Kucinich hopes for boost from Nelson endorsement

By Johan Bergenas
Iowa Presidential Politics.com

Dennis Kucinich's campaign officials said they hope Willie Nelson's endorsement will increase popular support and media attention for his presidential bid, but rejected the notion that his support for the campaign is just political tactics.

Nelson, the popular country singer, and Rep. Kucinich (D-Ohio) have been friends for several years, said Lisa Casini, Kucinich's national media coordinator, adding that Nelson actually emailed the campaign and said he wanted to help.

During the upcoming months, Nelson and Kucinich will appear together trying to win support for the Ohio congressman's campaign, said John Friedrich, Kucinich's Iowa campaign manager.

Ads will be handed out to Nelson's fans, and he will be promoted as a Kucinich supporter both in radio commercials and on Kucinich's website, Friedrich said.

University of Iowa political science professor, Peverill Squire, who is an expert on the Iowa caucus, suggested more strategic reasons to the celebrity endorsement. Squire said that Kucinich, the former Cleveland mayor, needs help to gain support from specific group in society.

"[Kucinich] is a big city guy" and has problems reaching out to segments of the population, he said, noting that involving Nelson in the campaign is beneficial because Nelson has support among country and rural fans.

Squire also pointed out that the celebrity endorsement is "basically an economic move" from Kucinich's campaign.

"Kucinich's campaign needs two things, public attention and money. Willie Nelson can help in both ways," he said.

Both Friedrich and Casini agreed with Squire that Kucinich's campaign will benefit from Nelson's celebrity status because he appeals to a broad audience.

"[Nelson] talks to the heart of this country," she said, noting that both Nelson and Kucinich share a commitment and devotion to the family farmer, the working family, and the average American.

Nelson brings a "positive association" to the campaign, Friedrich said.

However, voters will not support Kucinich just because of the celebrity endorsement, but also because of Kucinich's "strong commitment against the war in Iraq and his labor union support," he said.

Jeff Cohen, Kucinich's communications director, stressed Squire's point that Kucinich's campaign needs money.

"The Kucinich for President is rapidly gaining in…volunteers, in staff, in house parties and in endorsements -- but what we need most right now is money," he said.

Besides helping to raise money through concerts, Squire said that Nelson will bring some newsworthiness to the campaign, which will generate more media attention.

Friedrich agreed, noting that Nelson's broad constituency will generate both money and popular support for the campaign. He criticized the mainstream media for being too narrow in the Democratic presidential nomination process, and not covering Kucinich more extensively.

"[Kucinich] is not covered as widely as he should be by the mainstream media," he said, adding that the media try to select the Democratic presidential candidate, when instead the voters should do that.

"The media is trying to play kingmaker. In a democracy, that is ridiculous," the Iowa campaign manager said.

However, he was satisfied with Iowa’s local media coverage of the Iowa caucus and said he hoped Nelson and Kucinich's next joint appearance in Iowa, on Nov. 4, will generate some attention in the newspapers. Location is still to be determined, he said, adding that the campaign is looking into more events including the two.

Nelson and Kucinich had a joint appearance in Dubuque on Aug. 23, but the first fundraising concert in Des Moines, on Labor Day, was postponed. Kucinich also spoke during Nelson's Farm Aid concert in Columbus, Ohio on Sept. 7, Casini said.

Besides the concert in Iowa in November, another concert with Nelson involving Kucinich is scheduled in Kucinich's hometown, Cleveland. The date is still to be set, Casini said.

E-mail Johan Bergenas at johan-bergenas@uiowa.edu

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