Robert Ritchie may end up challenging Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in Michigan next year, but his stage name, Kid Rock, may not be allowed to appear on the ballot.
Kid Rock is a household name to Americans under the age of 50, and voters might be attracted to vote for him, as a middle finger to the political establishment. But it’s not immediately clear whether his famous stage name would appear on the ballot or if he’d be required to run under his less-known given name.
If Ritchie were to submit enough valid signatures to make the ballot and indicate that he wanted to be listed as “Kid Rock,” the Michigan Bureau of Elections staff would have to research the question of whether that name would be allowed. At an initial glance, Ritchie’s stage name isn’t an obviously acceptable one under the state’s criteria.
According to Michigan law via the “Affidavit of Identity and Receipt of Filing,” there are five stipulations regarding the manner in which a candidate can have his or her name printed on the ballot.
For example, a candidate “may specify that both his or her given name and middle name, or only a middle name, shall appear on the ballot,” or “may specify a name that constitutes a common law name in accordance with the Michigan Department of State Guidelines.” But according to the rules, candidates may not use a “nickname that is not a recognized diminutive of the candidate’s given name.”
Of course, it’s possible that Ritchie may want to appear as a more traditional candidate and opt against using his stage name, but then he would put a serious dent into his name identification advantage and corresponding outsider brand.
It’s also premature to assume that because Donald Trump was elected president, any celebrity can win.
There is no doubt that Trump benefited from being the non-politician in the 2016 presidential race, both in the primary and general elections. Voters were more forgiving of his baggage when weighed against the sins of his political opponents, considering Americans’ general malaise (or even anger) toward government and politicians. And having universal name identification and unfettered media access certainly helped Trump as well.
But following Trump’s blueprint to victory won’t necessarily be easy.
Ritchie’s candidacy would attract a disproportionate amount of media attention, but Trump’s success wasn’t just about sheer volume of attention — it was about having an established brand of success and luxury, along with an effective message (mock the red hats, but “Make America Great Again” was an effective campaign slogan).
But unlike Trump luxury hotels or Trump wine, Ritchie’s brand has more to do with music and personal style. Conservative evangelicals may have embraced Trump in spite of his comments about sexually assaulting women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those voters will also embrace Ritchie. Some excused Trump’s comments, which he never intended to record, as “locker room talk,” but it would be an entirely different task to explain Ritchie’s sex tape or his explicit on-the-record commentary. Although, partisanship can be a powerful component of forgiveness.
In a July 25-27 automated poll by the Trafalgar Group, a Republican-affiliated polling firm, Ritchie led Stabenow 49-46 percent in a hypothetical general election matchup. But the fact that his stage name was included to introduce him to respondents helped boost his standing.
Ritchie also led the hypothetical GOP primary with 50 percent against former Trump campaign state co-chairwoman Lena Epstein (9 percent), former Army Ranger/businessman John James (7 percent), and retired state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young Jr. (6 percent). Kid Rock’s name ID advantage certainly factored into his early advantage.
Stabenow technically represents a “Trump state” after the former reality show host carried the Wolverine State 47.6 percent to 47.3 percent last fall, but Republicans have a steep hill to climb to prove that victory was the new rule rather than an exception. Republicans haven’t won a Senate race in Michigan since 1994.
As I’ve written before, after 2016, I’ve ruled out ruling things out, and Ritchie could run and might win. But there are some key differences between Trump’s particular brand of celebrity and circumstances that helped him win and the challenges other celebrities are likely to face. And Ritchie may have to do it all without the Kid Rock name.