Sean Penn campaigns in Venezuela -- for Hugo Chavez

It???s no surprise to find actor Sean Penn on the campaign trail these days. The two-time Academy Award winner is a strong backer of President Barack Obama with a history of putting his name and celebrity panache behind left-of-center causes.

But what is starting to raise eyebrows among Americans is Penn???s campaign blessings for another friend in another country: Venezuela???s Marxist President Hugo Chavez, who will face the voters of his country Oct. 7 in a race the whole world is watching. In the past week, Chavez???s strong-armed assaults against opponent Henrique Capriles — one of which resulted in the death of a Capriles campaign worker and the wounding of two others following a rally — has made the Venezuelan election particularly incendiary.

Coupled with Chavez???s own 14-year record of intimidating political enemies, denouncing U.S. opponents, and forging alliances with America-haters from Havanna to Tehran, his behavior in his re-election makes one wonder why any American would campaign for him.

But Penn has done so, just as he has stumped for political allies in this country.

On Sunday Aug. 19, Penn was the special guest at a private fund-raising event on behalf of Dr. Raul Ruiz, the Democratic nominee for Congress in California???s 45th District. Although Ruiz is challenging Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack in a Palm Springs-based district, the event on his behalf featuring Penn was held in a private residence in Los Angeles with the ???address given upon RSVP.??? Tickets for a sponsor cost $2500 and $500 for a ???general supporter.???

The timing of Penn???s appearance to raise funds for Ruiz was particularly interesting, since it occurred days after he had returned from a campaign visit on behalf of Venezuela???s Chavez. Penn joined the Marxist strongman on stage at a mass rally in the Venezuelan town of Valencia.

???Thank you very much for visiting us again, dear friend,??? declared Chavez, referring to his close friend from Hollywood who had embraced him before the cheering crowd.

Both Chavez and Penn were vitriolic critics of former President George W. Bush, with the Venezuelan president once likening Bush to the devil. When three American hikers were arrested and held in Iran, Penn attempted to secure their release through Chavez, an ally of Iranian President Ahmahdinejad.

The whole embrace of Mary Bono Mack???s Democratic opponent Ruiz by a friend of Chavez gets particularly interesting when one considers that the Venezuelan???s strongest critic in the U.S. House is the congresswoman???s husband, Florida Rep. — and Senate nominee — Connie Mack. ???Thugocrat??? is what Mack brands Chavez.

Ruiz, of course, cannot be held responsible for other candidates his friend Penn chooses to befriend and support. But in the case of Hugo Chavez, one can expect to hear more about it between now and November.