Chuck Norris: Enforcer and Endorser

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Chuck Norris — yes, everyone’s favorite ranger-cum-martial artist — is set to tour this weekend in support of Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats. Plaats, a social conservative, is in an uphill GOP race against former Gov. Terry Branstad, who ruled the Hawkeye State for 16 years during the ’80s and ’90s. And they’re going head to head for primary Super Tuesday next week. Question is: Will Norris’ endorsement and last-minute campaigning do Plaats any good?

Despite his widespread recognition, his 2008 book and an entire cult following dedicated to dreaming up alternative adages that celebrate his greatness (as in, “Life doesn’t give Chuck Norris lemons: It asks what fruit he wants” or “Chuck Norris needs a concealed-carry permit to put his hands in his pockets.”), his endorsement didn’t seem to help Mike Huckabee much during the 2008 presidential campaign. The Iowa Independent did a roundup showing Norris’, at best, checkered success. And his embrace of Alabama gubernatorial hopeful Roy Moore failed to swing the crimson tide, as the latter finished a paltry fourth in that state’s primary a few days ago.

Certainly no one, cult-followers aside, expects Chuck Norris (or Steven Seagal or any other B-list action-adventure star) to be the deciding factor in pretty much any adult decision, but his seeming impotence on this front might not be the fault of anything more than his celebrity status. According to two studies done at North Carolina State University in late April, celebrity endorsements, be they even from the pouty lips of Angelina Jolie, don’t help candidates, but they can hurt both the politicians and the stars themselves.

Researchers found, for example, that if a known liberal celebrity like George Clooney was said to be backing a conservative candidate, people reported finding the silver-haired fox less attractive. And, similarly, the presence of bad-fit celebrities made people less likely to vote for candidates. Perhaps this is because politics is supposed to be a more serious realm — that Chuck Norris’ endorsement is the equivalent of seeing Bert and Ernie on an oncologist’s business card. But the super-seriousness argument seems at the same time a stretch, especially in days when celebrity status and politics are more conflated than ever. (Remember how many shirt-off beach shots we saw of Obama during his president-elect days?)

The researchers did point out that a celebrity’s support shouldn’t be entirely discounted; their attendance at an event could attract others (as when Sarah Palin rallied for John McCain and drew great crowds — a happening well-detailed by the Daily Show segment “Lady and the Gramps”). They might also make a candidate stand out in a field of many, the researchers add, though that theory didn’t pan out in the case of Moore and Norris. But all hope is not lost. Norris did help Huckabee top Mitt Romney in the Iowa Caucuses, so perhaps there is an x-factor that comes into play when Norris mixes with the Midwest. And the endorsement does, at any rate, give Plaats one more excuse to just sit around and watch cheesy action flicks (hello, Lone Wolf McQuade) if things don’t pan out for him next week.