COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Paul Simon made Gahanna his Graceland last month when he showed up there to campaign for U.S. Senate candidate Tim Ryan.
As Ohio’s political campaigns inch closer to the Nov. 8 finish line, a number of high-profile celebrities – from the songwriting industry to Star Wars – have signed off in support of the Buckeye State’s Republican and Democratic contenders for statewide office.
“When celebrities bring attention to candidates or voting, it allows more coverage, more attention, and possibly those candidates can have a new voting demographic that they get to reach,” Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, said.
The Gahanna Democrats and Friends invited Simon, a 12-time Grammy award winner from New Jersey, to canvas with Ryan and speak with voters “about the importance of voting blue this fall” on Sept. 24, the group said in a news release.
The 80-year-old songwriter’s visit to Gahanna adds him to a list of other popular names rallying behind Ohio Democrats. Mark Hamill, known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars film series, made phone calls for Ryan’s campaign in September.
And a slew of cast members from “The West Wing” – Martin Sheen, Allison Janney and Bradley Whitford – logged on to a Sept. 23 Zoom event in support of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley.
While celebrity endorsements aren’t likely to make a huge splash in noncompetitive races, a politician’s alliance with a famous figure could alter election outcomes in races where candidates are separated “by just a handful of votes,” Ohio State University emeritus professor of political science Paul Beck said.
“If Paul Simon or some other celebrity attracts my attention as a voter, say, ‘Well, if Paul Simon’s for that person, I ought to be as well,’” he said.
With a majority of independent polling positioning the race between Ryan and his Republican opponent J.D. Vance as neck-in-neck, Beck said it’s possible that celebrities could move the needle in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race.
Music in particular has a unique way of resonating with voters, according to Catherine Turcer, the executive director of Common Cause Ohio, who recalled in an email when Simon’s hit 1972 tune “Mother and Child Reunion” sounded over the speakers as she gave birth 30 years ago.
“Music is such an emotional connection and concerts can put candidates in a favorable light,” she said.
As for the state’s GOP contenders, Ohio Republican Party spokesperson Dan Lusheck said in an email that its candidates “primarily stand on their own records and ideas that benefit the people of Ohio.” Using celebrities as a crutch isn’t necessary for an Election Day win, he said.
“Democrats who have abysmal records and zero ideas love to enlist liberal celebrities to make up for their failures as candidates,” Lusheck said.
While Republican candidates in Ohio may lack singer-songwriter support, Beck said they make up for it with the stamps of approval from President Donald Trump.
The former commander-in-chief and his son, Donald Trump Jr., have made their rounds to advocate for Gov. Mike DeWine’s reelection campaign. And Republican U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance received the highly coveted endorsement from President Trump in May, soaring the “Hillbilly Elegy” author to victory in a crowded Republican primary.
“A Donald Trump endorsement matters a lot more because he has a political following, and as a result of that, he’s able to identify candidates, endorse candidates who have a good chance of winning the party nomination,” Beck said.
Although Miller said it’s still too soon to determine whether celebrity involvement will make a dent in Ohio candidate’s campaigns, there are plenty of anecdotes to show the impact a famous figure may have on voters.
When pop and country music singer Taylor Swift took to social media to encourage her followers to vote in 2018, the Nashville-area Vote.org nonprofit said it received 200,000 new voter registrations – mostly within the 18-25 age group – within days of Swift’s call to action.
“From my perspective,” Miller said, “celebrities weighing in on behalf of voting is great because Ohio’s democracy will work better the more people who participate.”