Let’s be real about what’s possible these days.
A reality television star is president. California’s last governor was a bodybuilder turned action movie star. A professional wrestler was the governor of Minnesota, which is currently represented in the U.S. Senate by a former “Saturday Night Live” writer and performer.
Kid Rock for Senate? It could happen.
Two weeks ago, the brash Michigan musician launched a “Kid Rock For Senate” website dangling plans for a 2018 run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
That presented the political world with a paradox: Kid Rock, a foul-mouthed star known for blue-collar hits like “Picture” and “Only God Knows Why,” could be launching a publicity stunt for his upcoming series of concerts. Or he could be seriously testing the waters for a legitimate Republican run. Both could be true at the same time.
Michigan political experts aren’t laughing Kid Rock off. Not in President Trump’s America.
“You gotta take it seriously until he says ‘I’m out,’ ” said Dave Dulio, professor and chair of the political science department at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. “I don’t have to tell you, it’s for obvious reasons when we’re in the wake of Donald Trump running for president and winning.”
Early polling shows Rock is dominating the Republican primary field and is competitive with Stabenow.
Kid Rock, 46, whose real name is Robert James Ritchie, leads Stabenow 48.6% to 46.1% in a hypothetical matchup, according to a survey of 1,078 likely voters released Friday by the Trafalgar Group, which predicted Trump’s upset victory in Michigan last November.
Another survey of 800 likely voters — conducted by the independent polling firm Target-Insyght and released exclusively to the Los Angeles Times — shows Kid Rock leading the next-closest candidate in the GOP primary field by 17% and trailing Stabenow 50% to 42%.
“I knew he would do well, but I didn’t expect him to have a double-digit lead over his nearest competitor” in the primary, said Ed Sarpolus, the firm’s founder. Against Stabenow, “he’s competitive at this stage of the game,” Sarpolus said. “First time out, 42% isn’t that bad.”
Kid Rock has not filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, which is required within 15 days of spending or receiving more than $5,000 in support of a possible campaign.
Instead, at midnight Wednesday night, about 15 days after he launched his website, he issued a statement that provided very little legal clarity on whether he was running but offered some strong clues as to what a Kid Rock campaign could look like: populist, profane, troll-ish and Trumpish.
“When my name was thrown out there for U.S. Senate” — to be clear, Kid Rock was the one who threw his name out there — “I decided to launch kidrockforsenate.com,” the statement said. “I was beyond overwhelmed with the response I received from community leaders, D.C. pundits, and blue-collar folks that are just simply tired of the extreme left and right [bull].”
Without definitively announcing a run, he said he now plans to “get people engaged and registered to vote while continuing to put out my ideas on ways to help working-class people in Michigan and America, all while still calling out these jackass lawyers who call themselves politicians.”
To that end, he said he’s starting a get-out-the-vote nonprofit to sign up new voters at his upcoming shows. He also promised a news conference addressing his candidacy sometime in the next six weeks.
And by the way, Kid Rock said, “I absolutely will use this media circus to sell/promote whatever I damn well please (many other politicians are doing the same thing, they just feed you a bunch of [bull] about it).”
It was the classic Trump maneuver, dispensing with the pretenses of polite politics: Yes, he is a salesman; yes, he thrives off the media; no, he’s doesn’t care what you think.
“It’s great for business,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. “He won’t be in just the entertainment section, but on the front pages as he’s heading into a series of concerts.”
Representatives for Kid Rock, Stabenow and Michigan’s Democratic Party did not respond to messages Friday about the star’s potential candidacy. After Kid Rock’s initial rumblings about a Senate run, Stabenow, who cruised to two reelections after winning her seat in 2000, responded gamely.
"I know we both share a love of music," she said in a statement earlier this month. "I concede he is better at playing the guitar, and I'll keep doing what I do best, which is fighting for Michigan."
Kid Rock grew up in Macomb County, Mich., not exactly a child of a blue-collar parents: They recently sold his 5,628-square-foot childhood home, which had an indoor jacuzzi and a guest house, for $1.295 million. He attended high school nearby.
He hit stardom in the late 1990s and has maintained his visibility, even as his biggest hits are years behind him: In 2015, Rolling Stone called him “America's wildest red-state rocker” for his antics and his politics, which has included support of presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Trump and trips to entertain the troops in the Middle East.
"I am definitely a Republican on fiscal issues and the military, but I lean to the middle on social issues,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “I am no fan of abortion, but it's not up to a man to tell a woman what to do. As an ordained minister I don't look forward to marrying gay people, but I'm not opposed to it."
He’s also known for his philanthropy and his down-home accessibility in Michigan, where some locals know him as Bob Ritchie.
“In the past 15 years, I've seen him at parties, on video shoots and feather bowling at Bath City Bistro in Mount Clemens with his now-former wife Pamela Anderson, and he's always the same,” Mitch Hotts wrote in the Oakland Press in 2012. “Kid Rock is an accessible, down-to-earth guy who enjoys talking with people over a few beers, has loads of amusing stories and treats everyone with respect.”
To Republican State Rep. Peter J. Lucido, whose district includes Kid Rock’s childhood home, a Kid Rock candidacy might still be unlikely, but it would certainly be no joke.
“I’m putting my toe out there, getting my toe a little wet, and people are grabbing hold of this and saying we’d love to see him go,” Lucido told The Times. “Do I think he’s actually going to walk away from his career at this point? I’m not willing to go the distance on that.”
But with the current divisiveness in the nation’s Capitol, “What’s the difference if it’s Kid Rock? It can’t hurt,” Lucido said. “We’ve already been paralyzed anyway. Maybe his ideas, his fresh new ideas about how government should be run, and how government should treat people, would be a breath of fresh air going into the Senate.”