Could Ben Affleck head to Washington?
It seems like a long shot, but the actor and director's name has come up recently amid speculation over who will run for John Kerry's US Senate seat if the Massachusetts senator slides over to the State Department to serve as President Obama's foreign affairs chief.
Mr. Affleck didn't start up the rumor mill, but when given an opportunity to say he isn't interested, he demurred – a move guaranteed to keep the rumors flying in Washington and, of course, Massachusetts. In an interview aired Dec. 23 on CBS's "Face the Nation," Affleck said "I'm not one to get into conjecture," when host Bob Schieffer asked him directly about any US Senate aspirations.
"I do have great fondness and admiration for the political process in this country," Affleck told Mr. Schieffer, "but I'm not going to get into speculation about my political future."
"Right now," he added, "I'm really happy being involved from the outside in government, advocating for the Congolese [and] taking this movie that I made, 'Argo' – it's really become a springboard for a dialogue about our relationship with Iran."
Affleck, founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, was in Washington to raise awareness about violence in Congo. He testified before Congress on Wednesday about the conflict and said he will make his 10th trip there next year. He also met with Senator Kerry, along with other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Interest in the seat is high. GOP Sen. Scott Brown in November narrowly lost his reelection bid to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, and he is widely presumed to be interested in running for Kerry's vacated seat, should Kerry win Senate confirmation to be secretary of State. Affleck is just one of many Democrats whose names have come up to run against him. Others include US Reps. Edward Markey, Steven Lynch, and Michael Capuano; former Congressman Marty Meehan; state senator Ben Downing; and Victoria Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy Jr., eldest son of the late senator, has decided against running for the seat, according to a Boston Globe report Monday.
Affleck, who has long campaigned for Democratic candidates and who majored in Middle Eastern studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, would face significant challenges: a lack of any previous political experience running for office; the need to raise cash quickly (or use his own); and a crowded Democratic field. He grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and currently owns a home in the Bay State, but under state law he also wouldn't need to establish legal residency until Election Day.
And it's unclear whether Affleck, a filmmaker who seems to be reaching a new career peak behind the camera, would have an interest in trying for elected office.
But he would also not be the first actor to do so.
Surprisingly, despite the stereotype of Hollywood being full of liberals, most high-profile thespians and entertainers who have moved into politics have been Republicans.
Ronald Reagan, arguably the most successful and well-known actor-turned-politician, springs to mind. But there's also Arnold Schwarzenegger – who, now that he's finished two terms as California governor, has returned to acting.
There's Sonny Bono, the musician and actor who was elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., before twice being elected a US congressman. And Fred Thompson, best known for his role on TV's "Law & Order," and who played a US president three times in his acting career. Thompson served in the US Senate for eight years and later ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. Clint Eastwood's career as an elected official has been confined to two terms as mayor of Carmel, Calif. But he made bigger political news this year when, during the GOP convention to nominate Mitt Romney, he gave an odd – and widely criticized – speech to an empty chair.
Jesse Ventura, the actor and professional wrestler who became Minnesota's governor, eschewed both Democrats and Republicans, running first as the candidate of the Reform Party of Minnesota (he later switched to the state's Independence Party).
Democratic actors who make the move from entertainment to political office are fewer, with Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota as the most prominent. A former SNL comedian and talk-show host, Senator Franken barely eked out a Senate win in 2008 in a hotly contested election.
Talk of Affleck as a candidate may be simply a combination of wishful thinking by media pundits and Democrats worried that Senator Brown needs a high-profile opponent.
Among other hurdles, it's unclear why Affleck would want to leave a successful career as both a filmmaker and actor. Having directed three critically acclaimed movies – and considered a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination this winter – Affleck finally seems to have laid to rest the embarrassment of past films like "Gigli" and "Surviving Christmas."
A move to Congress – where approval ratings haven't hit 25 percent in three years, and more often are stuck below 20 percent – would hardly be a reputation-builder.