Romney’s Mile High Endorsement
The wisdom of recent elections has taught us that celebrity endorsements of political candidates don’t matter. A poll released yesterday confirmed this fact. Who cares what the lead singer of Creed or Eva Longoria — or Clint Eastwood, for that matter — thinks about the presidential election?
But on the same day that new poll was released, Mitt Romney scored a major endorsement, which I am convinced does matter. For those of you not from the Rocky Mountain region, let me explain.
Imagine that you are an undecided voter in a toss-up state. (I know, hard to imagine, but try.) It’s October of an election year, and a very smart and reasonable person that you trust makes a strong case for a candidate. You’ve known him for almost 30 years, ever since he graduated from Stanford. You’ve been through tough times together, ups and downs, and through it all he has been steady, opinionated but not partisan, classy, the kind of person who takes home a big paycheck but looks out for the common good. This person encourages you to vote for Romney.
For almost everyone in Colorado — and we might as well throw in New Mexico, which follows the Broncos — that person is former Denver Broncos quarterback, John Elway.
All politics is local, and celebrity endorsements even more so. John Elway is the undisputed king of Colorado. The governor may have legal authority over the state, but, to use a Weberian term, Elway has the charismatic authority — the auctoritas. Legal and institutional authority wield power that must be followed for fear of punishment. Charismatic authority exercises power that compels people to follow because of the person and not the office; and they follow seemingly of their own accord. If John Elway says something is right, Coloradans who thought they disagreed suddenly think, “Maybe I’m wrong.” After all, John Elway got rid of one of the most popular people in Colorado (Tim Tebow), and Colorado said, “OK, Elway must be right.” And, of course, he was. As always.
Governor Hickenlooper is among the most popular governors in the country, with a 60% approval rating in a swing state, but even he knows that Elway holds the cards. Before becoming the executive of the state, Hickenlooper only ran the second most important thing in Colorado (microbreweries). Elway is the executive of the most important thing in Colorado (the Broncos).
Let me explain this another way. Yesterday one of my best friends posted a photo of himself and his family at a Mitt Romney rally in Colorado. I was pretty surprised. I knew he was unsure about how the Affordable Care Act was going to affect him, as a small business owner. I knew he wasn’t thrilled with President Obama and might vote for Romney. But a rally? It seemed so unlike him. Then I found out that John Elway was there, endorsing Romney, and my confusion immediately vanished. Elway’s presence eliminated the cognitive dissonance.
This sounds crazy, I realize. I don’t know how to explain it to people who didn’t grow up in Colorado. I don’t know about charismatic figures like Elway in other swing states. But I am convinced that I personally don’t know anyone in Colorado who does not respect John Elway. If ever a celebrity endorsement were to matter in a presidential election, this one could be it. Romney has scored the support of the highest charismatic authority in the state of Colorado, someone who could tomorrow say ten inappropriate things in an interview (he wouldn’t, of course), and the state would still trust him to lead.
Does this make Coloradans foolish or feckless? Maybe. But remember, we’re talking about undecided voters in October. They are feckless. And only 5% of them have to fall into this “Elway said so” category. Believe me, it’s possible — at least as possible as was “The Drive” in January 1987 (grainy video here).
Does the Elway comeback magic work in electoral politics? We’re about to find out.