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Hollywood stars come out for Kerry campaign

Fri Jun 25, 3:41 AM ET Add Top Stories – AFP to My Yahoo!

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – US Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry (news – web sites) harnessed star power to fuel his campaign, with diva Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond singing his praises at a rare gala concert.

Superstar and arch-Democrat Streisand, 62, performed with crooner Neil Diamond for the first time in 24 years as a galaxy of Hollywood celebrities rallied in Los Angeles to raise cash for Kerry’s White House bid.

Streisand and Diamond sang their 1978 hit duet “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” bringing Kerry around five million dollars in proceeds from the show at Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, news reports said.

The two music icons were the concert’s top draws, but country star Willie Nelson and comedian Billy Crystal also performed, while heart-throb movie stars Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck were in attendance.

Streisand, who is famously coy about public appearances, retired from public performances in 2000 but has appeared to sing at Democratic Party fundraisers since then.

The mega-star wattage may help put Kerry, who urged the audience to back him, back in the headlines in a week which has seen his campaign eclipsed by Democratic ex-president Bill Clinton (news – web sites)’s new tell-all book.

The sold-out event certainly helped bolster the politician’s coffers ahead of the November 2 election in which he hopes to unseat US president George W. Bush.

The 2,000 elegantly-clad audience members paid up to 25,000 dollars a head for their tickets to the show, one of two star-studded events that the Kerry camp hopes will raise up to 10 million dollars.

A second fund-raising concert is scheduled at New York’s Radio City Music Hall on July 8 featuring movie star Whoopi Goldberg, musician Jon Bon Jovi, the Dave Matthews Band and Mary J. Blige.

Traditionally liberal Hollywood is seen as an important and highly visible spoke in the support network of Democratic candidates, but the reason for the star presence at Thursday’s concert was far more prosaic.

“They allow Kerry to raise a lot of money and that’s what tonight’s show is all about,” University of Southern California political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe told AFP.

But outside the music-filled concert hall, anti-Kerry protesters hit a sour note.

A group of Bush supporters picketed the shimmering building, praising Bush for his leadership in the war on terrorism and the improving economy and lashing Kerry’s visit to California as a “pessimism and misery tour.”

Earlier Thursday, Kerry, who is on an intense stumping tour aimed at convincing US voters to elect him to office, won the surprise endorsement of US tycoon and former Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca, who supported Bush in his 2000 campaign.

But while Kerry shone with the stars Thursday, Bebitch Jeffe warned that celebrity power can be a double-edged sword for Democratic politicians in the rest of the country, where swing voters can be repelled by overly-strident political messages and celebrity backing.

“In some respects stars like Barbra Streisand can be a negative force for Kerry and other Democratic candidates as she tends to get conservatives and some people outside of New York and LA (Los Angeles) riled up,” she said.

Hollywood has already rallied around liberal causes this campaign season, with a galaxy of stars turning out to give polemical filmmaker Michael Moore a five-minute standing ovation at a recent VIP premiere of his anti-Bush movie “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

Stars including Mark Wahlberg and Ashton Kutcher, rose in praise of the movie, which opens nationwide Friday, reflecting Hollywood’s liberal leanings.

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