Celebrities Elevating Candidates' Profiles As we approach the South Carolina Democratic primary tomorrow, we take a look at how celebrities sway voters. An unprecedented number of African-American stars have been speaking out for their candidates of choice. Farai Chideya talks to a number of them, assessing the power of celebrity in presidential politics.
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Celebrities Elevating Candidates' Profiles

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Celebrities Elevating Candidates' Profiles

Celebrities Elevating Candidates' Profiles

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As we approach the South Carolina Democratic primary tomorrow, we're taking a look at the power of celebrity. This has been the most diverse presidential race in American history. The two top contenders nationwide on the Democratic side, a black man, Barack Obama, and a white woman, Hillary Clinton. Add John Edwards into the mix and you'll see plenty of celebrities doing their part to elevate the profiles of the top three Democratic candidates.

Many of those celebrities are black. This week we've seen an unprecedented number of African-American stars speaking out for their candidate of choice. Among them: actors Kerry Washington and Chris Tucker. They tagged team at rallies here in South Carolina for Barack Obama. Victoria Rowell has talked about her support of Hillary Clinton, and Danny Glover has hit the campaign trail for John Edwards.

But how important is a celebrity on the campaign trail and can it sway voters?

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina; Presidential Candidate): They're not going to decide to vote for somebody because they have a celebrity supporter. They're going to decide to vote for them because they believe they'd be the best president.

CHIDEYA: That was presidential hopeful John Edwards. He said that earlier in the show. But if nobody paid attention to celebrities, they probably wouldn't be coming in droves to South Carolina.

Actor and director Danny Glover is on the move this week, campaigning for Edwards here in South Carolina. He told us that black artists and entertainers mixing it up with politics is hardly new.

Mr. DANNY GLOVER (Actor and Director): I'm a child of the civil rights movement. I understand clearly how the movement itself transformed this country, how people became mobilized, artists such as Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Sydney Poitier and other actors had a voice in that particular point in time. We're involved in those movements and subsequently involved in the respective candidates.

CHIDEYA: The actress Kerry Washington stumped at the historically black Benedict College for Senator Barack Obama. She also said that history motivates her to get involved.

Ms. KERRY WASHINGTON (Actress): So many women died and gave their lives for the suffragette movement. And then, so many people of color fought and lost their lives for, you know, full citizenship for African-Americans. And then, even as young people, it's like - it's not until relatively recently that we brought the voting age down to 18. It used to be that, you know, the government could ship you off to war but you couldn't vote for president. So it's like, we have all these rights that we've really fought for. We have to appreciate them and exercise these rights.

CHIDEYA: For some celebrities, political choices come straight from personal experience. Actress and author Victoria Rowell grew up in the foster care system. It was this experience that led her to become a long-time supporter of Hillary Clinton.

Ms. VICTORIA ROWELL (Actress and Author): I supported Hillary Clinton long before she became a presidential candidate - or now, because of her 30 years of committed experience to, many times, the disenfranchised foster children and children waiting for adoption.

CHIDEYA: We asked her whether her race or her gender was something she took into account when picking her candidates.

Ms. ROWELL: I have never been swayed by race or gender. I care about who I think is going to care about the interests and the issues that our country is desperate for. And I think Hillary Clinton is that presidential candidate.

CHIDEYA: Danny Glover also says his choice of candidate has a lot to do with how he grew up.

Mr. GLOVER: Who I am and my family is simply an aberration. My brothers, my sisters, my nieces and nephew have to worry about the education of their children. They have to worry about health care. They have to worry about shelter and living wage and pensions, and all those things that are important to all working people. So if I find a candidate who focuses on that and is concerned about that, then, I think it's our responsibility to support those candidates.

CHIDEYA: Glover feels privileged that people will listen to what he has to say. And he says folks in the limelight have as much of a right to speak out as anyone else.

Mr. GLOVER: If I'm talking about the issue of education, are we denied the access to that conversation because we're celebrity or should we not talk to people if we have a particular view on that or support a certain philosophy or idea around that? I don't think so, you know. I would think that it is even more our responsibility as celebrities to be engaged in what is happening, and encourage people to become involved actively in a democracy.

CHIDEYA: Whatever happens in South Carolina tomorrow, it's clear that celebrities will continue to have their say. And Americans, at least some of us, will listen.

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CHIDEYA: To listen to the show, go to nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation, go to our blog, nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Next week, a look back at South Carolina's Democratic primary.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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