More likely, the buttoned-up candidate's just-announced choice of Kid Rock's "Born Free" for his campaign theme song is simply a patriotic play to the everyman. But pundits have been left feeling a bit underwhelmed.
The point of a theme song is to tell voters something about the candidate that isn’t well, obvious. And so, this ditty presents a problem for the former Massachusetts governor. “What does ‘Born free’ tell us about Romney? Not much,” says Atlanta-based Republican strategist David Johnson.
Romney will like that fact that Mr. Rock, like himself, is a Michigander. And Michigan could be a key swing state. Moreover, Rock's got the whole "cool patriot" thing down. The lyrics of the anthem run:
Fast, on a rough road riding,
High, through the mountains climbing,
Twisting, turning further from my home.
Young, like a new moon rising.
Fierce, through the rain and lightning.
Wandering out into this great unknown,
And I don't want no one to cry.
But, tell 'em if I don't survive,
I was born free!
Is he is trying to appeal to the voters in New Hampshire – an early-primary state whose motto is “Live Free or Die”? “Then he’s got another problem, because he’s not running for governor of New Hampshire, he’s running for president,” says Mr. Johnson.
Is he trying to rumple his own starched image? Then the song creates a "credibility gap," peddling an image of the candidate that is far removed from voters' perceptions of him, says presidential scholar Charles Dunn. For a man often who, critics say, shifts his positions solely to get elected, that might not be the best message.
Now that Newt Gingrich is running strong – polls show him with double-digit leads on Romney nationally and in key early-nominating states – Romney may want to choose another theme song, says Mr. Dunn. ”I was thinking of something more along the lines of the Paul Simon tune, ‘Slip slidin’ away,' ” he says with a laugh.
Theme songs, of course, "don’t do much to help candidates to reach out to the undecided voter,” says Dunn. But they can rev up staff and hardcore followers as well as set the tone for a campaign. In this increasingly media-driven age, where information is delivered in shorter and shorter bites, anything that will cut through the clutter and make an impression is useful.
History is full of brilliant and blundering choices. Franklin Roosevelt's signature “Happy Days Are Here Again” and Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow),” by Fleetwood Mac, are perhaps two of the most successful theme-song choices in modern politics. “They told voters what to think about the candidate, and how his presidency would look,” says Johnson.
There are gaffes, too, which are sometimes warning signs of a campaign in some disarray. John McCain used a Tom Petty's, “I Won’t Back Down,” but the artist asked him to stop using it. Michele Bachmann tried to use another Petty tune, “American Girl,” and the singer issued a cease-and-desist order – which the candidate appeared to ignore when she continued to roll the song at later campaign stops.
While the law on a politician’s use of a particular song is not clear, “You probably don’t want to have your artist stepping up to not only say, 'Don’t use my song,' but possibly even endorsing your opponent,” says Johnson.
So far, Kid Rock, who has supported Republicans in the past, remains mum on the Romney choice.