What happens when the stars of a reality TV show wrap their arms around an unknown political candidate predicted to lose his race for Congress? He wins, of course. At first this may not seem unusual—who isn’t starting in at least one reality television show these days?—until you look at what happened in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District last week.
Neil Riser, a two-term state senator, was projected to win without breaking a sweat. The seat was left open by another Republican taking a cabinet position in Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration. Riser had the blessing of Jindal and outspent his opponent by at least $200,000. Plus, as a state senator and the establishment candidate, he had political experience.
Enter Vance McAllister, a guy who seemed to come from nowhere, a businessman with seemingly no (political) prospects—but who happens to be close friends with a group of guys named the Robertsons, who happen to be the central figures on what happens to be one of A&E’s highest-rated shows, Duck Dynasty.
If you’ve never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty, it’s worth an hour of your time just to wrap your brain around the spectacle of several family members—a father, a few brothers, an uncle (all with beards to the middle of their chests)—reveling in their hugely successful business making duck calls with the humility (they’re outspoken evangelical Christians) and humor of just the kind of boy you’d expect to meet in the Bayou. At the end of an hour you’ll either shake your head in confusion or set your DVR for the rest of the season.
In last month’s election, Riser took 33 percent of the vote and McAllister only 18 percent. But because no candidate won an outright majority, the two faced off in Saturday’s runoff. By all appearances, help from the Robertsons made a difference for McAllister. Willie Robertson, perhaps the show’s main character, appeared in an ad for him. And so in the end, the guy who claimed he really wasn’t one of those political people, who bragged he’d never even stepped foot near Washington, D.C., waltzed into political office representing Louisianans there.
Of course, one might think, Hollywood always holds sway in politics. But these guys aren’t like the Clint Eastwoods or the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the world. This is a real show about guys who drink sweet tea from mason jars and go frog hunting when they don’t feel the pressing need to put in a full day’s work. Yet their show is so popular that the premiere of the fourth season drew 11.8 million viewers, making it the most watched nonfiction series telecast in cable television history.
Americans and Louisianans who watch the show don’t necessarily know a thing about duck hunting, but they identify with the Robertsons. The heart of the show is that the family members have fun and treat each other with kindness and respect. They’ve made a (successful) living doing something they enjoy, and they pursue it with reckless abandon. On top of that, the Robertsons are also family men who adore their wives, their kids, and their God and have no qualms talking about any of those subjects with a bold, confident clarity. Every one has a contagious, dry sense of humor, and viewers can’t help but marvel at the gorgeous, perfectly groomed women who stand beside these men who wear camouflage and sport dirt under their fingernails like five year-old boys.
So maybe this time Louisianans looked at a guy like Riser, a good guy with a decent record and quantifiable experience, and the underdog McAllister, who knows business more than politics—but has the kind of friends you want to have, not to mention emulate—and thought: Let’s give him a duck call and see what kind of birds he can get to fly with him.