BOB GARFIELD: Now on that Screen Actors Guild election currently under way, many members believe SAG is at a crossroads where contract disputes, cost cutting proposals and internal conflicts divide the union. The two leading candidates are Valerie Harper, Broadway actress and former sitcom star of Rhoda fame, and Mellisa Gilbert, best known for her years of playing Laura on the family drama Little House on the Prairie.
In fact, despite the seriousness of the issues facing the Guild, it's hard for many observers not to think of this campaign as a race between Rhoda Morgenstern and Laura Ingalls [sp?]. Clearly that's the case for veteran political reporter Michelle Brier who has our report.
MICHELLE BRIER: When the 98,000 thousand members of the Screen Actors Guild cast their ballots in October for a new president, they'll be choosing more than a new leader. This election is shaping up to be a battle for the heart and soul of the union, and at least one candidate is making it clear that she intends to fight hard to win. [MUSIC] [CLIP FROM LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE]
MICHELLE BRIER: "Laura Ingalls" seems an unlikely contender for high office at first glance. She's a country girl, Pa's favorite, and while education has always been a priority, she's often viewed as more of the stay on the farm type than a stumper.
Then again, she's managed to win endorsements from community leaders in her home town like Mrs. Olsen!
MRS. OLSEN: And what with her, her natural poise and beauty, Walnut Grove would have a model representative. [LAUGHS]
MICHELLE BRIER:Even so, it's going to take a lot more than pleasantries to beat the well-oiled political machine utilized by "Rhoda" as illustrated by the slick campaign video released by her camp. [MUSIC]
VALERIE HARPER: My name is Rhoda Morgenstern. I was born in the Bronx, New York in December 1941. I've always felt responsible for World War II. The first thing I remember liking that liked me back was food. I had a bad puberty. It lasted 17 years.
MICHELLE BRIER: "Rhoda" hasn't been afraid to voice her other faults, hoping voters will embrace her as the people's representative.
VALERIE HARPER: I'm not easy to live with. I'm overly sensitive. You look at me crosseyed, I go to pieces. When I feel hurt I do one of two things - I withdraw or attack. I'm boring. [LAUGHTER] Or the fact that I have no experience whatsoever living with a man!
MICHELLE BRIER: This sharply contrasts with outgoing SAG president Kit [sp?] who lived for years with Michael Knight as Man and Car. Laura Ingalls on the other hand has taken a different tack. Just as George W. Bush reached out to Dick Cheney to give his presidential bid a dose of experience, 11 year old Laura has tapped doctor and Korean War veteran B.J. Hunnicutt as her running mate.
She's also promoting her home grown values as the center of her campaign platform. [MUSIC]
MELISSA GILBERT: Freedom of the press, pa says, is as important as all our other freedoms and should never be abused.
MICHELLE BRIER:Indeed, as is the case with many American political contests, this campaign may come down to a fight between urban and middle America. Laura's prairie background and Rhoda's status as a divorcee may not resonate with everyone on Main Street.
WOMEN: Hi, would you vote for Rhoda Morgenstern or Laura Ingalls for president?
MAN: Isn't George W. Bush president? Screen Actors Guild! What a bunch of morons ever since Ronald Reagan messed them up!
WOMEN: So who are you for?
WOMEN: I'm for Rhoda. She's independent, and she's gotten much more stylish since she gave up those head scarves.
MAN: Well I'd vote for Laura because - well I had -first I had a crush on her, but she also beat up Nellie Olson and she can handle those advertisers on that royalty thing.
MICHELLE BRIER: At least one survey agrees that Laura Ingalls has the edge. That's the survey of daily television appearances by either candidate. Laura makes family viewing several times a day in many markets while Rhoda is mostly found only in brief late night cameos.
Members of the Screen Actors Guild will decide who will be their next president in balloting during the last 3 weeks of October. The winner will be announced November 5th. [MUSIC] For On the Media, I'm Michelle Brier. [MUSIC]