AN A-list celebrity endorsement can lift a presidential campaign. But Chuck Norris’ seal of approval can kick-start the Airbus.
Take Mike Huckabee’s political efforts, for example. A month ago, few even knew that Huckabee was a former governor of Arkansas, let alone a Republican candidate for president. Then karate-movie tough guy Norris -- with a cult following big enough to populate three continents -- announced he was in Huckabee’s camp. (They share evangelical Christian views.)
Suddenly, Huckabee became the presidential example of tough-guy cool. You thought Fred Thompson was going to be the law-and-order candidate? He was looking like a worn-out hound dog Wednesday night as Huckabee strode into the debate with the still buffed-up, 67-year-old Norris by his side.
“If you are going after those evildoers, you want Norris with you,” said longtime Democratic strategist Rick Taylor, only half-joking. “That’s how I look at it. Norris for secretary of Defense. I feel safer already.”
To understand the Chuck Norris phenomenon (and why it’s a factor in Huckabee’s popularity surge), you’ve got to be hip, Web-savvy or age 13.
As strange as it may seem, the Norris cult seems to have begun in the generally liberal precincts of late-night television when NBC’s Conan O’Brien began satirizing Norris’ famous TV character, “Walker, Texas Ranger,” in 2004. The fad quickly spread to the Internet, where sites were created extolling Norris as the ultimate alpha male and the international symbol of implacable macho.
Most of these sites revolve around satirical descriptions of the karate champion, who got his start in Hollywood in 1969 with a small part in the Dean Martin movie “The Wrecking Crew.”
Some of the best lines about Norris on the Web:
* “Chuck Norris doesn’t wear a watch, He decides what time it is.”
* “When the boogeyman goes to bed, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.”
* “Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer. Too bad he’s never cried. Ever.”
* “Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.”
* “There’s no chin behind Chuck Norris’ beard. This is only another fist.”
Norris has responded to all the attention with good humor, poking fun at the phenomenon in columns he’s written for the conservative WorldNetDaily Internet site. (In June, he released a satirical list of the things he would do as president. Among them: “Increase jobs in America by sending ninja teams to steal them back from other countries” and “Tattoo an American flag with the words, ‘In God We Trust,’ on the forehead of every atheist.’”)
Last month, Norris, a longtime Republican, decided to get serious and endorse a presidential candidate for real. He wrote in his column: “Like most of you, over the summer and fall, I’ve been watching, listening, studying and praying about who could lead this country as our next president.
“I won’t leave you in suspense,” Norris said. He endorsed Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister who shares many of Norris’ religious and social views. (They both dispute the theory of evolution, for example.)
Like Norris, the charming Huckabee is a social conservative with a sense of humor and an eye for the Internet’s influence. So he parlayed Norris’ endorsement into a YouTube campaign commercial in which the candidate recites the fictional Chuck Norris jokes and Norris gives his substantive reasons for supporting the former Arkansas governor.
Subsequently, Huckabee has surged in the polls, particularly in Iowa, and Norris has been with him every step of the way on the campaign trail.
He sat in the second row at Wednesday’s debate -- which was co-sponsored, appropriately enough, by YouTube -- and afterward gave glowing interviews about his candidate’s performance. The whole thing was posted on the Internet within seconds.
Even people who are slow to catch onto Web trends -- including some in Hollywood -- are starting to get it. .
One of Norris’ former reps found himself inundated this week with calls from reporters eager to speak with the legendary tough guy. “It’s been years since we’ve represented him,” puzzled the PR man. “Is he still working?”
Obviously he is.
He’s got Google to prove it.