By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Ricky Bobby: The Republican Party wants your vote.
Well, not you, Ricky. You are a fictional NASCAR racing legend played by the inimitable Will Farrell in the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”
But conservative organizations are intensely courting NASCAR nation and its 75 million fans, the vast majority of them voting age and right-leaning in their political persuasions.
And groups like American Majority, a nonprofit “farm system” for free-market, limited government candidates, will be front and center at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the Road America track in Elkhart Lake.
In a nod to the liberal “Rock the Vote” initiative, American Majority looks to connect with conservatives at racetracks nationwide.
The national outreach campaign encourages Americans of “all political stripes” to Pledge to Vote this year and support fiscally conservative policies to “Keep America Free,” according to the organization’s news release.
Those three words — Keep America Free — are emblazoned on the race car American Majority has sponsored in this year’s Nationwide Series.
Race officials expect to see more than 100,000 faces at the track this week, leading up to Saturday’s big shootout of the top NASCAR drivers in the land.
American Majority wants to reach as many as possible, pitching a tent with racing-related activities and swag — and an ideological pitch, too. Because, while NASCAR moms and dads may be more likely to vote Republican, too many in the NASCAR nation don’t bother to vote at all.
“We realize this is a demographic that tends to be more conservative, very passionate and very patriotic,” said Ned Ryun, president and founder of American Majority. “We’ve found 20 to 30 percent of those identified as registered voters vote sometimes or never.”
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is on his Every Town Counts Bus Tour this week.
Groups like American Majority say every vote will count in a presidential election that promises to be close, with more battleground states, like Wisconsin, in play.
“If there was an increase in NASCAR fans voting in certain key states by a few percentage points, that could make a big impact,” Ryun said.
Jason Bowles drives No. 81 and is perhaps the poster child for American Majority’s campaign.
He’s 29, works another job during the first part of the week and spends his long weekends on the racing circuit.
He wasn’t registered to vote until recently.
Bowles said it’s not that he wasn’t interested in politics or the state of his country. For the most part, he said he was like a lot of Americans — busy.
“I just felt like I wasn’t educated enough to go out there and change something. I was busy with other things going on,” he said. “I am realizing as I get older how important it is to go vote.”
Arguably his latest visit with the IRS for due taxes served as a wake-up call for the professional race car driver about the impact elected leaders have on his pocketbook.
American Majority isn’t the only conservative group trying to get out the NASCAR fan vote. Veteran conservative activist Ralph Reed and his Faith and Freedom Coalition have sponsored the No. 32 car. The coalition’s message isn’t about soda, it’s simply: “Register to Vote.”
“I think you are going to see the most muscular and robust turnout operation directed at conservatives and center-right voters that you have ever seen,” Reed told POLITICO.
Democrats haven’t rallied around the NASCAR bloc in the same way they have other demographic groups, but Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Virginia Democratic operative, told POLITICO that Dems shouldn’t give up the NASCAR voter to Republicans.
He did warn that Romney and President Barack Obama would look as out of place at a NASCAR event as the pit crew might look at black-tie symphony mixer.
John Ewert, communications director for Road America, said NASCAR fans may tend to lean more conservative, but the sport has become much more mainstream. Cars are decked out with more issue advocacy messages, like Jeff Gordon’s “Drive to End Hunger,” and AARP’s sponsored car.
Politicians, Ewert said, ignore NASCAR at their own peril.
“Why would any politician not want to be out among the fans, showing up at driver’s appearances?” he said. “Motorsport fans are very, very loyal.”
Local car sponsorships, Ewert said, start at just a few thousand dollars and climb as high as $50,000, depending on the exposure.
Full-blown national sponsorships on the NASCAR circuit can top $3 million.
As of Tuesday, Ewert said no politicians that he knew of had committed to be make an appearance at Road America.