Do celebrity endorsements make much of a difference in elections? Barack Obama’s assistance from the unelected queen of the world, Oprah Winfrey, suggests maybe not, at least not in the way you’d expect.
A poll found that one in three young New Hampshire women were less likely to vote for the clean, smart and articulate Obama because of the Oprah endorsement. One –sixth of women over age 65 said their opinion of the senator diminished as a result of Ms. Winfrey’s support.
Perhaps there’s hope for the Republic after all. Not that politicians are likely to discourage endorsements from some of the only folks with egos as colossal as their own.
At times we can tell a lot about a candidate by the celebrities backing him or her. Barbra Streisand endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying “Madame President of the United States . . . it’s an extraordinary thought.” No, Babs, what’s truly extraordinary is that you even imagine having what passes as a thought. This is the woman who’s claimed her absolute biggest nightmare is getting sick, getting taken to a hospital, and dying while hospital staff conjectures if their patient is indeed the Barbra Streisand.
Others supporting Mrs. Clinton include director Robb Reiner, who isn’t called Meathead for nothing, former NBA star Magic Johnson, and TV handyman Bob Vila.
Adding cerebral firepower to the Obama candidacy are Hollywood’s Jennifer Aniston, George Clooney and Matt Damon. Not that Barack has a monopoly on intellectuals; Willie Nelson, Sean Penn, and Larry Flynt are in Dennis Kucinich’s corner, which must be a very bizarre neighborhood indeed.
John Edwards sports endorsements from singers Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. Judging by how long it’s been since either of them had a hit, it’s good they found themselves something to stay busy with. Another Edwards admirer is Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, which at one time claimed that a percentage of the profits was used to promote world peace. That made a big difference, didn’t it?
Bill Richardson can point with pride to the backing he’s received from Whoopi Goldberg, Lee Iacocca and Martin Sheen, taking a break from organizing Peace for Cuba demonstrations.
Not surprisingly, GOP candidates don’t fare as well with celebrity endorsements. Actor Robert Duvall stands with Rudy Giuliani. Singer John Rich of the country duo Big & Rich favors Fred Thompson. Red Sox star Curt Schilling is pitching for John McCain.
Mike Huckabee has done better in the endorsement game. He’s picked up pro wrestler Ric Flair, rocker/hunter Ted Nugent, and actor Chuck Norris. Mr. Norris is no Oprah in terms of sheer popularity, but among many conservatives, people likely to vote Republican, he has considerable appeal.
In a particularly effective TV commercial, the former Arkansas governor asks: “My plan to secure the border?” He answers his own question with, “Two words: Chuck Norris.”
That ad helped Mike Huckabee’s candidacy, which has been wounded by allegations that as governor he was soft on illegal immigration. When state legislators in 2005 considered legislation denying welfare benefits and voting rights to illegal immigrants, Huckabee snarled that the proposal was “inflammatory . . . race-baiting and demagoguery.” He went on to say the bill “enflames those who are racist and bigots and makes them think there’s a real problem. But there’s not.”
Many Republicans, maybe even a few Democrats, believe there is a real problem. One of them is Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. He’s nationally known for tough measures like taking away prisoners’ movies, their girlie magazines, and their hot meals. The philosophy he espouses is jails should be places people want to avoid.
When motorists are stopped in his jurisdiction, their immigration status is checked. They’re arrested if they’re here illegally. He’s also instituted a hot line for citizens to report employers suspected of hiring illegals. The New York Times offered its own imprimatur of the sheriff’s actions Sunday, editorializing that he “hounds immigrant day laborers as aggressively as he chases headlines.”
Sheriff Joe journeyed to Iowa last week to campaign for the person he’s supporting for president. He didn’t endorse fellow Arizonan John McCain. He didn’t express approval for Mike Huckabee.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio was there to back Mitt Romney. Romney’s a great guy, a great businessman, a great organizer, he told anyone who would listen, and will surround himself with good people who’ll get the job done.
Unlike Chuck Norris, Joe Arpaio doesn’t play a tough law and order guy on TV. He really is a tough law and order guy. In the Iowa caucuses, where a relatively few votes can be determinative, my guess is his Romney endorsement will prove crucial.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the January 3, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.
Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths. Michael’s articles have appeared in the Congressional Record, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Mensa Journal. As a lad, Mike distributed Goldwater campaign literature and since then has steadily moved further to the Right. In 2007, he won an Illinois Press Association award for Original Column.
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