Put Jennifer Lopez, gorgeous in a red knit dress and high heel pumps, in a room full of politicians, and guess who the star is?

For all the handwringing in recent weeks over whether celebrity involvement helps or hurts a campaign, watching the celebs and pols mingle on the Democratic National Convention party circuit provides a pretty clear answer: Whatever the risk, most politicians will take the stars. Talk about profiles in courage.

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At concerts, private parties and consciousness-raising panels, people with screen credits and hit records are being warmly received at the convention this week. (The process even spawned its own urban legend. Delegates, for example, excitedly gossiped that Bruce Springsteen might perform before Barack Obama's acceptance speech tonight. Alas, Springsteen's people said on his website that he would not. But they added: He's an "ardent and dedicated" Obama fan.)

To be sure: There shouldn't be any problem finding a back-up act. Here in Denver, there are opportunities to chat up the glitterati from morning to night.

John Legend sang at a party hosted by Harold Ford Jr. on Tuesday, Melissa Etheridge serenaded the general convention Wednesday evening with a song she wrote especially for Obama. Eva Longoria was spotted working the skyboxes at the Pepsi Center, and Charlize Theron attended a special screening of her film "Battle for Seattle" at the Starz network's popular DNC film festival.

Ben Affleck helped pack boxes for the Food Bank of the Rockies on Wednesday morning. His ex-fiance, Lopez, co-hosted a luncheon honoring Marian Wright Edelman, longtime head of the Children's Defense Fund and an old friend of the Clintons.

At the Lopez event, held at the Denver Art Museum, there was almost as much affection and praise showered on the actress as there was on Edelman.

Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado praised Lopez for taking on children's issues as her main cause. "She is giving a voice to the voiceless," Salazar said, adding that the actress "never forgot her roots or where she came from."

Edelman called the actress "a wonderful woman." "I'm very grateful to you," the activist said. "I love your passion."

Lopez returned the love by telling Edelman how much she had inspired her and how humbled she was to be among the dignitaries gathered at the event, which also featured New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

"I've been thinking more about what I would do to help to bring about change," she told the group. "How could I set an example for my children and make this world a better place?"

Like it or not, celebrity activists and policymakers have become symbiotic. When Sen. John McCain -- who has his own star following -- tried to trivialize Barack Obama as just another celebrity by showing photographs of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears alongside the presumed Democratic nominee, popular opinion forced him to drop Paris and Britney but let him go on bashing Obama. (For the record: McCain appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" this week before attending a fundraiser in Beverly Hills, where he was feted by a crowd that included actors Gary Sinise, Patricia Heaton, Jon Voight, Angie Harmon, Lorenzo Lamas and Dean Cain.)

As Hollywood's favorite mayor, Villaraigosa understands the value of celebrity involvement.

"Jennifer and I are friends," Villaraigosa said of Lopez after the luncheon Wednesday. "Sometimes we have to understand that celebrities are more than just famous. Many of them care passionately about the issues, whether it's homelessness, the environment or children. They can add greatly to a cause."

It's become the American way.

tina.daunt@latimes.com