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Cantor Quietly Finds Success in Hollywood

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Asked whether that position matched with his vigorous support for the free market, Cantor told Roll Call, “I think that the general sense that America needs to improve its ability to attract and retain businesses is a concept that really is as well-received in Hollywood as it is well-received anywhere in the United States.”

Republicans also are not unwelcome now as they have been in the past.

“In the 1980s, I was blacklisted. Literally blacklisted,” said Chetwynd, a prominent member of Friends of Abe, a network of Hollywood conservatives organized by “CSI:NY” star Gary Sinise. Haffner is also a member of the group, which is reticent about its membership specifics but is nevertheless influential in conservative circles.

“It’s an open secret,” one member explained. “One thing one never wants to do is out someone.”

But the group, whose name refers to Abraham Lincoln, is no secret to prominent Republicans. Sinise and Friends of Abe have hosted every Republican presidential candidate except Mitt Romney for discussions. The group has also hosted Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Cantor, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy, who hails from Bakersfield, Calif., has worked with the entertainment industry since his days in the California Assembly. In the Senate, John Thune (S.D.) is a favorite because he’s such a “good listener,” Haffner said. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) also has met with Friends of Abe.

Chetwynd also said Hollywood offers far more than financial assistance to politicians who seek support there, something on which Cantor has capitalized.

In 2009, for instance, Cantor enlisted speechwriting help from Joshua Sostrin, a Hollywood writer who assisted the legendary Jerry Weintraub on “tweener” flick “Nancy Drew” as well as all three of the “Ocean’s” movies starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney and a host of other A-list actors.

“Experience in speechwriting, performance, all the things that people do out here for a living, those have previously been a private reserve for the Democrats,” Chetwynd said.

Jonathan Axelrod, a Hollywood producer who organizes fundraising events for Democratic Senate candidates, is dismissive of the idea that Republicans have made significant inroads to Hollywood.

He allowed that “I know some people who are very important in the business who are supporting Romney,” but he said that Cantor was an exceptional case and that Friends of Abe was a small fringe group.

The fundraising numbers indicate modest progress for Republicans.

In the 2010 cycle, Beverly Hills (90210) was the fourth-most-lucrative ZIP code for Cantor, following three Richmond, Va., ZIP codes, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Cantor raised $312,400 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area that includes Hollywood, more than the $307,100 he raised in New York City but less than in Washington, D.C., and his top city by volume, Richmond.

In the 2010 cycle, Los Angeles did not make the list of top five cities for Boehner’s fundraising, and his top 10 ZIP codes were all in Ohio.

In the current, 2012 cycle, however, Boehner has raised $320,750 in Los
Angeles-Long Beach, pushing it to his most lucrative city, and he has raised $719,010 in California.

Overall, though, industry-specific money continues to go to Democrats by large margins.

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