What it's like to be endorsed by Taylor Swift

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“She was like, ‘Congratulations for getting the Taylor Swift endorsement.’ And we were absolutely surprised — all of us on the campaign were surprised — when she posted,” Zapata told POLITICO. She called Bredesen and the rest of the team to share the good news.

Bredesen was familiar with the wildly popular country-singer-turned-pop-sensation who spent a chunk of her childhood in Nashville, where Bredesen once served as mayor. “I had met her a couple of times at events way back when I was governor,” he told POLITICO.

But they hadn’t talked in years and the endorsement — Swift’s first public foray into politics — came completely out of the blue. The campaign had never talked to her directly, let alone lobbied for the endorsement, and she didn’t reach out before or after announcing her support for Bredesen in an Instagram post.

With no direct line to Swift, they relied on their social media channels to pump the message, posting a story thanking her and digging through the archives to find photos of Bredesen with the rising songwriter at community events from his time in office.

Swift’s groundbreaking endorsement boosted the two-term governor’s national profile — and bumped up his street cred with his family.

“I have a lot of cousins and their families that live in New York, and some of them thought [the endorsement] was cooler than being governor,” Bredesen, now 80, admitted.

The decision to publicly dive into the race wasn’t an easy one for Swift, as chronicled in “Miss Americana,” a documentary that follows the singer behind the scenes. But since, Swift has continued to dabble in politics.

In 2020, she endorsed Joe Biden as he looked oust Donald Trump from the White House. But even four years ago, Swift had yet to rocket to the stratosphere of stardom she’s since reached. With over 275 million followers on Instagram and an army of die-hard supporters, Swift’s occasionally earth-shaking rise has captured national attention whether you like it or not.

Perhaps that’s why this time around, Biden’s campaign is more actively seeking her endorsement, according to a recent New York Times report.

“The chatter around Ms. Swift and the potential of reaching her 279 million Instagram followers reached such intensity that the Biden team urged applicants in a job posting for a social media position not to describe their Taylor Swift strategy — the campaign had enough suggestions already. One idea that has been tossed around, a bit in jest: sending the president to a stop on Ms. Swift’s Eras Tour,” the Times wrote.

Far-right conspiracy peddlers have latched on to the idea, pushing a handful of far-out theories — among them, the idea that the upcoming Super Bowl is fixed in favor of Swift’s beau, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, to give Swift a prime platform to deliver her endorsement. The Pentagon has denied accusations that she’s part of a psy-op.

Bredesen said he isn’t surprised by the attention Swift is getting from the right.

“I’ve heard that the NFL games are all fixed so that Kansas City will win — all this kind of stuff, but that’s just kind of expected part of the political atmosphere we have today,” he said.

Back in 2018, Swift’s support breathed new life into Bredesen’s campaign in the final push to November.

“It was really this exciting, uplifting kind of moment for the campaign, who had been working so hard and who were younger folks who were backing a more established candidate, an older candidate,” Zapata said. “There is this person who has now put her very important spotlight on our state. It showed our state was competitive and that it mattered and that all that work that we had put into it, to challenge … the way that things had gone in Tennessee for so long — that there was hope and there was reason for us to believe.”

The campaign up until that point had been hyper-locally focused. One of their big platforms, Zapata remembers, was a push to get the invasive Asian carp fish out of Tennessee rivers ( yes, there was merch).

With Swift’s endorsement, they now had a national spotlight. Calls from journalists began pouring in — from outlets like Variety, that normally might not have taken an interest in the Southern Senate race. A sorority at Vanderbilt University sported pins with Swift’s mug and the words, “Taylor & I are voting for Phil Bredesen.”

The campaign’s challenge was to tie the endorsement back to local issues in the state.

“We went back and posted some throwback pictures of their work together from when he was mayor and governor, to remind people, ‘See, it’s this track record that makes him unique and uniquely Tennessean’ — keeping the race that way, instead of getting lost in the celebrity of it all,” Zapata said.

In the end, Swift’s endorsement wasn’t enough to push Bredesen to a victory: He pulled 37 percent to Blackburn’s 62 percent. But after the campaign ended, as trailers for “Miss Americana,” were hitting the airwaves, Zapata messaged Swift on Instagram.

“I just said that I appreciated it; that it made a difference and that maybe the vote didn’t go the way that she expected, and we all expected it to, but it did get people engaged in a way that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Zapata said.

“Even though we may not always win campaigns, it’s always worth the swing,” she added. “And good things can come out of those things.”

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