.

Later, the Obama campaign turned the advert around and labelled Mr McCain as “Washington’s biggest celebrity” to highlight the ways in “which the special interests in Washington have embraced John McCain and how McCain has hugged right back”.

But Mr McCain’s advert also had an unexpected consequence, as socialite Paris Hilton – who, along with Britney Spears, was compared with Mr Obama in the McCain advert – launched her own attack on the Republicans and the “wrinkly, white-haired guy”.

Hilton said 72-year-old Mr McCain was from the “olden days”, compared him with Star Wars’ Yoda and the Golden Girls, and said he was “old enough to remember when dancing was a sin and beer was served in a bucket”.

The 27-year-old model and actress also said she was “not promising change like that other guy”, Mr Obama.

Hilton, who appeared in a swimsuit reclining by the side of a pool in her advert, said: “Hey America, I’m Paris Hilton and I’m a celebrity, too.

“I want America to know that I’m, like, totally ready to lead.”

But still, celebrity endorsements can help when it comes to financing a presidential campaign that is expected to be the most expensive in history.

As Tom Hanks wrote on his MySpace page: “I want Barack Obama to be the next president of our country. As an official celebrity, I know my endorsement has just made your mind up for you.”

Last month, Barbra Streisand held a nine million dollar (£5.2m) fundraiser for Mr Obama in Beverly Hills which was attended by many Hollywood stars, including Will Farrell, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jodi Foster. Dennis Haysbert, who played the president on the TV series “24” was also seen there.

And Mr McCain was not one to miss the opportunity to criticise his opponent.

“(Mr Obama) talked about siding with the people,” he said.

“Siding with the people, just before he flew off to Hollywood for a fundraiser with Barbra Streisand and his celebrity friends.

“Let me tell you, my friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than here, with the working men and women of Ohio.”

The event was one of a long line of fundraisers for Mr Obama’s campaign.

Winfrey held a three million dollar (£1.7m) fundraiser at her 42-acre estate in Montecito, near Santa Barbara in California, in September last year.

Ben Affleck also threw a fundraiser for Mr Obama in March after he told MSNBC that “Hollywood loves Obama”.

George Clooney, who has said the senator has the “aura of a rock star”, joined Mr Obama at a panel on Darfur in 2006 and said he was an “Obama guy”, while warning that celebrity endorsements can do more harm than good.

And other celebrities have joined the Democrat on the campaign trail.

Scarlett Johansson joked that she was “engaged to Barack Obama” and campaigned in Iowa, while Samuel L Jackson skipped the Oscars to campaign for Mr Obama in Texas.

“We need somebody the world relates to in a very real kind of way,” he said.

Chris Rock introduced the senator at an event in Harlem, New York, Robert De Niro endorsed Mr Obama at a New Jersey fundraiser and Jennifer Aniston has also contributed to his presidential bid.

Others have helped provide the soundtrack to his campaign.

will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas’ singer wrote the songs “Yes We Can” and “We are the Ones” based on Mr Obama’s speeches.

A group of U2 fans have become one of the Democrat’s most enthusiastic band of supporters, organising hundreds of events, and Scots pop star KT Tunstall - whose songs were used by Mr Obama’s former rival Hillary Clinton without permission – has said she supports Mr Obama.

On the Republican side, Mr McCain’s celebrity endorsements have come from all-action heroes.

Former Hollywood star-turned-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger said Mr McCain was an “extraordinary leader” who would be a “crusader against wasteful spending” as president.

The California governor said Mr McCain was “a great American hero” and the best choice for president, despite the fact his wife Maria Shriver, the niece of former president John F Kennedy, is backing Mr Obama.

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the world in the days after the September 11 terror attacks, joined Mr Schwarzenegger in his endorsement after dropping out of the race himself.

Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Tom Selleck have all lined up behind Mr McCain.

And when Chuck Norris, who was supporting Mike Huckabee – Mr McCain’s former rival for the Republican nomination – alleged that Mr McCain was too old to be president, the Arizona Senator said he would send Stallone round to sort him out.

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