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The Fix's Grab Bag of Celebrity Politicians

Just when it appeared that the New York Republican Party had hit rock bottom, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R) showed it could go a little lower when he floated real-estate-mogul-cum-television-star Donald Trump as a potential 2006 gubernatorial candidate.

The rumor was quickly dismissed on Dec. 31 by Trump political adviser Roger Stone, who told the New York Post that a gubernatorial bid was "not even in the realm of possibility." Trump's name is not new to the political rumor mill. In 2000, he considered a potential Reform Party candidacy for president.

The quick end to the latest Trump boomlet means that New York Republicans will likely wind up with former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld as their nominee -- although Weld has been battered of late in the media for his alleged mismanagement of a private Kentucky college. The situation for Republicans in the race to unseat Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D) is no better, with Pataki-anointed candidate Jeanine Pirro (R) dropping from the race last month to instead run for state attorney general.

Even if Trump had decided to run, the record of celebrity politicians is mixed at best.  For every Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jesse Ventura there's a Richard Petty.  Here's a list of celebrities-turned-politicians from off the top of The Fix's head. Not surprisingly, the biggest incubators of this semi-rare species of candidate are New York and California -- the two poles of celebrity culture. Who are we missing? Make additions to the list in the comments section and I'll update the post throughout the day.

* Actors/Directors Warren Beatty/Rob Reiner (D): The two Hollywood denizens regularly talk about themselves as potential statewide candidates in the Golden State, but so far neither Bullworth nor Meathead has pulled the trigger. Reiner has made a name for himself in politics, however, by backing several statewide ballot initiatives.

* Former California Rep. Sonny Bono (R): The one-time mayor of Palm Springs, Bono began his career in federal office with a loss -- a 1992 Senate primary defeat. Bono quickly pivoted to a run for lieutenant governor in 1994, but when the 44th District seat came open, he quickly jumped into that contest -- winning the primary and general election with ease. Bono was killed in a skiing accident in January 1998 and his widow, Mary, ran for and won the seat, which she still holds.

* Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley (D): A wunderkind since he was immortalized by John McPhee during his playing days at Princeton University, Bradley used the fame derived from his time as a star for the NBA's New York Knicks to get elected to the Senate from New Jersey in 1978. He held the seat until his retirement in 1996. Four years later he made an ill-fated challenge to Vice President Al Gore in the Democratic presidential primary.

* Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R): Bunning has enjoyed the longest political career of the recent celebrity politicians. A Hall of Fame pitcher, Bunning won Kentucky's 4th District House seat in 1986 and held it until 1998 when he challenged Rep. Scotty Baesler (himself a former University of Kentucky basketball star under legendary coach Adolph Rupp) for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Wendell Ford (D). Bunning narrowly won that race and a subsequent reelection contest in 2004.

* Former television anchor Nick Clooney (D): Clooney, a well known personality in northern Kentucky thanks to his years as a news anchor in the Cincinnati television market, failed in his 2004 race for the open 4th District seat.  Clooney is the father of actor of George Clooney and brother of the late crooner Rosemary Clooney, earning him a heavy helping of celebrity donations that still weren't enough to overcome the strong Republican lean of the district.

* Singer Jimmie Davis (D):  The "singing governor" led Louisiana's government during two terms, once in the 1940s and once in the 1960s.  Davis is best known as the author of "You Are My Sunshine," a song that helped get him inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

* Comedian Al Franken (D): Franken has made millions touting his liberal views in book form ("Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot") and on the radio airwaves ("The Al Franken Show"). And he has made no secret of his desire to run for office, targeting Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R), who is up for reelection in 2008. Franken is moving back to his home state to consider the race. When asked last month about the contest he said: "I don't know. Thinkin' about it, though."

* Iowa Rep. Fred Grandy (R): Following his years as "Gopher" on the popular television show "Love Boat," Grandy moved back to western Iowa where he was elected to Congress from the then 5th District in 1986. After eight years in Congress, the moderate Republican retired from his seat for a primary challenge against Republican Gov. Terry Branstad (R). Branstad won that contest 52 percent to 48 percent.

* Former Georgia Rep. Ben Jones (D): "Cooter" from the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show won a suburban Atlanta House district in 1988 -- knocking off a Republican incumbent. Jones lost a 1992 primary for the seat, however, after redistricting moved the district's lines. Two years later Jones was the Democratic nominee against Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). He lost that contest 64 percent to 36 percent.  Still not done with politics, Jones challenged Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor (R) in 2002 -- coming up 39 points short.

