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What would Dobson do?

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For months, we waited, breath bated, on the edge of our seats, waiting with fervor to learn who it was that our very own James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame and fortune would anoint as the Republican presidential crown prince.

Whom would Dobson finger as the politician whose destiny would save us from "Islamo-fascism" and terrorism, from the heathens and secularists, from the homosexuals, for God's sake?

For months, we waited, while Dobson played out the too-hot, too-cold theme of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: John McCain was pro-campaign finance (a very bad thing), plus he said something about not caring whether committed gay couples have civil unions (a very, very bad thing). Fred Thompson was not Christian enough. Rudy Giuliani was too dressed in drag.

Finally last month, Dobson insisting through a spokesman at his nonprofit Christian media conglomerate that he was speaking only for himself, and thus not violating rules that could threaten his empire's nonprofit tax status endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, calling him juuuuust riiiiiight.

It was not only too late Huckabee dropped out less than a month later, after McCain clinched the nomination but it was too little.

At least that's according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. This month, the Annenberg Center released a study showing that, "with a few notable exceptions, the endorsement of presidential primary candidates by notable groups and individuals carries little weight with the public."

For example, lots of people knew that Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy had endorsed Democrat Barack Obama and even more people knew Oprah Winfrey had waved her magic wand Obama's way. But, according to the study conducted between Dec. 17 and Feb. 18, the vast majority of those who were polled said the endorsements would have "no impact" on how they voted.

In the end even after the months of hype about "What Will Dobson Do?" the Annenberg folks found that only 16 percent of Republicans and independents polled were even aware that the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family founder had endorsed Huckabee.

Twenty-four percent of those Republicans and independents who view themselves as "very conservative" said that knowledge would make them more likely to vote for Dobson's guy; another 2 percent said they'd be less likely.

Among self-identified "moderate" Republicans and independents, 6 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for Huckabee after hearing about the Dobson endorsement. Another 6 percent said they'd be less likely making that exercise a wash.

"Still, the vast majority of Republicans and independents, regardless of ideology, said the [Dobson] endorsement would make no difference in their level of support for Gov. Huckabee," the report concluded.

It's hard to decide which would be more offensive to Dobson his clout being termed insignificant, or being included in the same study as Ted Kennedy.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and co-director of the National Annenberg Election Survey, notes that endorsements from notable people and organizations can be helpful, and can signal the public as to where candidates may stand on issues and ideology.

"But this effect can't occur unless the voter knows that the endorsement has taken place," Jamieson says. "Overall, public knowledge of endorsements has been relatively low."

In other words, tough-guy actor Chuck Norris, who cut funny pro-Huckabee ads, probably had more clout than Dobson.

For those few of us who have been paying attention, Dobson also threatened several months ago to sit out the election if McCain indeed would win the Republican nomination for president. Dobson's underlying threat, of course, was that Republican leaders had better heed him or they'd find a lot of Dobson's schoolyard pals staying at home on Election Day, too.

Yet if the Annenberg study is any indication, Dobson just might be sitting all by himself this November, pondering that age-old philosophical riddle:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

degette@csindy.com

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