President Bush visits Columbus for political rally

COLUMBUS — In a tight bid for re-election in a battleground state, President Bush is relying on familiar faces outside politics — the Ohio State Buckeyes — in selling himself to voters for another term.

Bush enlisted the support of golfing great Jack Nicklaus and former football star Chris Spielman at a Wednesday rally before 20,000 people at Nationwide Arena. Both had sterling careers at Ohio State before successful careers as pros.

“It doesn’t get any better than being introduced by Jack Nicklaus in Columbus, Ohio,” said the president, making his second visit to Ohio in less than a week and his 10th this year.

“This is the most important election our country has faced in decades, and we all need to make our voices heard,” said Nicklaus, a Columbus native.

“He’s made the right calls time and again and he’s got the scorecard to prove it.”

Melanie Blumberg, a political science professor at California University in Pennsylvania, said relying on celebrities and athletes is something that many politicians do to generate excitement for their campaigns.

“Jack Kennedy used star power as much as anyone,” she said.

It is the same concept that companies use by having celebrities appear in commercials to create an image for the product, said Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University and editor of the journal Political Marketing.

“To be very direct, it is to garner support from people who look up to these people and respect them,” he said. “It’s a very effective tool.”

Nicklaus won a record 18 major professional golf tournaments in a career that began after he led Ohio State to Big Ten Conference golf titles in 1960-61.

He is no stranger to Republican politics. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, was a guest at Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament in suburban Dublin. Nicklaus also hosted a fund-raiser in 2002 for Gov. Bob Taft at the museum named for the golfer on the Ohio State campus.

Spielman, who currently coaches the Columbus Destroyers of the Arena Football League, starred for Ohio State as a linebacker and was an All-American in 1986-87 before playing pro ball for Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland. It doesn’t hurt Bush that Spielman hails from Massillon in Stark County, considered a bellwether of how the election goes in Ohio and nationally.

Blumberg said she doubts star power translates into votes on Election Day.

“I don’t think it really does anything for either of the candidates,” she said.

But Newman disagreed, pointing to the speech that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention.

“Arnold Schwarzenegger made a speech last night for Bush that creates an image for Bush that’s very powerful,” he said.

The campaigns have developed strategies for each of the battleground states to use popular figures to help generate support, he said.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has relied on John Glenn, the retired U.S. senator and former astronaut, to help generate support in Ohio. Actor Ben Affleck also accompanied Kerry on a campaign visit to Ohio.

“It was exciting for people to see Ben Affleck there, but what people were really talking about afterward is John Kerry’s plans for the state,” said Brendon Cull, a Democratic spokesman in Ohio.

He called Glenn an American hero. “His longtime service to the country, the fact that he stands there with John Kerry at almost every rally we’ve had … shows he believes John Kerry can really lead this country forward.”