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Forget Barack and Hillary. Check out Diane and Pierce!

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Obamakeaton_l

Obamakeaton_lSo I was sitting in my colleague Alynda Wheat’s office last night, watching the CNN Democratic debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, getting my politics on (what? you think we’re all only interested in film festivals and Lost theories ’round these parts?) when the camera cut to Ed Helms.

“Hey, Alynda,” I exclaimed, “it’s Ed Helms!”

Alynda looked at me strangely (at least, more so than usual). I rewound her DVR and showed her that the former Daily Show “reporter” Ed Helms was indeed studiously taking in the candidates’ wonkish discussion about health care policies. “Huh,” replied Alynda, who then returned to her Scrabulous game as I returned to my Blackberry BrickBreaker game, both of us listening to the finer points of immigration reform.

Until I looked up, and, whaddaya know, there’s America Ferrera. And Stevie Wonder. And, er, Fran Drescher.

On one level, of course, this all makes perfect sense. Last night’s debate was in Los Angeles, in the illustrious Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards. Of course major Democratic party supporters like Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner are going to show up and expect choice seats, and of course CNN is going to showcase them in an effort to goose the ratings of what turned out to be quite the civil and evenhanded (i.e. fireworks-free) discussion.

But do I really need to know that Diane Keaton’s in the house? Or Pierce Brosnan (who, says the ever-reliable Wikipedia, became a U.S. citizen in 2004)? Or Brandy? Is that in any way going to affect my thoughts on the realcelebrities in the room, the candidates? And what’s more, is it wise,during the first debate solely between the two Democraticfront-runners, for the audience to be so overloaded with so-calledHollywood liberals? I would think if this election is so much about change that the Clinton and Obama campaigns would insist that only people who haven’t appeared in the pages of Entertainment Weekly have the opportunity to be front-and-center, no?

What I’m really asking, PopWatchers: Does it matter to you if afamous person’s in the audience of a political debate? Do they serveonly as a distraction, or do they keep you engaged? And, mostimportantly, do you think that was West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin sitting next to Bradley Whitford? Alynda and I couldn’t tell.