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Celebrities share stage with White House hopefuls

A-list entertainers jump on bandwagons

- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2012

NEW YORK — Pleading for voters to give President Obama another chance in office, rock star Bruce Springsteen hit the campaign trail in Ohio and Iowa on Thursday, hoping his star power could persuade undecided voters to give the Democratic incumbent a second chance.

A day earlier and three states away, comic Dennis Miller campaigned with Republican Mitt Romney, telling the crowd that many 2008 Obama supporters are recovering from what he said sounded like a case of voting under the influence of a powerful sleeping drug.

"Don't you have friends who talk about their vote for Obama in much the same tone they use when they told you they took an Ambien and woke up naked outside?" he said moments before he introduced Mr. Romney to 8,000 gathered in a park in Leesburg, Va.

"I think — what? You voted for him? No, Really? 'I remember I took it, I woke up at the freezer, nude, eating ice cream, and I must've went out and voted for him after that.'"

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are turning to celebrities to try to entice more voters to join them in the days leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

For Mr. Romney, it often seems like the travel edition of the Grand Ole Opry. In three stops in Virginia this month, he followed country music star Trace Adkins to the stage in the Shenandoah Valley, had country music artist Andy Griggs as his opening act in Leesburg, and in Chesapeake deployed Lee Greenwood, whose hit "God Bless the USA" is a sort of unofficial GOP anthem.

Mr. Obama and other Democrats counter with a much wider array of celebs: Attractive young female actresses, strident black rappers, titans of the Hollywood studios and rock stars such as Jon Bon Jovi and the 63-year-old Mr. Springsteen.

So who's the best?

"The answer is, it's situational," said Steven J. Ross, a professor at the University of Southern California who wrote "Hollywood Right and Left: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics."

"If you're going for a youth audience, it's going to be a musician," he said. "If you're going into a swing state, Ohio for example, bring in a big sports star. Colorado, for example, bringing in Peyton Manning would be huge."

Mr. Romney didn't get Manning, the Denver Broncos' quarterback, but he did get a Hall of Fame predecessor, John Elway, and he has campaigned in Ohio with golf legend and Buckeye State native Jack Nicklaus.

Celebrities, at root, don't often convince voters to back their preferred candidates. Instead, they serve as a way to connect fans to politicians.

That's one reason why musicians do so well. They can do what they usually do — perform — and gather an audience, which the politicians can address.

Comics are a bit tougher because their performances can be trickier to calibrate.

On Wednesday, Mr. Miller repeatedly called Mr. Romney an honorable man — at one point saying, "There's an innate decency about this cat" — but saved his most memorable lines for attacks on Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

"Biden never shuts up, it's just occasionally you have to hood him like a falcon so you can get some sleep at night," he said before adding, "There's a joke they didn't screen."

Mr. Ross said not all celebrities have the same level of political power, or what he called "the gravitas factor." He said some stars cultivated their image and that helped connect them with their chosen political parties: John Wayne and Charlton Heston on the Republican side, and Gregory Peck and George Clooney for Democrats.

Top draws

National Journal last year asked its list of political insiders in Washington who they thought the best celebrity endorsements were, and tops were media giant Oprah Winfrey for Democrats and actor Chuck Norris for Republicans.

Rounding out the Democratic top five list were Mr. Springsteen, comic Jon Stewart, singer Sheryl Crow and rapper Jay-Z.

The Republicans' list put actor Gary Sinise second, followed by country music artist Toby Keith, Mr. Greenwood and actress Bo Derek.

Most of the celebrities on both sides are likely to attract committed voters. The real prizes are the celebrities who can bring uncommitted people into the process or convert an opponent's supporters.

Mr. Ross said a good example was when George H.W. Bush was running for president in 2000 and was facing charges that he was a wimp. So he campaigned in California with Mr. Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both tough-guy actors, and the wimp talk subsided.

Sometimes the celebrities get something out of it, too.

Mr. Obama on Thursday taped an appearance with Mr. Stewart for his program, "The Daily Show," which gave Mr. Obama an audience and Mr. Stewart a crack at the world's most-sought-after interview.

Mr. Springsteen brings even more to the table. In 2004, he campaigned in Madison, Wis., with Sen. John F. Kerry, holding a miniconcert in the middle of the liberal college town on a beautiful fall day. An estimated 80,000 stood in the streets to hear him — and Mr. Kerry.

This year, the Boss is going solo — or at least sans Mr. Obama. He did a show in Ohio with former President Bill Clinton on Mr. Obama's behalf on Thursday, then flew to Ames, Iowa, for another campaign rally.

But his star power may be dimming. Tickets for the Iowa rally reportedly were still available hours before it was slated to begin.

Democrats also ask their celebrities to do fundraising.

On Thursday, singer Barbra Streisand sent out a plea on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asking for supporters to make "an emergency contribution" of $3 to top off the committee's funds.

There's also the issue of celebrities offering their thoughts on issues where they may not be the right spokesmen for the campaigns.

Mr. Springsteen, whose net worth has been estimated at $200 million, wrote an open letter to voters on Thursday complaining about the "ever-increasing division of wealth in this country, with the benefits going more and more to the 1 percent."

Mr. Miller left his lack of knowledge out there for everyone to see. At the end of his remarks in Leesburg, he told the crowd he was purposely stalling for time.

"Listen. I'm in an awkward moment here. I'm trying to stretch because I'm supposed to bring up your 16-time representative, Frank, and I forgot his last name," Mr. Miller said.

The crowd knew exactly who the man was: longtime Rep. Frank R. Wolf, a Republican from Northern Virginia, and shouted his name back at Mr. Miller — giving the comic all the material he needed to wrap it up with a big bow: "Wolf! The Frank who cried Wolf! Give him a hand, ladies and gentlemen."

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