* Former Rep. Jack Kemp (R): Kemp, a star quarterback with the Buffalo Bills, served for nearly two decades in Congress before becoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush.  In 1996, Kemp was picked by former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole (R) as his vice presidential running mate; the ticket lost to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

* Actress Nancy Kulp (D): She played Jane Hathaway on the 1960s sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies" and then ran for a Pennsylvania House seat in 1984. She was endorsed by fellow actor Ed Asner but was opposed by Buddy Ebsen, who played Jed Clampett on the show. She lost to Rep. Bud Shuster (R).

* Former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent (R): Largent followed up his Hall of Fame football career with the Seattle Seahawks by winning an open seat contest in the 1st District in 1994. After four terms as one of Congress's staunchest conservative voices, Largent resigned his seat in 2002 for a seemingly sure-thing gubernatorial bid. Largent's campaign was listless though. In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Largent was hunting in Idaho and did not hear about the terrorist attacks for several days. Largent lost the race to Gov. Brad Henry (D) by less than 7,000 votes.

* Author Norman Mailer/Columnist Jimmy Breslin: The two men ran as a ticket in 1969, Mailer for mayor of New York City, Breslin for City Council President. The ticket lost -- badly -- though it did no harm to either man's "other" career.

* Former California Sen. George Murphy (R): Murphy, an actor who once served as the president of the Screen Actors Guild, was involved in a celebrity vs. celebrity matchup when he faced off with appointed Sen. Pierre Salinger (D) in 1964.  (Salinger defeated soon-to-be-Sen. Alan Cranston in that year's Democratic primary.) Murphy beat Salinger to claim the seat but lost to another quasi-celebrity in 1970 when Rep. John Tunney (D)-- the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney -- defeated him. Cranston, by the way, was elected to the Senate in 1968.

* NASCAR Legend Richard Petty (R): When "the King" ran for North Carolina secretary of state in 1996, he was seen as a shoe-in. Petty, himself, seemed to share that view, campaigning only sporadically. On election day, he was defeated by Elaine Marshall (D).  "If I had known I wasn't going to win, I wouldn't have run," Petty said at the time.

* Ronald Reagan (R): The most famous and successful celebrity-politician, Reagan won his first elected office in 1966 when he became governor of California following nearly three decades in Hollywood. Two years later he ran unsuccessfully for president and ran a near-miss primary challenge to President Gerald Ford (R) in 1976.  In 1980, Reagan was elected president and served two terms.

* Yankee 2nd Baseman Bobby Richardson (R): A perennial all-star for the powerhouse Pinstripers, Richardson made a bid for Congress in 1976 from South Carolina. He brought in a number of Yankee greats, including Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, but lost narrowly to Democratic Rep. Kenneth Holland.

* Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun (R):The first high-schooler to run a sub-four minute mile and a three-time Olympian, Ryun entered the 1996 open seat race to replace then Rep. Sam Brownback (R). After winning the three-way primary with 62 percent, Ryun won a more narrow 52 percent to 45 percent victory in the general election. Ryun has won reelection easily ever since.

* California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R): After Reagan, he's the best-known of the celebrity politicians.  The Governator enjoyed a honeymoon period following his successful recall election victory in Oct. 2003. But of late, Schwarzenegger has struggled to find a successful second act.  A handful of ballot initiatives he backed in a 2005 special election were defeated, leaving his chances for reelection this November up in the air.

* Novelist Upton Sinclair (Socialist/D): The famed author of "The Jungle" made a number of runs for office -- primarily in California where he moved in 1915. He ran for Congress twice -- once from New Jersey and once from California; he went on to campaign for Senate (1922) and governor (1926) as a Socialist. In 1934 he was the Democratic party's nominee for governor. Greg Mitchell wrote a great book on the '34 race -- "The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics." Earl Warren, who went on to become Supreme Court Chief Justice (and much derided by modern conservatives), masterminded the defeat of Sinclair for the Republicans.

* Jerry Springer (D): The man who gave us some of the best afternoon television brawls ever was once a popular mayor of Cincinnati.  Ohio Democrats have flirted with the idea of bringing Springer back for a run for Senate or governor, but so far they have (mercifully) held off.

* Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson (R): Thompson was seen as a rising star in the Republican Party when he jumped from the silver screen to the Senate with an open seat win in 1994. After winning a full six-year term two years later, Thompson was regularly mentioned as a presidential candidate for the 2000 cycle but took his name out of contention in the spring of 1999. Thompson appeared bored with politics and retired rather than run for reelection in 2002. He's been back in Washington, most recently as a handler for Chief Justice John Roberts's Supreme Court nomination.

* Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I): The most shocking celebrity-politician on the list, Ventura's campaign went from a gimmick to a winner in 1998 when voters expressed their disdain with the two major parties in Minnesota by electing the former professional wrestler with 37 percent of the vote. Ventura, still popular with the state's voters, was expected to run for a second term but backed out in June 2002 saying his "heart and soul" wasn't in the job.

* Novelist Gore Vidal (D):  Vidal made two unsuccessful bids for federal office -- one on each coast. In 1960, he lost a race for U.S. House in New York despite the strong backing of such party luminaries as former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and actor Paul Newman. Twenty two years later he was defeated in a bid for the Senate from California by then Gov. Jerry Brown (D) (who went on to lose to Republican Pete Wilson in the general election). Vidal had politics in his blood; his grandfather -- Thomas Gore -- served in the Senate as a Democrat from Oklahoma, and he's distantly related to former Veep Al Gore.

* Former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts (R): What is it about Oklahoma and football?  Watts, a former star quarterback in the University of Oklahoma's wishbone offense, was elected to Congress in 1994 and quickly rose up the leadership ranks, eventually becoming Chairman of the House Republican Conference.  Watts abruptly retired from Congress in 2002 but seemed likely to make a return. He has been recruited by state Republicans for every statewide position that has come open since his retirement.

UPDATED, 6:00 p.m. ET: As I predicted earlier today, there were dozens of celebrities-turned-politicians that The Fix's original list missed. Thanks to all the readers who contributed in the comments section. Here's a quick update on some of the biggest names that didn't appear the first time around.

* Roy Acuff (R): Acuff, one of the pillars of the country-music scene in Nashville, ran for Tennessee governor twice (in 1944 and 1948) -- both times unsuccessfully. Acuff's political ambitions were reportedly the result of then Gov. Prentice Cooper's (D) refusal to attend a ceremony honoring him.

* Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen (D): McMillen starred on the hardwood at the University of Maryland and then played in the pros. He left the NBA to run for Congress from Maryland in 1986. Redistricting in 1991 forced McMillen into a 1992 race against Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R), which he lost by just over 7,000 votes. McMillen has another interesting political tie. He is credited with encouraging Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) to get involved in the cell phone industry in the early 1980s; Warner went on to make tens of millions as a pioneer in the field.

* Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell (R): The southpaw spent more than a decade pitching in the big leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. After leaving baseball he held the Winston-Salem-based 5th District from 1968 until 1974. He was defeated in the post-Watergate election by Rep. Steve Neal (D), who held the seat until 1994 -- another watershed election. Following his defeat, Mizell served in the Ford and Reagan administrations. He also regularly returned to pitch batting practice to Republican lawmakers in preparation for the annual congressional baseball game. As for the nickname? Mizell was from Vinegar Bend, Alabama.

* Pappy O'Daniel (D): O'Daniel was ubiquitous on the radio airwaves before entering political office, gaining the nickname "Pass the Biscuits Pappy." Thanks largely to that stardom, he was elected governor of the Lonestar State in 1938. Three years later he defeated youthful Rep. Lyndon Johnson in a special election for the Senate but retired from the chamber in 1948 (setting up the infamous Democratic Senate primary detailed in Robert Caro's "Means of Ascent"). In 1956 and 1958 O'Daniel ran for governor and lost.

* Nebraska Rep. Tom Osborne (R): How could we forget the legendary Nebraska Cornhuskers football coach during college bowl season? Osborne coached the team for 35 years starting in 1962. After retiring from football, he joined the political game in 2000 when he ran and won the 3rd District open seat. He won reelection in 2002 with 93 percent and in 2004 with 87 percent. Osborne was heavily courted to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2006 but decided instead to run for governor. He is opposed in the Republican primary by Gov. Dave Heineman, who ascended to the seat when Mike Johanns (R) was named Secretary of Agriculture.

* Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page (D): Page was a legendary figure during his days on the gridiron at Notre Dame and went on to stardom in the NFL as a member of the Minnesota Vikings's famed "Purple People Eaters" defense during the 1970s. Page was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992, the first African American to hold that post. Page is regularly courted by national Democrats to run statewide in Minnesota but has not taken the leap to date.

