Within hours of his team winning the World Series, Curt Schilling shifted from pitching for the Red Sox to pitching for President Bush.
The Sox ace endorsed the president's reelection on ABC's "Good Morning America," was quickly contacted by Bush himself, and is scheduled to make a battleground-state appearance with the candidate this morning in Manchester, N.H., one of the provincial capitals of Red Sox Nation.
This is a timely melding of two of the region's great passions -- baseball and politics -- in the moments after the Red Sox uncorked generations of fan frustration Wednesday with their first world championship in 86 years. The Sox, of course, are the team of Bush's challenger from Boston, Senator John F. Kerry, who sported a faded blue Red Sox cap as he campaigned in Wisconsin yesterday with his own celebrity endorser, rock 'n' roll superstar Bruce Springsteen.
The Bush campaign immediately sensed a coup, shortly after Schilling closed his interview yesterday by telling GMA host Charles Gibson: "And make sure you tell everybody to vote, and vote Bush next week." The campaign posted Schilling's comments on its website and sent them out via blast e-mail to journalists all over the country.
The president called to thank Schilling, now a local hero after his two post-season performances in a bloody sock, covering a sutured ankle tendon that will require surgery to repair. Bush congratulated the pitcher and invited him to campaign with him today. He will introduce Bush at rallies at the
Schilling, who has a home in Medfield but is not registered to vote there, according to the town clerk's office, has expressed his Bush sympathies in the past but never to a nationwide television audience. Before the Democratic National Convention, when Kerry threw out the first pitch of a Sox-Yankees game, Schilling yelled "Go Bush" to political reporters who were still in the Red Sox locker room after Kerry had departed.
Like the president, Schilling is a born-again Christian, and he has been supportive of the US war effort in Iraq.
The son of a career soldier, Schilling is a military enthusiast, an expert in military strategy games, and a student of military history, especially World War II. He has a collection that includes the beret worn by British field marshal Bernard Montgomery during the North Africa campaign and a small vehicle used by the German army to clear minefields, according to a 2001 profile of the pitcher in USA Today.
New Hampshire political analysts said the timing of the high-profile endorsement can help rally the faithful of the Bush campaign in New Hampshire, a state Bush narrowly won four years ago but polls show he could lose to Kerry on Tuesday. But they doubted Schilling would be a decisive factor in voters making up their minds in the next few days.
With its four electoral votes, the Granite State fits into several of the complicated scenarios that could provide the margin of victory or a tie in the electoral college if the race is as close as 2000.
"This is a turnout election, and anything the campaigns can do to get their supporters excited and jazzed up is going to help," said Andrew Smith, political science professor and director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which yesterday issued a poll showing Kerry with an almost four-point lead in the state.
"Having Curt Schilling up here to give a little pep talk for the president will help capitalize on the good feelings after the Red Sox victory," he said. "It's not really designed to convince people to vote for President Bush because Curt Schilling says so."
"Clearly they're thinking outside the box in bringing him up because Kerry has been having a bit of a boost from the Red Sox," said Jennifer Donahue, a senior adviser at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. "It's so important up here that it has taken some of the edge off of Kerry being from Massachusetts."
"But I don't think any of the celebrity endorsements will move voters in New Hampshire," Donahue said. "It's icing on the cake. Those who haven't decided yet who they are voting for are looking a lot deeper than who the candidate appears with."
Both candidates boast long lists of celebrity endorsers, with a Bush advantage on the sports side and Kerry an edge among Hollywood stars.
Red Sox chairman Tom Werner has been stumping for Kerry in New Hampshire and Maine and contributed the maximum $2,000 to his campaign in June 2003, as did John Henry, principal owner of the team.
These endorsements are coveted by candidates but their value is unclear. In January 2000, an aging Ted Williams, the greatest Red Sox player of them all, endorsed Bush before the New Hampshire primary. Senator John McCain went on to defeat the then-Texas governor, who ultimately captured the Republican nomination and general election. Eight years earlier, Williams was among many Hall of Famers who endorsed the presidential reelection of Bush's father, who was defeated by Bill Clinton.
Kerry's campaign yesterday tried to reverse the spin on the Schilling endorsement. Spokesman David Wade said that if Bush had had his way, the Red Sox never would have won this World Series. When Bush was an owner of the Texas Rangers in 1993, he opposed creation of the wild card berth, calling it "an exercise in folly" to expand the number of teams in post-season play, Wade said. The Red Sox were this year's American League wild card entry.
"This fantastic Red Sox victory is the result of folly?" sniffed Wade. "Not in Red Sox Nation, Mr. President."
Glen Johnson, Patrick Healy, and Mark Shanahan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.