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Taking a Dim View of Politicking Luminaries

By Richard Leiby
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; Page C03

Fame game: Celebrities keep piling on their endorsements in the presidential race -- last week the Republican National Committee crowed about President Bush's support among NASCAR drivers, franchise owners and "heroes," including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Petty and Joe Gibbs, who, incidentally, also coaches our beloved Redskins. Meanwhile, the Democratic base, gay and trendy nightclub division, hosted Cher and Rosie O'Donnell in South Florida. And best-selling author John Grisham graced a fundraiser for the Kerry-Edwards ticket in Oakton. (His book-signing presence helped push donations to an "incredible," near-six-figure sum, host Mary Ann Hovis told us.)

But a new poll -- imagine that, another poll -- shows that most Americans are getting sick of celebs mouthing off about politics. Such endorsements usually do more harm than good, says Glenn Pere, head of a New York ad agency specializing in entertainment marketing. A poll of 980 potential voters showed that 65 percent (both Democrats and Republicans) said they'd be more likely to back a candidate who spurned celeb endorsements.

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Referring to avid Kerry-backer Bruce Springsteen, Pere told us: "If the Boss starts to lecture us in between sets, people aren't interested in that. What the survey is saying is: 'Sing and shut up! We're interested in your lyrics but not your words. Don't use your stage as a platform.' "

What about sports figures? "There's nobody who's going to sell more golf balls than Tiger Woods," says Pere, "but if he says 'Vote for Bush,' it doesn't mean a thing." Such endorsements, he scoffs, are " irrelevant . . . a joke."

Yet the same survey did find boldfacers whose endorsements carry clout with voters: Jon Stewart and Charles Barkley were both favorably named by 8 percent of respondents. And the top vote-puller, cited by 17 percent of men and 21 percent of women?

Oprah Winfrey. See: Name recognition does count for something.

Dude, Where's Your Vote?

• Speaking of celebs on the campaign trail: Ashton Kutcher is known as the guy on MTV who punks his unsuspecting Hollywood friends. But at a rally for Democratic veep candidate John Edwards at a Dubuque, Iowa, hockey rink yesterday, Kutcher told a rather excited crowd that he, too, has been punk'd -- by George Bush.

(Douglas C. Pizac - AP)
"I thought he was a good ol' boy," the Iowa native told the ralliers about why he voted for Dubya in 2000. But "unlike Bush, I know how to admit when I was wrong."

Someone in the audience yelled, "You got punk'd!" reports The Post's John Wagner. "Yeah, we got punk'd," Demi Moore's boy-toy said to a round of cheers, adding: "I'm not a politician, but I'm not an idiot, either. I just play one on TV."

Flagging an Outsourced Medal

• Perils of outsourcing: Some finishers of Sunday's Army Ten-Miler weren't thrilled to receive a commemorative medal with a "made in China" sticker. Then, upon closer inspection, they noticed something odd about the American flag on the Pentagon-shaped medal: It bears only 11 stripes, instead of the customary 13. "I wondered which two colonies they left out," race finisher Alison Games told us yesterday. "It is cheesy."

Games, a professor who teaches colonial American history at Georgetown University, sent this e-mail to the Army's feedback site for the race: "Perhaps it might have been a good idea to have the medallions made in the U.S., not China." (She got no response.)

In 2001, the Army abruptly reversed course on a plan to supply soldiers with black berets made in China. For at least one of the runners (more than 20,000 registered), the medal brought back memories of that controversy. "I completely think it's wrong that they outsourced it. They need to do more quality control," said an officer who finished the race but asked that his name not be used. "It's kind of a fiasco."

A spokeswoman for the race referred us last night to a race director, who did not return our phone message.

The Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

• " Sam Z. Gdanski, attorney at law, previously assisting counsel of the Department of Defense, [is] now in private practice advising contractors doing business in Iraq and international government contractors that long-term Iraq presents tremendous opportunities for American firms. Those who get in on the ground floor can expect to participate in a boom."

With Anne Schroeder

© 2004 The Washington Post Company