Celeb appeal on the stump can be limited

The Romney campaign must have thought it looked good on paper: comedian Jeff Foxworthy personifies blue-collar voters, is in tune with Southerners and as a standup comic, could surely smooth over some of the more awkward edges of Romney’s outreach to voters in the Deep South.

The Romney campaign must have thought it looked good on paper: comedian Jeff Foxworthy personifies blue-collar voters, is in tune with Southerners, and as a standup comic, could surely smooth over some of the more awkward edges of Romney’s outreach to voters in the Deep South.

When the results came in last week, though, Romney had captured highly educated, upper-income voters, but, according to exit polls, lost the rest in Mississippi and Alabama. At least they got some laughs.

Foxworthy is one of the few showbiz figures to hit the campaign trail for a presidential candidate this year, but he also is a warning for Republicans of the limited reach of star power.

Save for some sophisticated polling, it may never be known whether his appearance helped stave off dire results for Romney or proved a hindrance. But for all of the attention Foxworthy got when he campaigned for Romney in both states the day before the primary, the only gains made may have been in new variations on the comic’s signature “you might be a redneck” jokes.

No entertainment figure has emerged this year with the gravitas of an Oprah Winfrey, who campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008, or Chuck Norris, whose kitschy ad spots with Mike Huckabee helped catapult him into an Iowa win that year and proving that impact isn’t necessarily tied to being on the A-list. While there’s little evidence voters made their choices based on these endorsements (or at least would fess up to doing so), what both personalities brought to the campaigns was a new level of attention.

So far this season the results are inconclusive about the power of stars on the stump.

Romney also has Kid Rock (who performed for him in Michigan) in his camp; and after the candidate reportedly gave assurances that he wouldn’t impose any new restrictions on gun ownership, he won the nod of “Motor City Madman,” rocker Ted Nugent. Romney squeaked out a victory in that state.

This time around, Norris made robocalls for Newt Gingrich in the southern states — so his allure didn’t pack the same punch.

Campaigns routinely deploy stars — particularly musicians — to appeal to younger voters, but even among that age group, there are limits to success. Mike Cobb, associate professor at North Carolina State U., co-authored a 2010 study of 800 college students, and found that celebrity endorsements actually could hurt candidates.

While “celebrity endorsements might help primary voters who are poorly informed or on the fence,” he said, the trouble is that “most celebrities are not viewed as credible sources of political knowledge. So their effects are minimal.”

The New York Times recently interviewed Cher about her support for Elizabeth Warren,

the Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, in a story that focused on how Warren is taking some heat from the man she is trying to oust, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), for the sheer level of out-of-state and star support her campaign has received. “I pray that my unabashed support for E. Warren does her no harm,” Cher wrote on Twitter the day the story appeared.

While there’s hypocrisy in the way Republicans bash Democrats for calling on Hollywood all-stars for support even as they send out conservative stars to stump — or have nominated them as candidates — the risks for both sides remain the same.

Steven J. Ross, the author of “Hollywood Left & Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” says that the primary season is the very time that campaigns need endorsements, more so than during he general election. “They need the ones who are really committed, who have lined up and said, ‘Here is the person I am supporting. I am not waiting until the last minute.’ ”

Nevertheless, deploying stars on the campaign trail is still a casting process, and while he sees the wisdom in sending Foxworthy into an area where he has regional appeal, the caveat is that “voters want leaders. If they want schtick, they can go to a comedy club.”

By the time Foxworthy hit the trail, Romney was already getting guffaws in the media for straining to appeal to the southern vote, dropping his “g”s, boasting of eating grits and flip-flopping on his affinity for catfish. Foxworthy may have diffused some of the ridicule of Romney’s stranger-in-a-strange land moments, but he reinforced others.

When Romney used some self-deprecating humor and joked about having Foxworthy teach him which end of the rifle to point, the comic said, “That sounds even more dangerous than Cheney if you ask me. We may start with a BB gun and work our way up to a rifle.”