Still more that I missed? Use the comments section below to say so.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 3, 2006; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Friday Line: Grading the White House Hopefuls' 2005
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Comments

Just when it appeared that the New York Republican Party had hit rock bottom, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R) showed it could go a little lower when he floated real-estate-mogul-cum-television-star Donald Trump as a potential 2006 gubernatorial candidate.
I do not agree.For more info go to http://www.apartments.waw.pl

Posted by: warsaw hotels | September 27, 2006 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I suggest you all go read David Canon's excellent 1991 book ACTORS ATHLETES AND ASTRONAUTS, which fully explained and explored this phenomenon some time ago. David deserves credit for his effort is writing a definitive work.

Posted by: Keith | September 2, 2006 2:17 PM | Report abuse

What about former WWE wrestler Nikolai Volkoff? He is running for Maryland State Assembly!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2006 8:00 PM | Report abuse

tee hee hee

Posted by: bob | March 21, 2006 7:59 PM | Report abuse

i am a hall of famer quarter back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Who am I? Well, my name is in the name section but maybe you didn't see that yet. ???

Posted by: bob | March 21, 2006 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Her name is Sheila Kuehl & she serves in the California Senate. She played Zelda Gilroy on Dobey Gillis [courtesy Wikipedia].

Posted by: Dan Dorfman | January 6, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse

In addition to the astronauts previously mentioned, former astronaut Jack Lousma ran for the U.S. Senate from Michigan in 1984 against Carl Levin and lost.
Future Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey and future Massachusetts Congressman Joe Early were both members of the 1954 Holy Cross basketball team that won the NIT.
Does Jennifer Lopez have any previous Arizona connection? She is originally from the Bronx. I can't really imagine her in politics anyway.
Daniel Boone was never elected to Congress, but Davy Crockett was. John C. Fremont, the "Pathfinder," who served in the Senate from California for a year and was the first Republican nominee for President in 1856, was also a celebrity for his western exploits before he decided to enter politics.

Posted by: James Kabala | January 6, 2006 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Jesse Helms (NC-R) was a television news commentator who leveraged his celebrity to win a senate seat.

Posted by: Mike | January 6, 2006 7:45 AM | Report abuse

Ben Jones - aka Cooter

Posted by: Dan | January 5, 2006 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Wow, quite an exhaustive list here. Don't forget former Rep. Baron Hill was an athlete before winning elected office. Also I heard Jennifer Lopez was thinking of challenging Jon Kyl.

Michael Moore is a former Flint, MI school board member.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | January 4, 2006 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Back in the 1960s, the legendary former Univ. of Oklahoma football coach, Bud Wilkinson, ran for a U.S. Sentae seat and lost by 3,000 votes. Coach Wilkinson had a friendship with a football-loving former vice president named Richard Nixon. Many Oklahomans believe that Nixon would have had Wilkinson at or near the top of his short list of VP candidates had Wilkinson been elected, and still lament how the Sooner State was 3,000 votes away from having one of theirs become president.

Follow-up on Pappy O'Daniel: He was sort-of portrayed by Charles Durning as the incumbent governor who pardoned the Soggy Bottom Boys in the movie 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?' Though the state was wrong, the character was very similar to that described in Caro's LBJ biography.

On an unrelated note, what about the porn star who ran for Gov of California during the infamous run-off after Grey Davis was recalled?

Posted by: Ben | January 4, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Oregon Gov. Tom McCall (1966-74)started his political career as a newspaper reporter and then, more appropriately to "celebrity," a TV political commentator. (When he retired from the statehouse, he went back to TV for a short time.)

More generally, a number of those posting comments have made the point that the "celebrity" associated with being a war hero (or at least a veteran) has helped a number of prominent politicians, perhaps most notably John Kennedy and George H.W. Bush, but many others, too. Richard Nixon made much of his service in the Navy when he sought the Republican nomination to the U.S. House in 1946, for example.

Posted by: blunch | January 4, 2006 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Since you're including sports heroes, Gerald Ford was an All-American center at Michigan.

Also do war heroes count? Ther's lots of them.

Posted by: Randy Potter | January 3, 2006 10:51 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't Maria Shriver's brother have a council seat somewhere? Mark Shriver?

Posted by: Johnny B | January 3, 2006 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Al Liter
Fmr. Met , Yankee, And ??. Big Bloomberg backer, Forrster Fundraiser fo his 02 Jersey Senate run, Starred in commerial for Pataki in 02 as well, rumored Jersey senate canidate in 02. Active in efforts for more after school programs.
And 06 canidates Lynn Swan in PA, and Kinky Friedman in TX

Posted by: Johnny B | January 3, 2006 10:21 PM | Report abuse

Tex Ritter, the country music singer, B-western movie star and father of actor John Ritter ran for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1970. He lost.

