MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Okay. So there's no Jon Stewart or David Letterman, but candidates are still using celebrities to stump for them. Race car drivers, soap opera stars and even a certain ex-president are on the trail in New Hampshire in the final weeks before the primary.
New Hampshire Public Radio's Dan Gorenstein stopped by a few celebrity campaign appearances, and he has this report.
DAN GORENSTEIN: New Hampshire residents can expect a parade of celebrities to stop by the state between now and the January 8th primary. Everyone from the iconic, like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey, to the - who's that? - is likely to come through. In just the past two days campaigns have brought in, shall we say, the lesser known variety. Former "The Young and the Restless" soap opera star and long-time child advocate Victoria Rowell spent two days stumping for Senator Hillary Clinton.
Ms. VICTORIA ROWELL (Actress): I'm here standing for the next president of the United States because I believe she can mend the fence and gain the respect of world leaders, in that she already...
GORENSTEIN: In New Hampshire, people like to pride themselves on their political sophistication. So it's a bit odd that the campaigns believe all the glitter and the glitz actually works. People aren't supposed to be influenced by a Victoria Rowell or even an Oprah Winfrey. Maybe that's why only 11 folks showed up for one of Rowell's appearances, and most of them were already supporters.
On Wednesday, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's campaign got only about two dozen people to come and meet Indy 500 racecar legends Al and Bobby Unser. But spokesperson Alex Goepfert says that's okay.
Mr. ALEX GOEPFERT (Spokesperson for Bill Richardson): Any kind of good surrogate event. The goal is really just to get couple of dozen voters who hadn't heard the governor's message yet and get it out there. In this case...
GORENSTEIN: Goepfert was hoping guys like Troy Bosso(ph) would show up. Bosso came strictly for Al and Bobby Unser. He'd never heard Richardson's name. He says he wasn't even going to vote, but the brothers got his attention.
Mr. TROY BOSSO: Their opinion to me means greatly. So that's why I'm going to have to look into who Ray Richardson is and find out about him.
GORENSTEIN: Bill Richardson.
Mr. BOSSO: I'm sorry, Bill Richardson. You know, just find out about who he is and what he's about.
GORENSTEIN: As someone who has a hard time finding a candidate he likes, the endorsement makes all the difference.
Mr. BOSSO: You know, if these guys told me to jump off a bridge, I probably wouldn't guess if there's water or pavement down there. I just probably just jump, because I trust them.
GORENSTEIN: New Hampshire State Senator Bob Clegg says there's more to star surrogates than blind loyalty. Take, he says, the so-called Chuck and Huck television ad that features former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and B-list badass Chuck Norris.
(Soundbite of ad)
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Republican Governor, Arkansas): My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris.
GORENSTEIN: Clegg, who's backing Huckabee, says something subtle is happening. The known stars help brand the less well-known politicians.
State Senator BOB CLEGG (Republican, New Hampshire): To me, Chuck Norris is a married guy who shovels his own driveway, you know, he cuts his own wood, and he's a regular guy.
GORENSTEIN: Even if you've never heard of Huckabee, the campaign hopes that some of Chuck Norris rubs off on him. Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, agrees stars can brand candidates, but he says not always in a positive way. He points to this week's flap over Bill Clinton's claim that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.
Mr. STUART ROTHENBERG (Rothenberg Political Report): Suddenly the candidate has to defend himself or herself from what the celebrity endorser has said, and it becomes a very difficult situation.
GORENSTEIN: After tracking campaigns and elections for nearly 20 years, Rothenberg doesn't buy that stars can swing an election, but he understands why campaigns use them in the final weeks of a race.
Mr. ROTHENBERG: It's about getting a story in your local newspaper, getting some extra airtime maybe on "Inside Edition," one of the national celebrity shows that normally wouldn't cover politics but will cover a celebrity.
GORENSTEIN: But even the skeptical Rothenberg admits Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama could be different. Few people in the country are considered as influential. Heading into the Democratic primary, some political observers think she's the X factor. But for 26-year-old Lindsay Hanson(ph), it's more about the celebrity factor.
Ms. LINDSAY HANSON: Because it's Oprah, I mean of course I want to go. It's more about - it's actually with big names like Oprah. Yeah, we don't get to see these people. So it's exciting. It's interesting. But is it going to make me vote one way or the other? Absolutely not. I mean...
GORENSTEIN: As far as the Obama campaign is concerned, Hanson's one more voter hearing the candidate's message, and with the primary coming soon, that's good enough for them.
For NPR News, I'm Dan Gorenstein in Concord, New Hampshire.