It started as a surprise 80th birthday gift from her youngest daughter, Brenda, and turned into one of the most surreal and most-watched political ads Utah has seen.
I’m talking of course of Linda Paulson’s rapping campaign video, “Linda Paulson for Utah Senate Rap (District 12)”, which as of Wednesday had been viewed by thousands of people on YouTube, written about in several national news outlets and, on Tuesday night, made it onto The Late Show With Stephen Colbert monologue.
The attention has thrilled the mother of five girls and four boys, grandmother of 35 and great-grandmother of 14, who, in case it wasn’t obvious, is making her first foray into rap music.
“Two of our grandsons like hip-hop and rap, and they are darling. And so I’ve admired it, but I haven’t really listened to rap or gotten into it,” she told me this week. “But I know it’s fun, and look how much fun we’ve had!”
In the 90-second ditty, Paulson, wearing a red shirt and blue scarf, spits rhymes (or often not-rhymes) for Utah voters while she sort of half dances, half marches next to an American flag:
“Hey, Utah District 12 listen up right here/ There’s a new name on the ballot for the Senate this year/ My name is Linda Paulson, Republican and awesome/I love God and family and the Constitution/ I tried to get another conservative to run/ Nobody could do it so I’m getting it done.”
That’s true, Paulson told me. She had reached out to a handful of people hoping one of them would run against state Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, a long-time senator, labor leader and Utah Democratic powerhouse. Nobody did, so Paulson told her husband, Fred, she was going to make her first run for office.
Taking on a massive challenge, running as a first-time candidate in a heavily Democratic district against a popular incumbent, she printed some fliers, made phone calls and created some signs — the typical campaign playbook. But then she did something wildly different that led to what Paulson refers to as “the outbreak.”
Brenda, who lives in Layton, had written the words to a rap as a birthday gift — “She knows what I stand for and I just loved it,” Paulson said. They decided to record the video in Paulson’s backyard in one afternoon.
Paulson said she struggled to stay on the beat, but her daughter helped her and handled all the editing of the video — where she checks the standard Republican boxes:
“I’m pro-religious freedom, pro-life, pro-police, the right to bear arms and the right to free speech/ I want less government control and regulation/ I want to stop and expose all political corruption/ Where’s integrity, morality, accountability?/ Government programs should lead to self-sufficiency and support the traditional family as the fundamental unit of society.”
(Side note: The Utah Debate Commission should make the format for all of the upcoming debates an old-school rap battle.)
I wish, though, Paulson had stopped there, because in our short chat she came off as a very sweet, charming woman and I always appreciate candidates who don’t take themselves too seriously. “I got to make a new friend today,” she said before we hung up.
The rap, however, got problematic:
“But in schools they’re pushing for new beliefs/ And just to clarify, as a female adult, I know what a woman is.”
That last line had originally been delivered over a photo of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson — the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s high court — but has since been edited out and replaced with a shot of Paulson doing a kind of clap-and-half-dab gesture.
On her website, Paulson elaborates that she supports a ban on transgender girls playing girls’ sports, opposes teaching race perspectives in schools, objects to an Equal Rights Amendment and references the old “boys in girls’ bathrooms” dog whistle.
I suppose this is the toxic political climate we live in.
Critics have lashed out at Paulson on her Facebook page, both at the content and the quality of the rap, which upset her daughter.
“I said, ‘Look, people are going to say mean things, even if you’re doing something nice for them. This is what I stand for and you’ve done a wonderful job and don’t worry, don’t even look at that mean stuff,’” Paulson said she explained to her daughter.
Mayne has not countered with a rap of her own (although I kind of wish she would).
“I don’t rap. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I’m just a very effective legislator,” Mayne told me.
Since the video dropped, Paulson said she’s been contacted by news outlets from around the country and received an influx of campaign contributions. Conservative rapper Bryson Gray did a remix built on top of her rap, and Paulson says that now “he’s my new best friend.”
And Tuesday night, the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert asked for more with a couple bars of his own:
“Hey Linda Paulson, listen up right here/ You have the hip-hoppen-est ad this year/ I’m Stephen Colbert, the Constitution is good/ And just to clarify, as a comedian I want you to make more songs please.”
So is she planning to drop another jam before Election Day?
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “If one of our kids comes up with something as good as our daughter Brenda did, you bet. Let’s go for it!”
I assure you, whatever it is, it will be better than Attorney General Sean Reyes’ attempted raps.
Editors note: The column has been updated to include a comment from Sen. Karen Mayne.