Posted by: John Hiestand | January 3, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Fred Arbanas (D), the All-Pro (and Super Bowl winning) tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs serves on the Jackson County, Missouri Legislature. He has been easily re-elected every election since 1972.

Posted by: ruralmoon | January 3, 2006 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget Tom McMillen who served three terms as congressman from Maryland's 4th District

Posted by: Kilda | January 3, 2006 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Columnist/Pundit William F. Buckley ran for NYC Mayor in 1965 opposing John Lindsay and Abe Beame. Buckley was asked in a press conference what would be the first thing he would do if he was elected Mayor, and in what is probably the best political one liner of all time Buckley replied, "Demand a recount."

Posted by: John Inzero | January 3, 2006 4:46 PM | Report abuse


Honorable mention to John Davis Lodge who was governor of Connecticut from '51 to '55.
A Hollywood heart throb in the early 30's (he was in Shirley Temple's "Little Colonel"),
the Connecticut Turnpike is named after him.

Posted by: don benedetto | January 3, 2006 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) is a former olympic medalist and motivational speaker. I know my boss thought hims a celebrity when he first ran for office as Ryun had been his track team's hero.

Jerry Doyle (R) challenged Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) in 2000. Doyle was the costar of the scifi tv show Babylon 5 and now hosts a nationally syndicated radio show.

Gerald Ford (R-MI) was a local college football hero before being elected to congress and eventually ascending to the presidency. As famous in his time as JC Watts in more recent memory.

Speaking of football - one could argue that Sen. George Allen (R-VA) is widely known because of his famous, NFL coach father.

And it seems to me that Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket were both already folk heroes before being elected to Congress in the 1800s.

Posted by: Bruce | January 3, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

More thoughts:
Did anybody mention the Rockefellers: Nelson, New York governor and vice president; Jay, West Virginia senator; Winton, Arkansas governor.
Or, of course the Kennedys, JFK, Bobby, Patrick, and a couple of others.
William Randolph Hearst's father was a US Senator from California, having made a fortune in silver mines in Nevada. He was illiterate, but his wife was a teacher.

Posted by: Tom Rische | January 3, 2006 4:29 PM | Report abuse

did people even read cizilla's post before answering with their own thoughts, i read over people he already put out there too many times

and yes ted nugent has continously wanted to run for governor of michigan, and as a gun-loving democratic michigander and citizen of the greatest state in the country, i think it would be entertaining...

Posted by: bp | January 3, 2006 3:51 PM | Report abuse

did people even read cizilla's post before answering with their own thoughts, i read over people he already put out there too many times

and yes ted nugent has continously wanted to run for governor of michigan, and as a gun-loving democrat, i think it would be entertaining...

Posted by: bp | January 3, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

In my earlier post, I forgot to state "Ma" Ferguson's state, Texas. She served 1925-27 and 1933-35.

Posted by: Tom Rische | January 3, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

In Oklahoma, one Will Rogers spent several years in Congress, riding on the name of the famous Oklahoma humorist, to whom he was not related.
Will Rogers Jr., real son of the humorist, served as a California congressman (D) and ran for the Senate.
So did James Roosevelt, (D-California) son of President Franklin D.
William Jennings Bryan's daughter, Ruth Bryan Owen, was an Illinois Congresswoman and failed Senate candidate in 1930.
Cowboy singer Glenn Taylor, from Idaho, ran for vice president with Henry Wallace in 1948 on the Progressive (?) ticket.
Maureen Reagan, the President's daughter unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California.
Gov. Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, the nation's first woman governor (D-)replaced her husband, "Pa"), who was sent to jail.
Similarly, Rep Katherine Buckley (R-Ky) replaced her jailbird husband in the 1920s. When he got out, they ran against each other. Both lost.
Nebraska's legendary football coach, Tom Osborne, (R) has served several terms in Congress and is now running for governor.
Oklahoma's legendary Coach Bud Wilkinson lost his political bids.
A Nebraska owner of "Terrible Terry" gas stations in the 1930's won a seat in Congress as a Democrat--Terrible Terry Carpenter.
And there was Lurleen Wallace, a stand-in for her husband, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, who was termed out as governor.
Gov. Edwin Edwards of Louisiana appointed his wife, Elaine to fill a US Senate vacancy.
And don't forget several relatives of Louisiana's Gov. and Sen. Huey Long, who were elected to various state offices after he was assassinated. His son, Russell, was a US Senator for many years.
Over the years, many sons, daughters, and wives have replaced congressmen who died.

Posted by: Tom Rische | January 3, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Ralph Waite of the Waltons has run for a House seat from California a few times in the 1990's, losing the last two times to Mary Bono.

