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Does Ted Nugent speak for you?

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 5:55 PM EST, Thu February 27, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott says no plans to campaign with rocker
  • Despite the controversies, Republican politicians continue to campaign with Nugent
  • One Republican strategist said politicians must weigh the risks
  • A tea party group said Nugent speaks in a way that appeals to people

(CNN) -- Ted Nugent sure knows how to stir controversy.

The rock star turned provocateur has never shied away from controversy, from singing about having sex with underage girls in "Jailbait" to calling people names.

In case you missed it, Nugent's most recent rant raised all kinds of red flags when he called President Barack Obama "a subhuman mongrel."

But even as the self-proclaimed "Motor City Madman" was called mad by critics, Nugent didn't appear to lose any support among fans or politicians.

Some say Nugent amplifies Americans' anger at Washington. But is he the voice of America? The torchbearer for the disaffected?

"There are reasons ... people listen to him," Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite, said.

Ted Nugent attends the NAMM Show, an annual trade show for music products, in 2010. The rock star turned conservative activist has made headlines recently for his comments about President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Ted Nugent attends the NAMM Show, an annual trade show for music products, in 2010. The rock star turned conservative activist has made headlines recently for his comments about President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Ted Nugent: The 'Motor City Madman'
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'Dead or jailed'

It isn't like Nugent is ever short of anything critical to say about anyone with whom he disagrees. He has called Hillary Clinton a "worthless b****" and Obama a gangster. Nugent's extreme speech has made a lot of eyes roll. And media outlets, including CNN, have been criticized for giving him a microphone.

Two years ago, his comments at an NRA convention that he would be "dead or jailed" if Obama were re-elected earned him a visit from the Secret Service.

But this time, critics said Nugent's statements went an insult too far.

For the record, here's what he said in an interview with Guns.com: "I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame, enough Americans to be ever-vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America."

Outrage ensued.

Almost immediately, critics condemned his comments, calling for Nugent to apologize and for public figures to distance themselves from him.

Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott came under fire for campaigning with Nugent. Abbott's likely Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, called Nugent's remarks -- and Abbott's appearance with him -- an "insult" to Texans.

Abbott told CNN on Thursday there were no plans to campaign again with Nugent, but he did not rule it out completely.

And Cruz, who told CNN he didn't agree with the rocker's comments, left the door open for a possible future Nugent cameo for him.

Nugent insists 'subhuman mongrel' comments not racist

'Star power'

Republican strategist and former Romney adviser Kevin Madden said politicians "assume this star power will help them identify with voters and help them get some headlines they might not get if it was just another boring political rally or public event."

That star power is built in large part on Nugent's music career, which peaked in the late 1970s when his signature single "Cat Scratch Fever" cracked the Top 40 and he was selling out arena-sized venues. The self-proclaimed "Motor City Madman" released his greatest hits album in 1981 but that was followed by dwindling record sales.

He served as a county sheriff in his native Michigan and became an advocate for gun rights, hunters and conservation.

On an appearance on "Late Night With David Letterman" in the 1980s, the rocker spouted statistics about gun ownership and crime and the motivations of an "anti-gun cause."

"During the fall... I don't rock and roll, I like to harvest my own food," Nugent added.

He emerged on the national political scene with the rise of the tea party in 2010. His politically incorrect comments on the music scene, once telling VH1 he had affairs with underaged girls, transferred to the political stage, where he became an outspoken opponent of Obama and the Democratic Party.

The risks include the increased chance for negative headlines that could turn off a more mainstream audience. On the other hand, an appearance with Nugent might increase the candidate's appeal to the rocker's active supporters.

Take for example the rocker's appearance with Abbott at campaign events. The Times Record reported that attendance at Abbott's event in Wichita Falls in northern Texas near the Oklahoma border "increased significantly" with Nugent's appearance.

At home with the 'Motor City Madman,' Ted Nugent

Conservative appeal

Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, said that while Nugent is not in the political mainstream, he appeals to a segment of the population that some politicians feel they can't ignore.

Nugent has a base among conservatives, and its size is not trivial, Teixeira said.

Still, Nugent's comments about Obama this time around drew criticism from within that base of support.

Conservatives wrote opinion pieces, including one on CNN by conservative commentator Timothy Stanley, who said he is "sick and tired of being embarrassed" by Nugent.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul called on Nugent to apologize, which he did, sort of. In an interview on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront," Nugent said he would "stop calling people names."

"Instead of using terms like 'subhuman mongrel,' I'm going to get right to the meat of the matter where our president is a liar. He lies about you can keep your doctor period. Over and over again he lies about Benghazi. He's lying about the IRS," Nugent said.

When Nugent took to Facebook to tell his 1.8 million followers that he would continue "to fight the enemies of America infesting our government," the post received 50,000 "likes."

In response to the latest controversy, Nugent wrote on his Facebook page: "I seek no attention. I seek no media." He says he wants to "spotlight power abusers & gvt [sic] criminals... to fight the enemies of America infesting our government."

That comment drew nearly 50,000 "likes" and included comments of support such as the one from Dan Filkins, who wrote "stand up and fight brother... ted [sic] for president!!!"

Nugent's appearance with Abbott prompted cheers from fellow firebrand Sarah Palin. On her Facebook page, she decided to endorse Abbott, writing, "If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!" That comment received more than 20,000 "likes."

Nugent sits on the board of the National Rifle Association and his vehement opposition to most restrictions on firearms attracts the support of many Second Amendment defenders. He also has support from some tea party advocates.

Taylor Budowich, executive director of Tea Party Express, said he is pleased that Nugent apologized for the "mongrel" remark and realized that inflammatory comments distract from his core message. He noted, however, that Nugent has support because he talks about the issues his tea party group cares about, including reducing the size of government and "restoring America" after being "hurt by this administration and past administrations."

But it's more than the themes that attract people to Nugent, Budowich says, it's how he says it. Politicians are politically correct and calculated, framing issues "in a way that is least offensive," Budowich says. But Nugent "speaks a different language," one to which many Americans can relate.

He "speaks from his heart," Budowich said.

But when asked about the offensive things Nugent has said, Budowich defended him, saying he doesn't think Nugent is a hurtful person, just passionate.

Nugent's brother, Jeff, had a similar take. On CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront," he said Ted's latest comments were "out of line," but said his brother is passionate and provocative.

"So you put those two things together and it comes out the way you see it. I agree with him on some points, but I disagree vehemently on others."

Perry: Nugent's comments 'shouldn't surprise anybody'

CNN's Ed Lavandera, Jason Morris, Dana Bash and Alan Duke contributed to this story.

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