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Michigan Senate Race Between Kid Rock And Debbie Stabenow Will Be a Toss-Up


Authenticity is perhaps the greatest feature a public figure can possess, yet least appreciated by the political class. And it is nowhere on greater display than in the persona of Robert Ritchie, a.k.a. “Kid Rock,” who promises to run in 2018 for the Michigan Senate seat currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow

Honesty about himself propelled Donald Trump to the presidency, and her lack thereof doomed Hillary Clinton to the ignominious asterisk of also-ran. Sincerity can transform liabilities into assets by providing a clear window into the soul of a public figure. Some actions are clearly disqualifying—cruelty to animals or children, overt racism, and the like—but the list grows shorter each year.

Like the Brazilian politician who ran for office with the slogan of “I steal, but I get the job done,” so too may Ritchie win election as a “bad boy rocker turned occasionally sober grandfather,” if only to reiterate middle America’s rejection of their corrupt and incompetent governing class.

Kid Rock’s Career Made from Hard Work and Genius

Regardless of one’s estimation of his musical talents, Ritchie forged his success with incredible energy, ambition, and a talent for self-promotion, qualities easily transferred to politics. Seemingly bored by suburban comfort—his father owned several local car dealerships—Ritchie spent his early years escaping to neighboring Detroit, learning to DJ, breakdance, and rap among the almost exclusively African-American musicians and fans of the Motor City.

While early promise led to a record contract at 17, his career sputtered, and by 1995, he was working as a janitor in a record studio just to use their equipment. Musical tastes would catch up with Ritchie’s particular blend of Detroit rap, heavy metal, and country rock in his 1998 album “Devil Without a Cause,” which sold 14 million copies worldwide.

The “Kid Rock” phenomena is as much about attitude and lifestyle as it is about music. How seriously can one take someone who sings that “the best type of oochie coochie / Is the type that tastes like sushi”? Perhaps the epitome of Kid Rock Kultur is Ritchie’s annual “Chillin’ the Most” Cruise, now in its ninth year, a four-day booze-soaked debauched extravaganza led in all respects by the self-proclaimed “King of White Trash.”

Like Parrot Heads swirling boat drinks at a Jimmy Buffett concert or hippies smoking pot at a Grateful Dead show, Kid Rock connoisseurs have established a bottom-shelf whiskey and Coors Light community of forty-something rednecks, who like to party and get it on with their “Pimp of the Nation.”

Kid Rock music is a pulsating, bass-pounding, guitar-distorting, in-your-face blare of high-octane Americana in “Bawitdaba,” and a softer, melodious, country-style hymn to abandoned love in “Picture,” a duet with Cheryl Crow. His lyrics are witty, and delivered with punch in an unusual crossover of street machismo, self-effacement, and absurdist humor. After selling 35 million records worldwide, one senses Ritchie doesn’t much care whether he’s taken seriously as an artist, or simply admired for his “everyone wants to be a motherf’er like me” lifestyle.

Responsibility and Irresponsibility, Blended

Recently engaged to long-time girlfriend Audrey Berry, Ritchie’s colorful personal life has managed to avoid tragedy or excessive recklessness, and in many respects illustrates a level-headedness and responsibility not typically associated with drug-fueled rockers. His former girlfriend became pregnant when they were both in their early twenties, and she abandoned the child with him.

By all accounts, most proudly his own, Ritchie did an exemplary job of raising the child. Robert Ritchie Jr. graduated from Belmont College in Nashville and made his father a grandfather at the ripe age of 43, which the latter jokingly bragged gave him street cred among his urban fans.

Ritchie has had a few brushes with the law, starting or finishing minor brawls with the ex-husband of his then-wife, “Baywatch” star Pamela Anderson, at the MTV music awards, plus fights with a DJ at a strip club and a patron at a Waffle House.

Concerning illegal drugs, Ritchie admits to most everything out there, although he claims he’s been clean for a few years while lamenting “it’s a whole different ball game, drinking without f—ing blow…And now I’m, like, trying to leave that shit alone. I’m relearning to drink.” He’s sponsored by Jim Beam.

Ritchie donated the proceeds of a 12-city tour to charity, performed a benefit concert with the Detroit Orchestra that raised $1 million, and was honored by the Detroit chapter of the NAACP for his philanthropy. He made seven trips to the Middle East to entertain men and women in uniform, and recently surprised a fan with Down Syndrome by showing up at his birthday party.

The Contrast with the Incumbent Couldn’t Be Starker

In contrast, little rock star excitement surrounds a fourth term for Stabenow, an unimaginative machine pol who resembles an overweight, scolding aunt who might inspire fights over who has to sit next to her at Thanksgiving dinner. Charisma matters. He’s got it; she doesn’t.

With inchoate conservativism on economic issues and libertarian views on social issues, a party-line liberal like Stabenow will find few policy angles to attack Ritchie. She will play the standard character assassination game, but “racist plutocrat” or “McConnell stooge” are unlikely to work on an already defined public figure. She will have to dwell on Ritchie’s misdeeds, but what can Stabenow say that voters haven’t already heard and discounted?

While Ritchie will have to hit the books—he’s no one’s idea of a policy wonk—and develop a cogent list of reasons why he wants the job, there is every reason to believe that he could be a very strong candidate. For Stabenow, first elected in 2000 and currently below 50 percent in approval rating, Ritchie’s entry into a race for what was rated a safe seat must be a thoroughly unpleasant shock.

With considerable star power, self-funding, strong ties to Detroit—the Tigers’ logo is tattooed on his arm—and a blood connection through his baby’s momma with African-Americans, Ritchie has the ability to poach a considerable percentage of Stabenow’s urban base in addition to hanging on to Trump’s winning percentage statewide. Democrats may want to rethink handing out walking around money and busing their inner city voters from precinct to precinct, because “all the crackheads, the critics, the cynics / and all [his] heroes in the methadone clinic” may just vote in Kid Rock as the next senator from Michigan.