Friday, February 19, 2010

Senator John Mellencamp? Grassroots Movement Swells for Rocker to Run for Bayh's Indiana Seat

Senator John Mellencamp? Grassroots Movement Swells for

Rocker to Run for Bayh's Indiana Seat


by John Nichols - February 18, 2010


      He's got the home-state credibility and a history of

      political engagement that rival any of the

      Democratic contenders for the spot.


February 17, 2010  |


The guy who put populist politics on the charts with a song

title "Pink Houses" John Mellencamp performed at the White

House last week, as part of a program titled: "In

Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from

the Civil Rights Movement."


The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame member sang the song "Jim

Crow" with veteran folkie Joan Baez -- as well as a terrific

song version of "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" -- on a night

that also featured performances by Smokey Robinson, Natalie

Cole, Yolanda Adams, the Five Blind Boys from Alabama and

Bob Dylan, among others.


That was powerful company, but Mellencamp was up to it.


For the past quarter century, he has been penning and

performing smart, often very political songs -- focusing on

the farm crisis, economic hard times and race relations.

He's been a key organizer of Farm Aid and other fund-raising

events for good causes, and he's been a steady presence on

the campaign trail in recent years, appearing at the side of

numerous Democratic presidential candidates, including

Barack Obama.


So, could Mellencamp perform in the U.S. Senate?


Could he be the right replacement for retiring Senator Evan

Bayh, D-Indiana?


Forget the blah-blah-blah about celebrities in politics. We

crossed that bridge decades ago.


The question is whether this celebrity makes the right

connections with this state.


Mellencamp certainly has the home-state credibility. Few

rockers have been so closely associated with a state as

Mellencamp with Indiana.


Mellencamp has a history of issue-oriented political

engagement that is the rival of any of the Democratic

politicians who are being considered as possible Bayh



And Mellencamp has something else. He has a record of

standing up for disenfranchised and disenchanted working-

class families in places like his hometown of Seymour,



In other words, he's worthy of the consideration that has

led to talk of a "Draft John Mellencamp" movement. In fact,

he might be just enough of an outlier to energize base votes

and to make independent voters look again at the Democratic



Mellencamp's not making any campaign moves.


He's a savvy player who has been around power politics for a

long time -- he counts Bill Clinton as a pal -- and he's

smart enough (and humble enough) to know that the leap from

rock star to senate candidate is a long one.


But John Hall, the songwriter and leader of the band

Orleans, is now a two-term Democratic congressman from New York.


And the Republicans have run more than a few actors for jobs

like senator, governor and even president.


Notably, President Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection campaign

wanted to use the song "Pink Houses" at campaign events. And

John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign did indeed use it,

even as Mellencamp explained that the Arizona senator might

not fully "get" the point of the song about working families

living on the backroads of America.


So Mellencamp has already crossed some partisan and ideological lines.


That's more than can be said for most Senate prospects -- be

they Democrats or Republicans.


John Nichols is The Nation's Washington correspondent.



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