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Star-Power Politics

Celeb support in presidential elections

By Rich_Maloof Apr 19, 2012 5:53PM

Photo: Jemal Countess/WireImage/Getty Images

During the 2008 presidential primary, Oprah Winfrey single-handedly did for Obama what dozens of congressional supporters, wealthy endorsers, and campaign strategists could not. “The Oprah effect,” studied by academics after the election, made for a huge increase in voter turnout and a windfall of financial contributions. Experts at Oxford estimated that Oprah bumped the election by a million votes.

Is Ted Nugent the Oprah of the Mitt Romney campaign? Let’s hope not, for Mitt’s sake. Nugent, a passionate and articulate jackass of the far right, doesn’t quite seem worth the trouble he’s been making lately, but Romney hasn’t distanced himself from the guitar-slinging gun lover. Maybe Mitt is afraid the Nuge has his home address. But somebody on his campaign is doing the math, and for a stiff millionaire in a suit, a rock star in a ten-gallon snakeskin hat offers more credibility than liability.

Celebrity endorsements, whether solicited or not, are a goldmine for presidential candidates. Even when they run off the rails, as Nugent and others recently have, rock stars, actors, athletes, and talk-show hosts serve up the public’s attention on a silver platter. They offer vicarious cool points and allow a candidate to ride on the coattails of the celeb’s likability. There’s even a semi-official ranking, called the Davie-Brown Index, that rates the appeal, influence, and trust of celebrities for marketing purposes. Candidates are trying desperately to market themselves to voters, and an effective endorsement helps to secure and sell the brand.

Just like an actress with a pretty face is appropriate for selling moisturizer, the character has to fit the script. Bruce Springsteen has been sought for his enduring blue-collar appeal, and Chuck Norris for his toughness (Mike Huckabee joked in a 2008 campaign ad, “Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse, he tells America how it’s going to be”). A nod from Oliver Stone in January helped cement Ron Paul’s persona as an anti-establishment underdog. At a February fundraiser, rocker Dave Grohl’s bankable authenticity supported Obama in his battle against the Republicans, who are even harder to fight than foo.

Potential voters, on the receiving end, get a prepackaged thought all wrapped up with a bow on top. We’re instinctively influenced by people we like or respect even when our entire impression of who they are is based only on songs they’ve sung or movie characters they’ve portrayed. So when someone like Matt Damon throws the weight of his celebrity behind a candidate, or takes it away with a stinging statement, we take note. Jason Bourne thinks Obama should have accomplished more in his first term? The man has eleven passports and can ride a motorcycle down a staircase. Listen up.

It may sound cynical as hell, but voters don’t seem to formulate views so much as adopt them. Truth is, we don’t have the time to be part-time pundits, or to read the whole newspaper, or watch C-SPAN to keep an eye on politicians in the middle of the work day. As every campaigner knows, we’re primed to absorb the viewpoint boiled down by someone we trust, whether it’s Jon Stewart, a back-page editorial columnist, or a random, reliable celebrity. Like the Nuge.

3Comments
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"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
---------------------------------------------------President Theodore Roosevelt

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Its funny how everytime someone well known speaks against Obama.... or any president at that, they news media gouges there eyes out for the public to see. I think more people like Ted than Obama. Im sorry but I voted for Obama in the last election and I regret it. I totally regret it.
Apr 26, 2012 12:37AM
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Uncle Ted has always been outspoken, some of the things he says I don't agree with, but I do like the guy. So all you haters chime in and tell what me type of idiot I am, but its my opinion.
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