The algebraic formula of presidential endorsements

by Aaron Sagers

Merge of The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT)

9 April 2008

Heidi Montag

Heidi Montag

Several weeks ago in this presidential primary season that seems longer than the actual presidential term, debate moderator Tim Russert asked Barack Obama about his endorsement by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama denounced Farrakhan, and following some chiding by Hillary Clinton, he appropriately rejected and denounced Farrakhan’s endorsement.

Fast forward to last week when Heidi Montag of MTV’s “The Hills” endorsed Republican nominee John McCain. Not only did McCain accept the endorsement but he called Montag a “very talented actress” and that he never misses and episode of her show “especially since the new season started.”

Needless to say, I’m shocked. And not just because Johnny has suggested that Montag is “acting” on “The Hills” (I mean, seriously, it’s real isn’t it? Isn’t it?), but because he acknowledged and accepted the endorsement at all. Maybe it’s not exactly the same as rejecting the endorsement from a radical militant, but Obama has shown that just because someone publicly pronounces their support for you, you shouldn’t necessarily accept it.

Candidates think the algebraic formula of accepting an endorsement is such that if you, Voter X, likes Endorser Y and Endorser Y likes Candidate Z, then X+Y will equal a vote for Z. But the math isn’t always accurate because the value of all endorsements is not equal, especially with celebrity endorsements where the power of support directly correlates to the celeb’s mainstream appeal.

Sticking with that endorsement algebra (because really, how often does a columnist get to use algebra in his work?), Chuck Norris as an endorser isn’t exactly the same as Oprah. I’m as much a fan of Walker Texas Ranger as anyone, but when it came to boosting a candidate, Chuck left his boy Mike Huckabee missing in action. Why? Because other than a brief resurgence due to those Chuck Norris “facts” on the Internet, he has no mainstream mojo. Meanwhile, Oprah is Endorser Y to the power of 10. If the demigod of dishing can make a book a bestseller, it’s reasonable she can sell Obama, her candidate of choice, as the next president.

And if the math is tenable, Obama has the Democratic nomination locked up. Forget about delegates (superpowered or not), besides Oprah, the guy also has George Clooney, Matt & Ben, Pearl Jam, Wyclef Jean, Scarlett Johansson and Halle Berry in his corner. Talk about a sexy, relevant cast of supporters. Take away crazy points for his Jane Fonda endorsement, and his candidacy is still cooler than Clinton’s (which includes a somewhat passe cast of celeb endorsements by Jack Nicholson, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett—and Carly Simon). Based on celebrity endorsements, and unless Clinton’s youthful support from Natalie Portman and Tina Fey helps out significantly, Obama will be squaring off against the square-jawed McCain.

Which brings me back to Montag. Surely he responded to her support to make him seem hip, cool (see: “with it”) and to curry a little favor with the all-important youth vote, but Montag’s endorsement might do McCain more harm than good. I’ve not yet met a post pubescent mammal who believes in the taste-making powers of Montag. (If you are such a person, please write me a letter with your home address included so I can pay you a visit, give you multiple smacks and destroy your voter’s registration card.)

Since I’m running pretty low on endorsements for anything these days, I might personally take whomever I could get, but luckily McCain already has Sylvester Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger putting up signs for him in their front lawns. If you had Dirty Harry, Conan and both John Rambo and Rocky Balboa rooting for you, would you still want Heidi?

Especially after seeing the laughably abysmal video for her single “Higher,” which actually couldn’t get any lower.

Sure, Montag has name recognition, but so does Paris Hilton. And his acceptance of her endorsement might be as damaging as if Britney Spears called him a good family values candidate.

John McCain should reject (and possibly even denounce) Heidi Montag’s endorsement. And he shouldn’t even think about don’t answering the phone at 3 a.m. if either of the Olsen twins call. But if he can get Miley Cyrus or Zac Efron to vouch for him, he might as well pick out drapes for the Oval Office.

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