Every election year, candidates fight to see who can rack up the most impressive slate of endorsements from their fellow politicians. This year, Republican candidates appear to be competing for the backing of an influential conservative who has nothing to do with politics: Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Why would somebody running for president need the support of a football player? Here, a brief guide:
Why is Tebow such a big deal?
He's the most talked-about player in the NFL. His unorthodox throwing motion is as reviled as his running skills are acclaimed, and in the middle of the season, the vocal evangelical Christian reeled off a shocking 7-1 winning streak, propelling the otherwise-underwhelming Broncos into the playoffs. Then, on Sunday, in the NFL's opening round of the playoffs, Tebow threw an 80-yard game-winning touchdown pass against the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steelers. The spotlight will surely remain on Tebow as the Broncos head into their next playoff game against the New England Patriots on Saturday.
And Republicans want his endorsement?
According to Tebow, they do. He recently told the Associated Press that more than one of the contenders has asked for his support. But the candidates appear to be out of luck — Tebow's staying on the sidelines. "I think you have to have so much trust in who you support," said Tebow, a pitchman for Nike, Jockey and FRS energy drink, "from product endorsements to endorsing a candidate because if that person or company does something (bad), it reflects on you."
Which candidates want him on their side?
"If we were to hazard a guess," says Sterling Wong at Minyanville, "we would say that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was probably one of the GOP challengers who contacted Tebow, given that Perry once called himself the 'Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.'" And Michele Bachmann, also a devout Christian who appeals to evangelicals, also compared herself to Tebow, so she might have put out feelers before dropping out. Even "Jon Huntsman could do with a little push from the Big Tebowski — in conservative South Carolina, where Tebow is surely a big draw, Huntsman is currently polling lower than Stephen Colbert."
Would his endorsement really matter?
It would certainly put a lucky candidate in good company. Professional and college sports have been marred by labor wars and sex-abuse scandals, but Tebow continues to stand out as a positive role model. A devout Christian, he has been praised in churches across the nation (though mocked on Saturday Night Live). He vaulted into political conversation two Super Bowls ago by starring in Focus on the Family's anti-abortion commercial. A big part of the 24-year-old's appeal to conservatives — and particularly to the evangelicals who are a key part of the GOP base — is that he is not "afraid to really, really talk about his faith," says Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling. That might be why he out-polls every candidate in the GOP field — 68 percent of the Republicans had a favorable opinion of Tebow in a December PPP poll, and so did 39 percent of Democrats.