Posted by: MM | January 3, 2006 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget William Randolph Hearst. It could be argued that he wielded far more power than he ever would have as a politician, but he still made a number of attempts at elective office. He even ran for president in 1904 after being elected to Congress for the state of New York in 1902.

Posted by: French | January 3, 2006 2:48 PM | Report abuse

There is also the science fiction contingent of California Congressional Candidates. George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu on the original Star Trek series, ran for Congress from Los Angeles in the seventies and lost; and Jerry Doyle, who played Mr. Garabaldi on Babylon 5, ran for Congress just a few years ago as the GOP nominee against Representitive Brad Sherman, and also lost.

Posted by: Scott Norton | January 3, 2006 2:17 PM | Report abuse


In terms of astronauts, John Glenn and Jack Schmidt were elected to Congress after their space careers. Bill Nelson and Jake Garn flew while in Congress as did Glenn on his second mission.

The saddest story of an astronaut-turned-pol is that of Jack Swigert, who flew on Apollo 13 after the original command module pilot was bumped because of exposure to measles. Swigart was elected to Congress in 1982 but died of cancer before he could take office.

Posted by: Astro | January 3, 2006 1:47 PM | Report abuse

A few:

Katherine Harris (R-FL) is the grand daughter of one of Florida's most powerful men--the late Ben Hill Griffin. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field is named for him. Katherine also has a cousin (also a grand child of Ben Hill Griffin) who is currently in the Florida legislature. Interesting side note, Katherine's mom sued her brothers and one thing led to another including Katherine chasing this particular (elected official) cousin down the driveway of her home.

The wife of Vince Dooley, the long-time Georgia coach and later Athletic Director, made a run for Congress from Georgia several years ago. She lost--suprisingly.

Posted by: AR | January 3, 2006 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Michael Moore backed a Ficus tree against a U.S. House incumbent in New Jersey in 2000. Don't think the tree won, but it got a lot of votes.

Posted by: Moochie | January 3, 2006 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget Howard Stern, the would-be governor of New York.

Posted by: Bababooey | January 3, 2006 1:30 PM | Report abuse

george w bush is a two term celebrity president and texas governor. he clearly didn't win because of his qualifications. i mean failure as an oil executive and failure as a baseball executive aren't exactly the things he touted to win. it was pure name recognition and folksy redneckness that got him the victory.

Posted by: don't forget | January 3, 2006 1:28 PM | Report abuse

SI Hayakawa former President at UC Berkey during the free speech moment, later Senator from California

Posted by: Tom | January 3, 2006 1:02 PM | Report abuse

If we are getting into the judicial branch, don't forget Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Allen Page (former Viking).

Posted by: TT | January 3, 2006 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Ventura's election win was a surprise to outsiders, but not so shocking when one takes a hard look at his election. He ran against two well known and popular candidates: Republican Norm Coleman--then, a popular mayor of Saint Paul (who helped bring Hockey back to Minnesota--Minnesotans love hockey) and now, a respected moderate Minnesota Senator; and Democrat Skip Humphrey--a popular attorney general and son of Former U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Jesse, for his part, had been mayor of Brooklyn Park, one of Minnesota's biggest cities, and a regular political commentator on Minnesota radio. He also ran at a time when the economy was strong, there were no pressing issues, and the rank-and-file politicians were disliked. His (albiet incorrect) image as an "outsider" to politics, an "average guy," and novelty candidate helped him garner enough votes in a three way race where there was no clear front-runner from the two major party candidates who spent all their time taking shots at the other.

Posted by: TT, former Jesse Ventura Intern | January 3, 2006 12:59 PM | Report abuse

In '94, Oliver North lost to incumbent Democrat Sen. Chuck Robb in Virginia.

Posted by: Phil | January 3, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget about former astronaut John Glenn who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Ohio after walking on the moon. He even went back into space in 1998 when he was still in the Senate.

And that also brings up Sen. Bill Nelson from Florida who was also an astronaut.

Posted by: Erno | January 3, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Clint Eastwood's name comes up with every election - he served as the Mayor of Carmel, California city council for two years 1986 - 1988 choosing not to run again.

Posted by: Eileen Padberg | January 3, 2006 12:49 PM | Report abuse

William Buckley ran against John Lindsey for mayor of NYC

Posted by: James | January 3, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Hasn't Ted Nugent made some noise about running for office in Michigan as a Republican? I seem to recall something along those lines.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Posted by: The Caped Composer | January 3, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

This is an obscure one i suppose. But Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell served as a Republican Congressman from North Carolina after pitching for several seasons for the Cardinals.

