Will Republican voters flock to a duck call? Vance McAllister tested the theory in a Louisiana congressional race last year.
McAllister, a businessman and first-time candidate from Swartz, La., was one of five Republicans jockeying to fill the deep-red seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander. And while few voters knew who McAllister was when he entered the race, he had one major political force working in his favor.
McAllister is a longtime friend of the Robertson family, the stars of A&E's wildly popular reality show “Duck Dynasty,” the now-famous bearded brood of millionaire duck-call manufacturers whose everyman affectations and unapologetically conservative worldview have made them particularly appealing to the Right.
It was patriarch Phil Robertson who first urged McAllister to run. Three of the Robertson sons, Willie, Jase and Jep, headlined a fundraiser for the candidate and lent their voices to campaign radio ads. Willie Robertson, his head wrapped in a trademark Stars-and-Stripes bandana, did a 15-second television spot touting McAllister.
The blitz worked. McAllister won, and the “Duck Dynasty” clan showed that it could flex its made-for-TV muscle to move GOP voters. Now, the family could be on the cusp of becoming a much more powerful force in Republican politics in 2014.
The Robertson family “helped further define [McAllister] as a very relatable, average guy,” said McAllister campaign manager Josh Robinson, who cut the television ad with Willie Robertson.
“Their appeal is not only gun owners and avid hunters and those voter groups,” Robinson said. “One of the reasons their show is so successful is it alludes to family values. I think that type of Image can resonate anywhere — from Montana to Florida to Connecticut to Louisiana — because those types of Americans are everywhere.”
The Robertsons were once a clean-cut bunch whose duck call business, Duck Commander, made them millionaires. They have since swapped chinos for camouflage to do the cable reality show that pays them $200,000 an episode — about four times what the average American family makes in a year.
“Duck Dynasty” has become so popular and struck such a strong cultural chord that some Republicans at first urged Willie Robertson to run for the seat to which McAllister was elected. Kay Robertson, the family matriarch, joined former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at an event in September benefiting a local group of North Carolina Republicans.
Then Phil Robertson exploded as a bonafide cause celebre among conservatives when the 67-year-old bluntly stated his opposition to homosexuality in an interview with GQ in December. His remarks caused a public uproar, and A&E responded by suspending him from the show.
But Robertson refused to back down from his comments or apologize, and social conservatives cheered him as a cultural hero. A&E quickly reinstated Robertson.
The controversy does not seem to have dimmed the family’s potential for political influence, and might even have brightened it.
“I think any Republican candidate in the South would love to have an endorsement from them,” said the campaign manager for one congressional candidate.
Lawrence Denney, a Republican running for secretary of state in Idaho, has booked the Robertsons to headline two events: a large public rally and a smaller VIP fundraiser.
“From a fundraising standpoint, just their ability to draw a large crowd is very important,” said Denney, who decided to seek the Robertsons’ support at the suggestion of his daughter, who works for Duck Commander in Louisiana and knows the family.
There are limits to what the “Duck Dynasty” clan will do on behalf of a campaign. Phil Robertson told Denney that the family won’t explicitly endorse candidates. “But the fact that he is at a political fundraiser will speak for itself,” Denney said.
Between running their companies and taping their television show, the Robertsons get hundreds of requests daily for public appearances, only a few of which are political functions. But some political watchers expect the Robertsons could become more engaged in politics and campaigns as the 2014 midterm elections approach.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in some key congressional races, because it’s all about getting out the base,” said pollster John Zogby. “This is a very competitive election year. Both sides are going to pull out all the stops, and they are stops to be pulled.”