Clint Eastwood is such a passionate fiscal conservative that when he married his second wife, Dina Ruiz, in 1996, he included her finances in his own personal deficit-reduction campaign. “My wedding present to her was paying off her credit cards,” he told me the other day, using his bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot as a staging area for interviews touting “J. Edgar,” his new film about longtime FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. When I asked if he’d made any similar offers as, well, an anniversary gift, Eastwood said with a laugh, “No, I told her it was a one-time deal.”

Showbiz has its clear partisans — Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand and George Clooney are ardent liberals; Kelsey Grammer, Tom Selleck and Jerry Bruckheimer are true conservatives. But the right and the left both like to claim the 81-year-old Eastwood as one of their own. When I quizzed Eastwood, he couldn’t remember ever voting for a Democrat for president — including in the last election, where he supported John McCain. But when he condemned anti-gay marriage fanatics in a recent, profanity-studded GQ interview (“Don’t give me that sanctity crap! Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want”), my liberal friends shared the excerpts on Facebook with pretty much the same delight as 12-year-old girls passing around Justin Bieber videos.

Having started voting for GOP presidential contenders in 1952 with Dwight Eisenhower, Eastwood said he was tempted to break ranks only once — in 1992, for Ross Perot. “I liked him,” Eastwood said. “I guess because I like rebels.”

When it comes to the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, if Eastwood is enthusiastic about anyone, it’s Herman Cain. “I love Cain’s story,” he says. “He’s a guy who came from nowhere and did well, obviously against heavy odds. He’s a doer and a straight-talker, which I don’t see enough of from either party.”

He’s not as bullish on Mitt Romney. As a film icon, Eastwood has been fiercely protective of his image, but he’s not especially enamored by that attitude in a politician. When Eastwood was in Massachusetts in 2002, filming “Mystic River,” Romney was running for governor there. “I saw a lot of him and you have to admit — he looks like a president,” Eastwood recalled with a tone that you’d have to describe as being slyly sarcastic. “I mean, if you were casting a movie where you needed someone to play president, you’d definitely pick him.”

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