STYLIN' FOR OBAMA


For the big event with The Divine Miss M, Lady Shug created a special, one-of-a-kind outfit, starting with a Barack Obama T-shirt split down the back, then laced up like a corset with red ribbon.

The shirt, which featured a stylized, red-white-and-blue portrait of the Democratic presidential nominee over Lady Shug's modest bosom, had cutoff sleeves and a neckline fashioned in a sassy one-shoulder style. Below the shirt she wore a giant tutu of shiny white and red fabric. Her long legs ended in silver high heels that matched her big silver rhinestone earrings, which resembled shooting stars.

Lady Shug's height was further augmented by a 10-inch fake Afro.

Asked about the get-up, Lady Shug, a female impersonator who performs in a nightly dinner cabaret show at the Krave gay nightclub on the Strip, said simply, "The outfit speaks for itself."

Las Vegas' gay community was out and proud at Krave on Monday night for an Obama campaign rally headlined by Bette Midler, the actress, singer and gay icon who has been a resident performer at Caesars Palace since February. Organizers said they received 1,200 RSVPs.

Midler perched on a stool at the front of the club's stage, facing a packed dance floor. Wearing a leopard-print mini-dress and matching gloves, she proceeded to tell a few hundred of her closest friends what was on Miss M's mind.

"I am so distressed about this election, oh my God," she said confessionally. "I haven't left my house in days. I watch the news channels incessantly. All the news stories are about the election; all the commercials are for Viagra and Cialis.

"Election, erection, election, erection -- either way we're getting screwed!"

Midler said she has sung for candidates and raised money for candidates, but she's speaking out more than ever before in this election because Obama has moved her more than any candidate before him.

"I come from an extremely poor family," said Midler, whose father was a house painter. "I know I look divine now, but I was not always divine." Her humble background, she said, taught her to value hard work.

"I had big dreams," she said. "You know me. You've watched me for 40 frickin' years. Every single dream I had my entire life came true. Barack Obama says only in America could his story happen, and I totally understand because only in America could my story happen."

Midler kvetched extensively about the Bush administration, getting up from her stool to pantomime a nation literally whacked by crisis after crisis. She urged the crowd to work their connections for the cause.

"I know you have gigantic networks because I know all of you," she said. "Your friends, your family, old boyfriends, new boyfriends, people you slept with, people you hope to sleep with -- do me a favor, call every single one of them, say, 'Vote for Barack Obama!'"

Las Vegan Robert Demicell, 49, ate up every word, snapping photos of Midler with his cell-phone camera.

"I love her, and she was right on the money," he said. "She said exactly what I feel."

Demicell first saw Midler perform in 1978 in Los Angeles, "back when Katey Sagal" -- the actress who played Peg Bundy in "Married ... With Children" -- "was a Harlette," a member of Midler's backup trio. He has seen everything Midler has been in and gone to every show she has toured with.

Midler, Demicell said, was a friend of the gay community long before it was as acceptable as it is today. She developed her act in the early 1970s at a gay bathhouse in New York City.

"She goes back so far with us, and she's remained true blue," said Demicell, who works for an airline.

He was not particularly surprised to hear Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., inform the crowd, as she introduced Midler, that Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin earlier in the day reportedly had said she supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"The Republicans are so interested in spreading democracy across the planet, but maybe they ought to start here in the United States of America," said Berkley, who, between her flamboyant style and her 100 percent voting record on gay rights issues, has her own fabulous reputation with this crowd.

Palin is scheduled to campaign in Henderson today, 12 miles from the site of Midler's rally but culturally a world apart. It is doubtful there will be any overlap between the audiences for the two political events.

Obama himself does not support gay marriage.

"That is a little distressing," acknowledged 28-year-old Scott Moses, who was otherwise effusively enthusiastic about the Democratic ticket.

He struggled to explain why he nonetheless supported Obama. Unlike the Republicans, he said, at least Obama isn't promising to roll back what already has been accomplished for gay rights.

"I don't think anybody should be taking away anybody's rights for any reason," Moses said. "It's anti-American. It's against what America was set up to be."

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.