Also did anyone include Jim Bunning on the list?

Posted by: Adam | January 3, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Author Clare Booth Luce (and wife of Time publisher Henry Luce) served several terms in the US House, where she became known for her feud with another famous celebrity member, Helen Gahagan Douglas

Posted by: Everett | January 3, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Filling in the details from Richard Taylor's comment above, Sheila Kuehl, who played Zelda Gilroy on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, was elected to the Calif. State Senate in 1994.

Moving outside the confines of the United States for a moment, we have the Oscar-winning actress Glenda Jackson, who has served in the British Parliament since 1992, and Olympic miler Sebastian Coe, who likewise served in Parliament and currently sits in the House of Lords.

Posted by: John Heaton | January 3, 2006 11:28 AM | Report abuse

Celebrity politicians represent a shortcut to the one thing any winning candidacy needs: name ID.

At one time, when party loyalties were stronger and more widespread than they are now, politics was seen as a kind of entertainment and constituencies were smaller, name ID came more easily to candidates running for office without anything more than an aptitude for retail politics. Today, though, a typical Congressional district has over three-quarters of a million people, and a Senate race can cost tens of millions of dollars.

Celebrities whose names (by definition) are already well known before they enter politics are one shortcut around the problem of becoming known. Another is represented by candidates so wealthy they can pay for their own campaigns -- a good quarter of today's US Senate falls into this category. Finally there is one shortcut that can overlap with either or both of the other two: selecting a candidate who is related to a current or former officeholder. George W. Bush could never have been nominated even as Governor of Texas if his father had not been Vice President and then President for twelve years; the only thing Hillary Clinton accomplished in public life before her election to the Senate was to marry Bill Clinton. Tafts, Rockefellers and Kennedys have been trading on their relations in politics for decades now.

Posted by: Zathras | January 3, 2006 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Minor local celeb, J. D. Hayworth, Rep. (R) from Phoenix/Scottsdale. Elected in 1995, prior to his stint in Congress, "J.D. was a public relations consultant, an insurance agent, and a radio news commentator. His media career included radio and television, most notably seven years as a sports anchor in Phoenix." (Hype from his Website) A reliable conservative, JD is a backseater but very impossing at Six-plus feet of mass who still acts like an insurance salesman, gladhanding the crowd.

Posted by: TomByrd | January 3, 2006 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I would count Sen. Clinton

Posted by: Brian | January 3, 2006 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Hey, "Fair and Balanced", chill. THere will be plenty of Abramoff coverage. Besides, he put this out before the breaking news of Abramoff's deal. Take a deep breath and relax.

Posted by: Political Junkie | January 3, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

How about '50's pole vaulter Bob Richards; Bob Mathias; Glenn Cunningham.
Former Ohio Senator Frank Lausche was once a minor league baseball player.
Rep. Nick Rahall of W. VA. is another.
How about astronauts like John Glenn, Harrison Schmitt, Bill Nelson, etc.

Posted by: Roy Nichols | January 3, 2006 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Jack Abramoff is pleading guilty in the biggest conspiracy in congressional history and we're talking abt Phil McConkey? What a JOKE. (nice catch in the superbowl tho). You cant tell me theres not a more pressing topic of political discussion in the first week of 2006 than CELEBRITY POLITICIANS. It appears that GOPers like Cilliza are in just a sad state of denial.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | January 3, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Heath Schuler (former Washington Redskins Quarterback) is challenging Rep. Taylor in NC-11. Also Don Mattingly (former New York Yankee) flirted with being the Democratic nominee in the Bloody 8th (Indiana) during the late-1990s.

Posted by: Mark | January 3, 2006 11:05 AM | Report abuse

My last one, I swear. How about a former actress turned Congressperson named Helen Gahagan Douglas? Her attempt to gain a Senate seat in 1950 was derailed by a vicious smear campaign that proved a harbinger of things to come. The winner? Richard Nixon.

Posted by: John Reiser | January 3, 2006 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Virginia's two senators have important celebrity connections which helped them to get elected -- long ago, John Warner was most famous for being Mrs. Elizabeth Taylor, and George Allen has traded hansomely on being a former UVa QB (albeit for some terrible teams) and son of the former Redskins coach.

Also in the "brush with greatness" club, one of Joe Paterno's sons made a run for Congress in PA-17 (Central Pa. - Lion Country!) last time around in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Tim Holden.

