ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Democrats have always attracted a sparkly contingent of A-list celebrities to their party. This evening we'll feature one who's a celebrity and an important bridge to a much-coveted voter demographic. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates has this profile of a woman who is equal parts actress and activist.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Eva Longoria became famous as the self-centered Gabrielle Solis in ABC's hit comedy "Desperate Housewives."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES")
EVA LONGORIA: (as Gabrielle Solis) Part of the reason I'm on this diet is because carrying you two brats for 18 months made Mommy fat. And you, with the head, you ruined me.
BATES: But for the past several months, Longoria has had another role - as one of the national co-chairs for Obama 2012. As one of his top bundlers, she's pulled in between 200 and 500 thousand dollars on the president's behalf. And she's working to convince Hispanic voters to re-elect him.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
LONGORIA: And he's fighting to make sure people who were brought here as children have the opportunity to earn a path to citizenship and contribute to the country they know as home.
BATES: Matt Barreto is co-founder of Latino Decisions, a nonpartisan polling group that tracks Hispanic voter patterns and interests. Normally, he says, Latino voters don't take celebrity endorsements very seriously.
MATT BARRETO: You know, we usually find in our polling, when we ask about who are some of the most effective spokespersons to contact you that, you know, celebrities don't have a lot of appeal.
ANTONIO GONZALEZ: Eva Longoria is not your garden-variety Latina celebrity.
BATES: That's Antonio Gonzalez. He heads the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan research group aimed at increasing Latino voter education. Gonzalez says Longoria's value goes beyond her star power.
GONZALEZ: She has championed women's issues. She's, you know, raises money and does public service announcements for different Latino causes. And so she really talks the talk and she walks the walk.
BATES: She's on the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and has established charities in both Los Angeles and Texas for children's health and Latino issues. Both Gonzalez and Barreto say that normally, well-off celebrities may be temporarily interesting, but they don't speak to many working-class Latino families' lives. Longoria is different because she has a back story they can relate to.
She grew up on a ranch near Corpus Christi, Texas, the youngest in a family of four girls. Her oldest sister, Liza, is developmentally disabled. Their working-class parents encouraged the girls to work hard and aim high. Longoria told "Dateline" she knew she'd need to work hard to succeed.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DATELINE")
LONGORIA: I always knew I'm going to have to work hard. Nothing's going to be given to me. And I think that comes from my mom and my dad.
BATES: Despite her petite stature - she's 5'3" - Longoria would go on to win beauty contests and acting roles. And she's a popular spokeswoman for L'Oreal cosmetics.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'OREAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: New Studio Line Silk & Gloss from L'Oreal.
LONGORIA: Underline who you are. You're worth it.
BATES: She's become one of Hollywood's most powerful Latinas, both as an actress and as a co-host and executive producer of the ALMA Awards, which honor Hispanic achievement in film, television and music.
Despite the glitz, Eva Longoria's ability to connect with everyday people's aspirations for something better could be a powerful asset for the Democratic Party, says the Velasquez Institute's Antonio Gonzalez.
GONZALEZ: Celebrities typically aren't that good of messengers in the Latino community, but Eva Longoria, I think, could cross that barrier and be quite effective.
BATES: Which is exactly what the Democrats are hoping as they continue to court Hispanic voters this fall. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.