CHAPEL HILL - With acoustic guitar and gentle voice, James Taylor crooned "America the Beautiful" to a hushed hometown crowd of thousands Monday night -- a fervent but soft-spoken pitch for Sen. Barack Obama.
Four days earlier, country music wildman Hank Williams Jr. handled the same chore for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in Elon, belting out the national anthem in a gut-bucket baritone, mixing in songs about whiskey and harangues against the media.
It's a musical choice as stark as the presidential choice waiting at the ballot box. As Election Day nears, Republicans and Democrats are revving up the faithful using musical stars who bring ready-made personae and libraries of hits.
Taylor's association with Democratic politics, for example, dates to the 1979 "No Nukes" concert in Madison Square Garden. And a lot of Obama supporters don't mind hearing "Sweet Baby James" one more time.
Maybe it boosts a campaign, maybe it doesn't. No research suggests that a musical act can sway a voter either way, said Tom Carsey, UNC-Chapel Hill political scientist.
But it does bring attention.
"I think they're hoping that the popularity of these artists at least gets their fans to look at a candidate in a new light," Carsey said.
Pop stars, for all their baggage, can sound more genuine. They don't have to campaign. They have legions of fans eager to feel a union beyond fandom.
"I feel a kinship," Taylor said on the soccer field at UNC-Chapel Hill, "not only that we're here in Chapel Hill and Tar Heels, but also that we have been summoned to serve in this campaign and make an effort in our country. ... It's really time for us to get back to work. I am proud to be among you as a member of your community in supporting Barack Obama."
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