Posted by: R.L. Ritter | January 3, 2006 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Shirley Temple Black lost a special U.S. House election in California in 1967 to Pete McCLoskey. Phil McConkey did run for the U.S. House from New Jersey in 1990, but lost the primary to Dick Zimmer.

Posted by: Mike Donohue | January 3, 2006 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget SCOTUS - Byron "Whizzer" White, anybody?

And... not sure it makes him a celebrity, but worth a mention that Sen. John Warner was married to Elizabeth Taylor from '76-82.

Posted by: DBJ | January 3, 2006 10:41 AM | Report abuse

North of the border, hockey legend Frank Mahovlich is a member of the Canadian Senate. Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame Goalie Ken Dryden gave up his career as a hockey executive with the Toronto Maple Leafs to run, and win, a seat in the Canadian House under the Liberal banner. He was promptly moved into Prime Minister Paul Martin's Cabinet. Many believe he is a future PM candidate himself.

There is a least one former local TV news anchor in the current Congress, and many have run in previous elections.

Posted by: Mark Cohen | January 3, 2006 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Helen Gahagan Douglas began her career on the Broadway stage before moving to California. Elected to the House in '44, and re-elected twice. Defeated in the 1950 Senate race by Richard Nixon.

Posted by: bcarterx | January 3, 2006 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Max's reference to Ben Nighthorse Campbell's status as a former Olympian triggered my recollection of former California Congressman Bob Mathias, Olypmpic Gold Medal winner in '48 and '52 in the decathlon.

Former NASCAR great Cale Yarborough was a long-time county official in his home of Timmonsville, SC. He switched from the GOP to the Democratic party in 1976 to evidence his support of Jimmy Carter.

Posted by: John Reiser | January 3, 2006 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Pat Swilling the former Saints linebacker served in the Louisiana state house

Posted by: Tom | January 3, 2006 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Lynn Swann is running for Governor of Pennsylvania

Posted by: Anonymous | January 3, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

* Singer Jimmie Davis (D): The "singing governor" led Louisiana's government during two terms, once in the 1940s and once in the 1960s. Davis is best known as the author of "You Are My Sunshine," a song that helped get him inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

Hey. You are forgetting W. Lee (Pappy) O'Daniel, who went from hillbilly band leader/radio singer/flour salesman (The Lightcrust Doughboys) to Governor of Texas ("Pass the biscuits, Pappy") and I think also US Senator? Pappy's accession to elected office proves that anyone can be elected to anything.

Posted by: Robert Bigham | January 3, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

If we are talking about sports stars/celebrities you can include Ben Nighthorse Campbell - former Sen. from Colorado. He represented the US at the Olympics (I think 1972) in judo.

Posted by: Max | January 3, 2006 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Kinky Friedman gubernatorial hopeful in Texas, writer and leader of the band The Jewboys of Texas.

Posted by: Dave Sencer | January 3, 2006 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Steve Largent (R) - Former Seattle Seahawks receiver.

Posted by: BobL | January 3, 2006 9:53 AM | Report abuse

Tom Osborne (the G.O.A.T. college football coach) wasn't the first college coach to attempt a transition from coaching to the Federal legislature. Bud Wilkinson, the Oklahoma coach of the '50s and '60s, made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in the late '60s.

Governor Jimmie Davis wasn't the only Country Music star to try politics, either. Roy Acuff was the (unsuccessful) Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee years before he taught Richard Nixon how to yo-yo on the stage of the Grand Old Opry.

Former big league pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell represented N.C. in the House for many years, while Senator Bunning was still paying ball.

And Bill Bradley wasn't the first basketball player in politics. Former Bullet Tom McMillan represented Maryland in the House and another hoopster named Mo Udall represented Arizona in that body and even ran for President in 1976, but ran into a buzzsaw named Jimmy Carter.

Silver screen song & dance man George Murphy (California, naturally) held down a Senate seat in the '60s.

These are just off the top of my head. I'm sure more will occur as the day passes.

Posted by: John Reiser | January 3, 2006 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, Calif.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 3, 2006 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Tom Hayden was married to Jane Fonda and had several terms in the California Legislature.

Posted by: Randy | January 3, 2006 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I do not recall her name but the woman who played Velma(?) on Dobie Gillis is, I believe, a California state senator.

Posted by: Richard Taylor | January 3, 2006 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Phil McConkey, from the Super Bowl winning New York giants consdiered a run for Congress

Posted by: Peter David | January 3, 2006 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget Tom Osbourne, the ole Nebraska football coach...

Posted by: Robert | January 3, 2006 8:59 AM | Report abuse

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