LOS ANGELES – Democratic presidential hopefuls are heading west, not looking for votes so much as mining for campaign cash from California's mother lode — Hollywood (search).
But most of Hollywood's big stars are keeping their mouths and checkbooks shut.
Sen. John Edwards (search) of North Carolina, one of many aiming to challenge President Bush in 2004, took an early lead in overall fund-raising but has yet to attract any big-name donors in Tinseltown.
"To the extent that you have visible public figures that the American people recognize supporting your campaign, that's helpful. And obviously, there's nobody that's more visible than those involved in the entertainment industry here in Hollywood," Edwards said.
Industry analysts suspect Hollywood stars are waiting for Democratic front-runners to emerge before they put money toward any candidate.
"This is the early courtship phase, when lots of people are having a lot of meals, it's very good for the restaurant industry in Los Angeles, as all the candidates come through town and have conversations with the people who could ultimately back them," said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center in Los Angeles.
But some Hollywood faces are vocalizing support for their picks already.
"I've known Howard Dean (search) now for almost 10 years and it's one reason why he's going to win, because he's a man of his word," said actor and director Rob Reiner.
But Reiner is an exception in his early support of the former Vermont governor, one of the party's most liberal contenders.
"Howard Dean has become somebody who has emerged as someone that, if you're passionate about somebody who says what he thinks, who stands for traditional Democratic values, that he's the guy," Kaplan said.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, another Democratic candidate who could win the nomination based on name recognition, has attracted more muted support and money from celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Melanie Griffith. Will and Grace star Debra Messing recently hosted a fund-raiser for Al Gore's 2000 running mate and current presidential hopeful, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Kerry has raked in the most from Hollywood so far, with Dick Gephardt, the congressman from Missouri, not far behind. Edwards is the third biggest recipient of the industry's money.
As of March 31, Kerry's campaign had received over $159,000 from television, music, and movie businesses. The senator has over $7 million in campaign funds, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The entertainment industry is ranked in the top five when it comes to political donations, making rubbing elbows at celebrity fundraisers more than just a glamorous way to get publicity.
Gephardt has received over $101,000 from television, music, and movie businesses, as of March 31, CRP reports, making that industry the fifth largest donor to this candidate. The former House Democratic leader has almost $6 million in his war chest.
Edwards has about $7.4 million in his war chest, $74,500 of which is from the entertainment industry. That industry ranks ninth on the list of Edwards' top industry contributors.
Dean has over $2.6 million on hand, $64,710 of which is from Hollywood, making it the sixth-largest contributor to the former governor's campaign.
Lieberman, who has infuriated many in the entertainment industry for his hard-line stance against violence in movies, video games and song lyrics, has received almost $30,000 of his total $3 million in contributions so far from Hollywood, making that industry his 14th-largest contributor.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bob Graham has been the beneficiary of almost $11,000 from that industry. He has a little over $1.1 million in campaign funds.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, corporations like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Anheuser-Busch and AOL Time Warner are in the top 25 for the top donors to Democratic presidential candidates. But with its deep pockets, Hollywood's rich and famous can provide a vital boost to a campaign by both showing their faces and their checkbooks.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and Anita Vogel contributed to this report.