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GOP eager for potential Kid Rock Senate bid
Kid Rock's flirtation with a Senate bid has Republicans thinking he could be the party's best shot to win next year's race against Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
The rock star - real name Robert Ritchie - would likely dominate the primary field if he entered the race and comes within striking distance of the Democratic incumbent in recent polling.
While most Republicans still believe a bid is unlikely, they are enticed by the prospect of a candidate with deep pockets and universal name identification.
"People know him - he's an extremely strong brand in Michigan. He's fought for Detroit, he's fought hard for kids who want to go to his concerts, he's fought hard for the working class, he's a southeast Michigan booster through and through," said Robert Steele, the Republican national committeeman from Michigan.
"If he were in the race, I think he would win. But I doubt we'll see him in the race."
The speculation about Ritchie began with February story in the Detroit Free Press, when a member of the state's GOP central committee floated his name as a possible candidate.
The idea only picked up steam from there, thanks in no small part to Ritchie himself. He launched a new website, KidRockforSenate.com, in July, and released statements confirming he's considering a bid. Ritchie's website also started selling T-shirts sporting his ostensible campaign logo.
There are already three candidates running for Michigan's GOP Senate nomination: businesswoman and former Trump Michigan co-chair Lena Epstein, former Michigan state Supreme Court chief Justice Bob Young and Iraq War veteran and businessman John James. No candidate has taken a clear lead, a fact that could help Ritchie's name in the mix.
Polling suggests Ritchie would clear the primary field and have a fighting chance for the general. A poll from the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group found Ritchie with 50 percent of the vote in a late July primary poll, with Epstein far behind in second place with 9 percent.
The same Trafalgar poll found Ritchie with a 3-point lead over Stabenow in a general election matchup, while a Target-Insyght poll found Ritchie running 8 points behind.
Republicans say the polling suggests Ritchie is in a good place, especially for a political neophyte who would run against an experienced senator.
Steven Law, a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who now leads the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, pointed to those polls during an interview earlier this month on CSPAN's "Newsmakers" as evidence that Ritchie should run.
"We'd be actually very interested in his candidacy. There was a poll that came out that showed him 8 points behind the incumbent, Debbie Stabenow. That's not a bad place to start out," he said.
Even those that don't believe that Ritchie will run believe there's a lot about him for Republicans to like.
His strong name ID, particularly when compared to the rest of the GOP field, would be a boon in a race where Democrats are thought to have the edge.
"The reality of politics is there's never enough money to do what you want, and the one thing you need money for is name identification," said Mike DuHaime, a GOP strategist who once worked at the RNC and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"Celebrity gets you attention, but you have to turn that into votes. Donald Trump could do that, but it remains to be seen whether others can."
Ritchie has long been interested in political issues. He's an avid supporter of the military who has traveled overseas to perform for soldiers and fundraises for charities that support veterans and military families. He's participated in a slew of philanthropic efforts in his home state, including efforts to boost Detroit. Each of the past two Republican nominees received his endorsement.
His bid wouldn't just help Republicans in Michigan - it would help to expand their Senate battlefield. Democrats have to defend 10 seats in states where Trump won in 2016, and they would much rather be focusing on defending states like Indiana and Missouri than Michigan.
"If Democrats have to spend money to defend Michigan, it will open up opportunities for Republicans elsewhere," DuHaime said.
"Putting Michigan in a competitive spot helps us keep the majority."
Katie Packer Beeson, a former deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign, told The Hill that Ritchie requested a sit-down meeting with Romney before he would agree to join Romney for a rally.
That experience underscored to Packer Beeson that Ritchie is passionate about his key issues, but that he may not want to commit to everything that it takes to be a senator.
"I just don't think he is all that interested in sitting down and having to understand all of that stuff," she said.
"When you actually get down to the brass tacks of what the job of a U.S. senator is, does Bobby Ritchie want to be in D.C. every Monday through Thursday, working in the Capitol casting votes?"
Packer Beeson and other Republicans cautioned not to underestimate Stabenow, who has won both of her past two Senate elections by a double-digit margin. It's clear that whoever runs against her will have a tough road, whether it's Ritchie or someone else.
Ritchie's celebrity and unconventional political roots bring both strengths and weaknesses. His controversial lyrics are an opposition researcher's dream, and he's faced his share of troubles with the law, including multiple assault allegations.
While that may not be disqualifying, it's unclear how voters, particularly older Americans who are reliable voters but unlikely to be as familiar with Ritchie's career, would react to blistering negative ads about his personal life.
But former New York Gov. George Pataki (R), who has been a vocal supporter of a potential Ritchie bid, told The Hill that he believes people will understand why Ritchie doesn't have a "conventional background."
"You look into his record and you won't see the pristine actions of a lawyer," he said. "But on the other hand, you'll see someone who can capture the public's imagination, who has drawn tremendous crowds with his entertainment, who has supported our troops and been supportive of the concept of limited government."
Ritchie would also likely have to use his legal name on the ballot, another potential setback for his campaign. Michigan election law appears to limit candidates to using derivatives of their legal names, but Michigan's secretary of state office is telling reporters it would need to do more research to decide if Ritchie had any other options.
Even as a bid by the "Detroit Cowboy" appeals to some in the GOP, most Republicans agree that he'll likely pass on a bid.
David Doyle, the former Michigan state Republican Party chairman, pointed to recent comments by Michigan rocker Ted Nugent, who said that Ritchie "ain't running for jack squat."
The two men recently joined 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin on an April trip to the White House to visit Trump.
"He's probably the best source that anyone in the Republican Party has on what Kid Rock is going to do," Doyle told The Hill.
Yet even if he doesn't run, Ritchie can still be a potent force for the Michigan Republican Party on the fundraising circuit or on the campaign trail.
"The odds of him running are very low. But the odds of him staying involved are very high," Steele, the RNC member, said.