'West Wing' cast stumps for Hillary – but do celebrities actually help?

The show's final episode aired more than 10 years ago. How politically effective could its cast members prove?

James Sorensen/NBC Handout/Reuters
The NBC television series 'West Wing,' featuring, left to right, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Dule Hill, John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney, and Brad Whitford shown in an undated publicity photo.

Six cast members from the seven-season hit political drama “The West Wing” will join Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail this weekend in Ohio.

Calling on the support of familiar Hollywood faces has become common practice for American politicians, but how effective will the tactic prove this time, especially since the show’s final episode aired more than a decade ago?

Aaron Sorkin, who created the series and served as lead writer for more than half of its run, said video-streaming services have introduced the storyline to younger audiences.

“Thanks to Netflix, it’s not that the show has had a longer life. It’s that the show has been completely born again,” Mr. Sorkin told Entertainment Weekly. “College kids, high school kids are watching the show like it’s brand new.”

Eric Kasper, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, told The Christian Science Monitor in July that the current presidential election has been more personality-driven than most.

It makes sense for both Ms. Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump to rely on celebrities to bolster their popularity, since both have such high unfavorable ratings, Dr. Kasper added.

But having celebrity friends and allies does not necessarily translate into political clout, Michael Cobb, a North Carolina State University associate professor of political science, told The Boston Globe last October.

“Celebrities are really good at getting attention. They can create a celebrity-like environment in which people get pumped up,” Dr. Cobb said, noting that not all celebrities are credible. “In fact, very few celebrities are seen as credible.”

While the actors in “The West Wing” may not offer much credibility, as their political experience on the White House set was scripted, perhaps Clinton’s campaign stands to gain by drawing comparisons between herself and the dynamic behind-the-scenes politics in the fictional administration of Jed Bartlet as portrayed by Martin Sheen.

“Our show looked at politics through a very romantic lens and very idealized lens,” Sorkin said during his Entertainment Weekly interview. “The show kind of got away with earnestness because the characters were so charming, so good at their jobs, and their purpose was good.”

Bradley Whitford, who played White House Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, jumped in to note that there’s an element of reality baked into the show’s drama.

“I used to get defensive about the accusation that it was a fantasy,” Mr. Whitford said. “I guarantee you that Bill Clinton and George Bush were surrounded by people who understand that politics is the way to create your moral vision.”

Whitford will be joined at campaign events in Ohio by Richard Schiff, who played communications director Toby Ziegler; Allison Janney, who played press secretary C. J. Cregg; Dulé Hill, who played Charlie Young; Joshua Malina, who played Will Bailey; and Mary McCormack, who played Kate Harper.

The six will take part in organizing events in the Mahoning Valley, Cleveland, Sandusky, and Toledo on Saturday, followed by stops in Dayton and Columbus areas on Sunday, the campaign said, as Variety reported.

The deadline to register to vote in Ohio is Oct. 11.

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