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Eva Longoria, the actress best known for her racy Desperate Housewives character, has emerged as a political operator and Hispanic activist with Barack Obama’s ear after starring at the presidential inauguration.She shot to fame as a sultry seductress in Desperate Housewives, is regularly featured on glossy magazine lists of “hottest women,” is producing a dating reality show in Los Angeles and has been romantically attached to top sports stars.
But Eva Longoria has now taken on new role — reinventing herself as a political activist on the national stage, a champion of immigration reform and Hispanic causes and a confidante of Barack and Michelle Obama.
During celebrations for the president’s second inauguration in Washington last weekend, the 37-year-old actress seemed ubiquitous among the wide-eyed celebrities that swirled around the first couple. Yet she is also playing an increasingly serious part in American public life: using her profile to push for greater recognition of the contribution made by the country’s largest minority, to culture, the economy and to politics.
Last night she was due to chair a question and answer session in Los Angeles with US Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to sit on the United States Supreme Court – a woman who herself began life in a poor district of New York but clawed her way up through education and hard work to the highest court in the land.
Longoria is far from the first Hollywood celebrity to be attracted by the glamorous aspects of American politics. But she had earned her formal position as co-chair of President Obama’s inaugural committee – with a seat on the platform for his swearing in and an invitation to the private party at the White House after the public events – by her work during his election campaign.
She helped channel millions of dollars towards his campaign at fundraising parties and emerged as an articulate spokeswoman for the president on the stump.
Now she is campaigning to persuade Americans that the country’s current immigration laws need to be reformed, to make it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to become US citizens and to provide a pathway to citizenship for their parents – something which Mr Obama will be pushing for as part of a new package of legislation he has promised to unveil in the next few weeks.
Republicans have previously tried to block any such reform but, since Mr Obama won three quarters of the Latino vote at the election, are now considering how to reshape their own policies: a moment of opportunity,Longoria believes.
“I think the Republicans are going to realise, if they don’t do it because it’s morally imperative, they have to do it because it’s politically imperative,” she told an interviewer.
“And if they’re not going to do it because it’s politically imperative, they’ve got to do it because it’s economically imperative. So there’s a lot of gains for everybody, no matter what party affiliation, to get this done and to fix this problem.”
To underscore her point, last week she also helped host a brunch organised by The Daily Beast media group in Washington, attended by senior political figures from both sides of the political divide, aimed at increasing cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in policy making.
“There has never been a moment when bi-partisanship is more important,” she told the gathering of movers and shakers in US politics and media, co-hosted by Mark McKinnon, who was a communications strategist for President George W Bush.
“We all went through the bruising campaign together and we were all very loyal to our parties, to our candidates, but now it’s time to be loyal to America,” she added. “I think we can do that.”
It is not the former Texas beauty queen’s first foray into the arena of public policy. She helped set up the Futuro Fund, that has become a major national voice on Latino issues, and has employed a political and philanthropic consultant who has worked with the music stars Bono and Madonna to advise on her charitable foundation.
The emergence of the petite brunette as a skilled political operator reflects both her own personal interests and also the growing financial and electoral clout of the Hispanic community. And for Mr Obama and his fellow Democrats, the inauguration was a chance to solidify their standing with a key voting bloc.
At first glance, it is all quite a change of character for an actress best known as the raunchy Gaby in the Desperate Housewives television series – and whose love life is a staple of the gossip columns.
Indeed, just a week before her starring role at the inauguration, she was making very different headlines for a nipple-flashing “wardrobe malfunction” in a low-cut dress on the red carpet after the Golden Globes awards show.
She is divorced from Tyler Christopher, a soap opera actor, and Tony Parker, a basketball star, and recently dated Mark Sanchez, a dashing American football quarterback more than a decade her junior.
But Longoria had previously returned to university in Los Angeles to study American-Hispanic history, and emerged last summer she emerged on to a national political stage with an assured performance at the Democratic National Convention.
She tore up a draft speech sent by the campaign, complaining that it was “too much rah-rah and too little substance” and failed to convey why, from her own lower middle class background, she supported Mr Obama.
Instead, she produced one of the convention’s most quotable put-downs when she attacked the Republican candidate Mitt Romney for supporting tax cuts for the rich. “The Eva Longoria who worked at Wendy’s flipping burgers — she needed a tax break,” she said. “But the Eva Longoria who works on movie sets does not.”
The line brought a rousing ovation from the party faithful for an actress born in Texas to Mexican-American parents but who last year made an estimated $15 million from television and film and endorsements such as L’Oreal.
It subsequently emerged that, away from the cameras, she had played a key part in persuading Mr Obama to keep pushing for immigration reform despite opposition in Congress.
She admits that she is taking some professional risks with her support for the Democrats. “Half my movie tickets and my products are bought by Republicans,” she acknowledged recently.
She seemed to be addressing some of those concerns at the power brunch co-hosted with Mr McKinnon, the co-founder of No Labels, a grouping of Republicans, Democrats and independents established to pursue policy solutions across party lines.
“Eva is the real deal, very authentic,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. “Unlike a lot of Hollywood celebrities, her political activity is not just checking the box. She has blue collar roots, she’s passionate about issues and she does her homework.
“Eva recognises that hyper partisanship is poisoning the landscape, making problem solving more difficult, and that’s why she’s engaged in a discussion with No Labels.”
Now there is a growing clamour in Hispanic and Democrat circles for the self-described “political junkie” to run for office herself. Longoria is seeking to quell those calls — for now at least.
“I respect everything that politicians do,” she said. “I think it’s a very, very big job, but it’s not my day job.”
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