DETROIT — The speech ended, rather incongruously, with a prayer. “Please, almighty Jesus, if you’re looking down tonight, guide us with your wisdom, and give us strength to fight,” shouted the petitioner, as some in the audience lifted their hands into the air as if they were at a Pentecostal worship service. “To fight the tyrants and evil that lurk here and abroad, and remind us all, we are still just one nation under God!”
The heavenly benediction might have seemed mundane coming from a preacher or a conservative political candidate. But I didn’t expect to hear it from the self-described “American badass” and “devil without a cause” who stood behind a podium bookended by two provocatively dressed women waving large American flags.
The prayer was spoken, or I should say screamed in a gravely voice, by Robert Ritchie, the musician known as Kid Rock, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 2018.
Kid Rock hasn’t officially declared his candidacy, and Republican operatives in Michigan say he hasn’t been in touch with them. But he’s teasing a run.
Kid Rock opened the brand-new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit with a series of concerts starting on Sept. 12. I attended his Sept. 16 show and discovered that in the era of Donald Trump, whom Kid Rock supports and resembles in his penchant for political incorrectness, the idea of a rocker running for high office, and winning, suddenly seems plausible.
Kid Rock was born in Romeo in Macomb County, a northern suburb of Detroit. His brash candor appeals to Macomb’s largely white working class residents, who were out in full force at his concert. “Kid Rock says it like it is,” said Debbie, who was clutching two beers when I met her inside the arena’s beer garden. “He’s not politically correct, and honestly politicians should be like that.”
“Kid Rock is real,” shouted another woman.
A man in his 30s with tattoos covering much of his upper body saw a link between Kid Rock and Trump. Both have been successful in business and therefore didn’t need to cater to anyone in politics. “Kid Rock has enough money to say ‘fuck you,’” he said.
I saw plenty of “Kid Rock for Senate 2018” T-shirts and other merchandise stamped with the profanity for which Kid Rock is famous. During one song, a giant inflatable middle finger rose up on the stage’s platform.
Everyone I spoke with at the concert naturally said Kid Rock had a good shot of winning if he runs against Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who’s seeking her third term in the Senate. “We need someone in there with common sense and who will get things done for us,” a middle-aged woman said.
The thought of a Sen. Kid Rock might seem outlandish. And it might be, anywhere but Michigan. In southern Michigan, though, Kid Rock’s working class sensibility and local philanthropy have made him a beloved figure.
“He keeps it real, he’s honest,” one woman said. “He’s working class,” her husband added.
“He’s a local young man who started with nothing, like most of us, and worked himself up to something. But he’s never forgotten where he’s come from,” said Dennis, whom I met near one of the arena’s concessions stands. “He’s definitely for the working people.”
“He gives a lot back,” one woman said. And it’s true. Kid Rock has given millions of dollars to charitable causes—from homes for disabled vets and funding for the arts to nature conservation. Several concertgoers mentioned their appreciation for his efforts to keep his ticket prices low.
Before his concert benediction, Kid Rock delivered a stump speech of sorts, offering his views on universal healthcare (he’s skeptical); deadbeat dads (“Lock all you assholes up and throw away the fucking key”); same-sex marriage (he supports it); and transgender bathrooms (“No, you don’t get to choose. Whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use”).
He has launched a website called kidrockforsenate.com, which sells his political merchandise and states that he will soon hold a press conference to address his political intentions. His first order of business, the website says, is to register voters, and there were several tables set up to register voters at his concert. “If I decide to throw my hat in the ring for U.S. Senate,” Kid Rock writes, “believe me… it’s game on mthrfkers.”
Kid Rock describes himself as a libertarian and has supported Republican candidates in the past, including presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. If he decides to run, he would draw much of his initial support from Michigan’s white working class. It’s an open question whether he would draw much support from Michigan’s black residents, who make up 15 percent of the state’s population.
Kid Rock has become a lightning rod of controversy on racial issues. For many years he displayed the Confederate flag at his concerts, though he no longer does so. Several hundred people protested his Sept. 12 concert, arguing that someone sympathetic to the Confederacy should not have been chosen to open the publicly financed arena in an overwhelmingly black city. His restaurant, Made in Detroit, sits inside the Little Caesars arena complex.
Unsurprisingly, his fans insisted he is not racist. He has a biracial college-aged son, they said, and once won an award from the Detroit chapter of the NAACP. “He’s the farthest thing from a racist,” one woman said.
“I love black people!” Kid Rock shouted at one point during the concert. “And I love white people, too. But neither as much as I love red, white and blue.”
The audience was almost exclusively white; most of the black faces I saw belonged to people working security and the concessions. My black concert companion got a lot of “What are you doing here?” looks as we walked through the arena, though she didn’t feel unwelcome.
Kid Rock’s chances of winning could hinge on whether he can appeal to voters beyond the white working class people who make up the overwhelming majority of his fan base.
It is an open question whether a vulgar rocker can convince Michigan voters to represent them in the world’s greatest deliberative body. But for a musician who has successfully transitioned from rap and funk to rock and metal and now to country music (a metamorphosis his bandmates lampooned him for during the concert) an evolution from badass entertainer to U.S. senator doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
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© Washington Examiner 2017