"We're feeling what everyone has been feeling," says Cara Duckworth, spokeswoman for the RIAA, of the economic concerns. "But this is about celebrating music. We expect to sell out."
In a way, the relative lack of high-wattage celebrity guests this year may benefit the Democrats. In 2008, the John McCain campaign tried to use Obama's considerable celebrity appeal against him, most memorably with an ad likening him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton: i.e. all splash and no substance. Earlier this year, the pro-GOP super PAC American Crossroads put out an ad asking: "After 4 years of a celebrity president is your life any better?"
Obama's campaign did try to downplay celebrity presence in Denver, keeping it on the sidelines. But still, luminaries of the entertainment world — from Spike Lee to Anne Hathaway to Obama's biggest booster, Oprah Winfrey — were there in droves.
The AP called representatives of a number of celebrities who were in Denver to ask if they were coming this year. Of those who responded, all said no, except for Jessica Alba: The actress will be headlining a final-night party with her husband, Cash Warren, featuring performances by Pitbull and Scissor Sisters.
Also, Eva Longoria, a co-chair of Obama's campaign, will be speaking at the convention.
Traditionally there have been fewer celebrities at Republican conventions. Two past attendees are skipping Tampa, though, according to their representatives: former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, now back in show business, and actor Robert Downey Jr., who was at the last GOP convention, but also attended an Obama fundraiser in May at George Clooney's home.
Speaking of Clooney, many powerful Hollywood boosters of Obama simply prefer to stay away from conventions but maintain their strong support nonetheless. Like Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker and movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, all of whom have hosted major fundraisers recently, some obviously feel they can be of greater use in other ways than hanging out in Charlotte.
And the most important thing is what happens after the convention, says Steele, who notes he worked hard when he was RNC chairman to create relationships with celebrities.
"Of course, the real goal is to have these stars then go out on the road for you in the fall," Steele says.
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