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Setting the stage

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LOS ANGELES — Politicians and activists hope to grab the spotlight at next week's Democratic National Convention here, but it may be tough to upstage entertainment in a town where no business is like show business.

Al and Tipper, Bill and Hillary, Joe and Hadassah, Barbra and Whoopi, Goldie and Anjelica, Arianna, Cher, Warren and Woody are some of the names that will be vying for attention next week as politicians and pundits meet movie stars, comedians and divas and run the risk of getting elbowed out of the way if a camera approaches.

But forget about Arnold. Even though he's married to a Kennedy, he's a Republican and sitting this one out.

Hollywood and Democrats have long had strong ties, with many celebrities lending their star power and private fortunes to politicians and causes they support.

About a million dollars has so far been contributed by entertainment industry figures to Democrat Al Gore's campaign and he doesn't formally get the nomination until next week. Republican presidential standard bearer George W. Bush trails with about $700,000 Hollywood dollars, according to a survey by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics issued last month.

Tinsel Town and its rich-folk retreats of Malibu and Beverly Hills have been so friendly to President and Mrs Clinton over the past eight years that is almost accepted as gospel that Mr Clinton will hoist a producer's shingle on the DreamWorks lot when it is time to leave the White House.

Hollywood has also crowned Gore its Prince Albert but his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, has evoked what is sometimes called in the trade papers, "mixed reviews."

Liberals cheered that Lieberman was the first Jew to be named to a major party ticket while at the same time kvetching (complaining) that the senator is a longtime foe of Hollywood excesses.

"There's definitely a great relationship between the entertainment community and the Democratic party," said Ann Edelberg, director of talent relations for the Democratic convention, who helped line up such stars as Barbra Streisand, Cher and The Goo Goo Dolls for concerts.

Democrats usually have an easier time luring stars to their cause although Republicans went whole hog lining up entertainment this year for their convention to shake off an image of a party dominated by droning middle-aged white men in suits.

Following tradition, country music was heavily represented at the Republican convention, with stars like Hank Williams Jr, Lee Greenwood and Waylon Jennings singing about their lost loves, departed pets and a favorite red, white and blue flag.

The Philadelphia convention also drew stars from other genres such as Texas guitarist Jimmie Vaughan, Cuban-born singer Jon Secada and diva Chaka Khan.

Indeed, the Democratic convention's roster is beginning to look like a Grammy Awards telecast, featuring artists from every category—from Latin to pop to hip-hop. "I think many of the performers support the party and really care about the issues," Edelberg said, adding, "There are also many great personal relationships between some of these artists and the politicians."

Indeed, Streisand, a longtime Democratic supporter, will headline a star-studded fund-raising concert for the Democrats following Gore's nomination for president, Edelberg said.

The show will be held Aug. 17 at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, a short distance from the Democratic National Convention at the Staples Center. Oscar award ceremonies have often been held at the Shrine venue.

Celebrities may not only be mingling with Democrats inside the convention and at parties at such typical L.A. venues as the Playboy Mansion and Spago but they will also be at a "shadow convention" just down the road from the Staples center at Patriotic Hall, a downtown landmark known for boxing matches.

"Conventions are boring coronations now. There's no competition anymore, no question of outcome. It's an infomercial, and a bad one," said Bill Maher, host of the TV show "Politically Incorrect" and a star of the shadow convention circuit.

Among topics to be aired at the shadow convention are the need for campaign finance reform and the failed war on drugs, and in particular the perceived unequal prosecution of minorities. The star-studded oceanside city of Malibu is expected to be the scene of some of the more desirable convention-time parties, given the weather, the settings and players.

Among those said to be planning events at their beachfront properties are Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg, all entertainment moguls who also are major contributors to Democratic campaigns. "These events can be great places to network," observed seasoned Hollywood publicist Nina Gordon. "Your client is not only seen, but also identified with a cause supported by someone who could make a difference in their careers." Publicist Dick Guttman, whose clients include Barbra Streisand, is not so sure. "National conventions are not a very good place to promote your message, unless you are on the platform committee."

"Politicians really don't want to listen to celebrities," Guttman added. "They just want to have their picture taken with them."