In a Sunday night in October, approximately a month before the 2018 Senate election in Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, facing a challenging battle against then-Rep. Marsha Blackburn, received an unexpected text after a debate-prep session.
A friend had congratulated Bredesen’s communications director, Laura Zapata, for securing the endorsement of pop sensation Taylor Swift. The campaign team, including Bredesen, was pleasantly surprised, as they had no direct communication with Swift, and her endorsement came out of the blue.
Although Bredesen had met Swift a couple of times in the past, and both had ties to Nashville, where Swift spent part of her childhood and Bredesen served as mayor, they hadn’t talked for years.
The groundbreaking endorsement, Swift’s first public venture into politics, elevated Bredesen’s national profile, garnering significant attention and increasing his credibility.
Swift’s endorsement was particularly meaningful for Bredesen, who humorously noted that some of his family considered it cooler than him being the governor. Despite the surprise, the campaign embraced the support, expressing gratitude on social media and digging through archives for photos of Bredesen and Swift at community events.
In contrast to her initially apolitical stance, Swift continued to engage in politics. In 2020, she endorsed Joe Biden in his bid to unseat Donald Trump from the White House. With her skyrocketing stardom, boasting over 275 million Instagram followers and a dedicated fanbase, Swift has become a formidable cultural force.
This time around, Biden’s campaign is reportedly actively seeking Swift’s endorsement, recognizing the potential impact on her vast following.
However, far-right conspiracy theorists have seized on the idea, weaving outlandish theories, including speculations about the Super Bowl being rigged in favor of Swift’s partner, Travis Kelce, and suggestions that the Pentagon is involved in a psychological operation.
Bredesen acknowledged the attention Swift is receiving from the right, citing it as a common occurrence in today’s polarized political atmosphere.
Despite the conspiracies, Bredesen emphasized that Swift’s support had breathed new life into his 2018 campaign, providing a national spotlight and generating interest from outlets that wouldn’t typically cover a Southern Senate race.
Swift’s endorsement allowed the campaign to shift from hyper-local issues, like the invasive Asian carp fish, to a more nationally recognized platform. Journalists flooded in with inquiries, and the campaign faced the challenge of tying Swift’s endorsement back to local Tennessee issues.
While Bredesen ultimately didn’t secure victory, pulling about 44 percent to Blackburn’s 55 percent, the post-campaign messages from Zapata to Swift expressed appreciation for the engagement and impact, noting that even in defeat, the endeavor was worthwhile.
Swift’s endorsement had sparked engagement and brought attention to Tennessee in a unique and unprecedented way, demonstrating the positive outcomes that can arise from such endeavors.