But when the results came in last week, Romney captured highly educated, upper-income voters, but lost the rest in Mississippi and Alabama. At least they got some laughs.

Foxworthy is one of the few showbiz figures to hit the campaign trail for a presidential candidate this year, but he also is a warning for Republicans of the limited reach of star power.

Save for some sophisticated polling, it may never been know whether his appearance helped stave off dire results for Romney or proved a hindrance. But for all of the attention Foxworthy got when he campaigned for Romney in both states the day before the primary, the only gains made may have been in new variations on the comic’s signature “you might be a redneck” jokes.

No entertainment figure has emerged with the gravitas of an Oprah Winfrey, who campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008, or Chuck Norris, whose kitschy ad spots with Mike Huckabee helped catapult him into an Iowa win that year, proving that impact isn’t necessarily tied to being on the A-list. While there’s little evidence voters made their choices based on these endorsements (or at least would fess up to doing so), what both personalities brought to the campaigns was a new level of attention.

So far this season the results are inconclusive about the power of stars on the stump.

Romney also has Kid Rock (who performed for him in Michigan) in his camp; and after the candidate reportedly gave assurances that he wouldn’t impose any new restrictions on gun ownership, he won the nod of “Motor City Madman,” rocker Ted Nugent. Romney squeaked out a victory in that state.

This time around, Norris made robocalls for Newt Gingrich in the southern states — so his allure apparently was good for one campaign season only.

Campaigns routinely deploy stars — particularly musicians — to appeal to younger voters, but even among that age group, there are limits to success. Mike Cobb, associate professor at North Carolina State U, co-authored a 2010 study of 800 college students, and found that celebrity endorsements actually could hurt candidates.

While “celebrity endorsements might help primary voters who are poorly informed or on the fence,” he said, the trouble is that “most celebrities are not viewed as credible sources of political knowledge. So their effects are minimal.”

The New York Times recently interviewed Cher about her support for Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, in a story that focused on how Warren is taking some heat from the campaign of the man she is trying to oust, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), for the sheer level of out-of-state and star support her campaign has received. “I pray that my unabashed support for E. Warren does her no harm,” Cher wrote on Twitter the day the story appeared.

While there’s hypocrisy in the way Republicans bash Democrats for calling on Hollywood all-stars for support even as they send out conservative stars to stump — or nominated them as candidates — the risks for both sides remain the same.

Steven J. Ross, the author of “Hollywood Left & Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” says that the primary season is the very time that campaigns need endorsements, more so than during he general election. “They need the ones who are really committed, who have lined up and said, ‘Here is the person I am supporting. I am not waiting until the last minute.’ ”

Nevertheless, deploying stars on the campaign trail is still a casting process, and while he sees the wisdom in sending Foxworthy into an area where he has regional appeal, the caveat is that “voters want leaders. If they want schtick, they can go to a comedy club.”

By the time Foxworthy hit the trail, Romney was already getting guffaws in the media for straining to appeal to the southern vote, dropping his “g”s, boasting of eating grits and flip-flopping on his affinity for catfish. Foxworthy may have diffused some of the ridicule of Romney’s stranger-in-a-strange land moments, but he reinforced others.

When Romney used some self-deprecating humor and joked about having Foxworthy teach him which end of the rifle to point, the comic said, “That sounds even more dangerous than Cheney if you ask me. We may start with a BB gun and work our way up to a rifle.”

As inconclusive as a celebrity’s name may be for a campaign, in today’s caustic environment, it doesn’t take too much for a celebrity to get swept up in polarized politics. In December, Kelly Clarkson tweeted about her support for Ron Paul. She got initial blowback, then her record sales shot up, and lately she’s been backing away from the endorsement. A flip flop? Actually, there’s a method to maxmizing the madness of an election year.

Back in the fall, at a GOP debate in Las Vegas, Wayne Newton told reporters he was undecided on who to support, but was leaning toward Romney and Newt Gingrich. About 15 minutes later, as he was exiting, he saw Michele Bachmann doing a standup interview with Fox News. He suddenly got in the shot, hugged her and then gave her his nod.

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