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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 06/14/2012

Obama’s new celebrity fundraising trick: Pick your own star

Sarah Jessica Parker (pictured) and Anna Wintour will host a $40,000 per plate fundraiser for President Barack Obama’s campaign at Parker’s home in New York City Thursday night. (Kirsty Wigglesworth - AP)
The Obama campaign’s celebrity fundraising juggernaut has a new twist.

In an e-mail sent out Tuesday, donors not only were offered a chance to win “Dinner with Barack”— but suggest which VIP should join them. “He’s had some pretty amazing dinner guests lately: George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and of course, President Bill Clinton,” the pitch read. “So tell us, who’s next?”

It’s the next new thing in monetizing the stardust that gravitates to President Obama. He and the first lady are expected to attend Thursday night’s party hosted by Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue editor Anna Wintour at Parker’s NYC home for 50 donors at the $40,000 level, and then on to a Plaza Hotel dinner where Mariah Carey will perform for 250 supporters who gave $10K each — bringing in at least $4.5 for the night. (**UPDATED 6/15: Scenes from the Sarah Jessica Parker/Anna Wintour fundraiser)

As with last month’s $15 million fundraiser hosted by Clooney, the campaign raffled off an invitation to Parker’s event via a online lottery for average-folk donors who gave as little as $3 — drawn by the opportunity to break bread with not just the leader of the free world but fancy Hollywood types as well.

It might look new, but Democrats and Republicans alike have a long tradition of using the stars to seduce voters.

Frank Sinatra and Nancy Reagan in 1985. (Rich Lipski/The Washington Post)
Historians say it started when Al Jolson and Mary Pickford came out for Warren Harding in 1920 (Jolson wrote the song, “Harding You’re the Man for Us.” MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer is credited with sending his movie stars to campaign for his GOP favorites; Charlie Chaplin, Jimmy Stewart, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Bob Hope, Charlton Heston and Warren Beatty all jumped into the political fray. And politicians are happy to have them: Every president has a star entourage (Ronald Reagan perhaps most of all); the opposition party always grumbles about elitism.

Historian Steve Ross, author of “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” told us celebrities do two critical things for a candidate: They excite the base, and draw in people who are uncommitted or not even planning to vote. Obama’s on-line raffle, he says, is just a high-tech version of a get-out-the-vote, star-studded campaign rally.

“What better way to excite your base about the celebrity-in chief — the president — and surround them with Hollywood stars, and then give you an opportunity to mingle with them,” said Ross. “When you enter the lottery, even if you don’t win, it plays to all your fantasies.”

Oprah Winfrey. (Charles Sykes/Associated Press)
Northwestern University’s Craig Garthwaite researched Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement in the 2008 primaries: The influential talk show host, he believes, brought in more than 1 million new voters for Obama. The celebrity bait the campaign is dangling now, Garthwaite said, isn’t so much “a way to raise big money directly, but it’s a way to get people involved in the campaign.”

And that’s just fine with the first lady. Responding to backlash about the campaign’s Hollywood connections, Michelle Obama told Entertainment Tonight:

“This is going to be a close one, so we are going to welcome any and everyone who wants to step up and support the progress that we’ve made.”

Related in TV Column: Jon Stewart: Why President Obama is attending so many celebrity fundraisers

Read also: GOP attacks celebrity support for Obama,, 6/4/12

George Clooney's fundraiser for President Obama,, 5/11/12

Clooney’s Obama dinner could raise $12 million , 5/10/12

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 06/14/2012

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