Does celebrity stumping matter?

Nashua Telegraph, Dec. 2007

By Marty Karlon, Staff Writer

Sure, landing an endorsement from Judd Gregg or Paul Hodes may matter to some New Hampshire voters. Ditto for the nod from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers or the U.S. Airport and Seaport Police.

But what of Ron Silver or “Big” Kenny Alphin? Will you vote for Republican Rudy Giuliani because Silver, the star of such films as “Silkwood,” supports him? Will country singer Alphin’s $2,300 donation to the campaign of Democrat Barack Obama help you decide which lever to pull on Election Day? Or will all you Big & Rich fans split, since John Rich is with Republican Fred Thompson?

And what about Oprah?

Winfrey was in Manchester with Obama on Sunday, packing the Verizon Wireless Arena, and while no one can dispute the daytime talk show host’s documented impact on book sales, does her opinion matter when it comes to choosing the leader of the free world?

Probably not.

“In New Hampshire, it’s not going to make any difference whatsoever,” said Paul Manuel, executive director of the Center for Politics at Saint Anselm College. “It’s all well and good that Oprah likes him, but . . . we like to do the detail work ourselves.”

Manuel conceded that nationally, people not following the races that closely might take a cue from a celebrity endorsement, but that the impact wouldn’t be major.

Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who campaigned for Republican Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire last week, said he has “no idea” what impact his endorsement will have on the presidential campaign.

“I don’t want people to vote for the guy I’m voting for because I say so,” Schilling said. “I want people to vote for him because he’s the best person for the job.

“You could probably spend $50 million on two polls, and one would say it helps, and the other would say it has no affect at all.”

In a national USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in mid-October, only 8 percent said Winfrey’s support made them more likely to support Obama. However, 10 percent said it made them less likely to support the Illinois senator.

Another October poll, this one for Forbes.com by E-Poll Market Research, looked at which celebrity endorsements would be a plus for a candidate, as well as which would be a drag.

This poll, which didn’t specifically ask whether the endorsement would matter to the person being asked, found that Winfrey’s backing was perceived to be positive, as would the endorsements of Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” Angelina Jolie or Tiger Woods.

On the down side, the poll found that it wouldn’t be a great idea for a candidate to appear side by side with Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Cruise, Madonna, Jane Fonda, Donald Trump or Susan Sarandon.

The poll found that endorsements have a bigger impact on younger voters, although an informal local survey turned up the opposite result.

Maybe it’s because they live in New Hampshire, where politics is part of the state’s DNA, or maybe it’s because they get a better view of the candidates than most students, but Nashua high school students working on the production crew for The Telegraph’s online editorial board interviews with the presidential hopefuls laugh at the idea that a celebrity endorsement would influence how they cast their vote next month.

“I just think it’s their views that matter,” said Kendra McDonald, 18, a student at Nashua High School South.

“The celebrity thing seems like a joke after a while,” said Dan Deering, 18, a student at Nashua High School North. “It’s more important where (the candidate) stands on the issues.”

Not that the celebrity factor isn’t fun.

“I’d go to see Oprah,” said Brian Pelletier, 18, also a student at South, “but look for my voting information elsewhere.”

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