We are entering celebrity endorsement season, as entertainment figures pick their candidates and the campaigns tout their Hollywood connections.
Among the other figures who have announced their support for a candidate include Rob Reiner for Joe Biden and John Legend for Elizabeth Warren. Ariana Grande expressed her support for Bernie Sanders, and Cardi B appeared in a conversation with the candidate that appeared on YouTube, Susan Sarandon campaigned in Iowa with Sanders, just as she did in the 2016 cycle. (Her husband, Oscar winner Tim Robbins, joined Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Octavio-Cortez at a rally in Venice Beach on Saturday to officially endorse the Vermont senator.) Rosario Dawson, who has been dating Cory Booker, also is endorsing him — if that wasn’t obvious already.
The $64,000 question is: Do these endorsements help?
In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, there was much consternation that her campaign overdid it with celebrity appearances, as she appeared at a star-studded closing rally in Philadelphia with Bruce Springsteen and, in her final event, with Lady Gaga and Jon Bon Jovi in North Carolina (left).
But this is a different moment in the campaign — the primary, not the general election. With 15 Democrats still in the race, there still is a competition to break through, and the added draw of a celebrity on the campaign trail is an added twist to the regular talking points or stump speech. When Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Barack Obama in Iowa in 2007, the campaign used it as an organizing opportunity, collecting the personal information of the thousands who turned out to see the two speak. Recent polls of registered voters show that celebrity endorsements don’t really sway votes, but the public certainly pays attention.
On Friday, Jane Lynch started trending on Twitter after she posted a comment defending Pete Buttigieg from one of Elizabeth Warren’s attack lines at Thursday’s Democratic debate. Warren had criticized Buttigieg for having dinner with high-dollar donors in a “wine cave” in Napa Valley.
Lynch wrote, “Hello everyone. Billionaires in wine caves have as much right to say who gets to be president as waitresses in diners and plumbers in my bathroom. Class warfare is ugly, @ewarren. Thanks for listening everyone.”
The risk for the 2020 candidates is that Republicans will use their celebrity embrace to reinforce the idea that Democrats are out of touch in their coddling of the showbiz coastal elite. But that is an argument the GOP makes cycle after cycle, and already is doing so anyway.
What’s more, President Donald Trump is not like his predecessors in that he clearly pays attention to who is supporting whom and is not shy about highlighting those celebrities who have publicly declared their support for him. That includes Kanye West, who made a memorable Oval Office visit in 2018, and Jon Voight, who was recently honored at a White House ceremony with the National Medal of Arts.