Many Actor-Candidates Enter From Stage Right

Ah, Hollywood. A place synonymous with glamour, decadence, fame … and Republican actors running for office.

In a population usually stereotyped as left wing and liberal, most entertainers-turned-candidates stand squarely on the political right.

Take film star Arnold Schwarzenegger (search). The Terminator is running for California governor as a Republican in the election to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis (search). A look back in time shows he's just the latest in a long line of celebrity candidates.

Ronald Reagan (movie star and U.S. president), Fred Thompson (film actor and U.S. senator), Fred Grandy ("The Love Boat" TV star and U.S. congressman), Sonny Bono (singer, Palm Springs mayor and U.S. congressman), Clint Eastwood (film actor/director and mayor of Carmel), Alan Autry ("In the Heat of the Night" TV actor and mayor of Fresno) and George Murphy (1930s singer/dancer and U.S. senator) were all entertainers elected to office on the Republican ticket.

"They stand out in the Republican Party," said political analyst Daedre Levine, executive director of the nonpartisan voter turnout group Vote for America (search). "In order to be seen as credible, an actor would need to indicate that they're thinking on their own — which is running against the traditional liberal Democratic ideal of Hollywood."

Grandy, who played purser Gopher Smith on the TV series "The Love Boat" and then served four terms as a Republican congressman from Iowa, said Hollywood Democrats are often politically active without entering a life of politics.

"Republicans in entertainment tend to commit and Democrats tend to flirt" when it comes to running for office, Grandy told "Republicans make better candidates than they do activists."

Many of the actors-turned-politicians, Republican and Democrat, switched career gears when they saw their stardom turn stagnant.

"To a large degree, a lot of people who run for political office do so after their entertainment career has plateaued," Grandy said. "I'm an example of that. I'd reached a point where I could not figure out what I wanted out of the business anymore. I said, what's the next logical step?"

Grandy co-starred on "The Love Boat" for its entire run from 1977-1986, and won a congressional seat from his home state the year the show ended. He later ran for governor and lost, and is now a morning radio host at WMAL in Washington, D.C.

It's not that Democratic entertainers have never run for or taken office. TV actress Sheila Kuehl (search), who played Zelda Gilroy on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," was elected as a Democrat to the California state Assembly in 1994 and to the state Senate in 2000. Opera singer and 1930s movie actress Helen Gahagan Douglas (search) was a three-term Democratic representative from California in 1944 but lost a 1950 U.S. Senate race to Richard Nixon.

And it's certainly not that liberal Hollywood stars aren't political. Many have become well-known social activists, including Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen, Janeane Garofalo, and Barbra Streisand, all of whom are openly critical of the Bush administration and its policies.

But their stumping for the left has led to harsh criticism from the right and even boycotts of their films in some cases.

"I have problems with people using their so-called celebrity to persuade government or the people when we didn't elect them to do so," said Lori Bardsley, who started a grassroots group called Citizens Against Celebrity Pundits during the war in Iraq. "They have so much more money and power than the average American citizen."

Bardsley doesn't, however, have a problem with the Republican Schwarzenegger running for office — a position some have labeled hypocritical.

"What we're seeing — this mythology of Hollywood as liberal — is evidence of a well-organized attack by the right on celebrities who speak out on the left," said Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War and a former Democratic representative from Maine. "It is ironic that these same critics seem mum on Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Bardsley said she sees no contradiction because she'd feel the same way about any entertainer who decides to enter politics.

"My position has always been that if a celebrity leaves his celebrity behind and decides to commit his life to public service, he has that right," she said. "Even if Janeane Garofalo decided to run for office and the American people elected her, I'd have no problem with that at all."

Whether or not Democratic stars like Sheen, Sarandon, Streisand or Garofalo will appear on a ballot some day remains to be seen.

"It would be nice," Andrews said. "If we could have candidates show the same commitment, public service and eloquence as they, we'd be better off."

Party affiliation aside, celebrities who decide to dive into politics already have some of the qualifications they'll need for the job — recognition, charisma and a very thick skin.

"Anybody who comes out of an entertainment career knows there's a steady diet of rejection, abuse and neglect," Grandy said. "That steels you to the political world."