Four (Almost) Famous Congressional Candidates

by Nathan L. Gonzales June 9, 2017 · 9:25 AM EDT

The political media went into a frenzy last cycle when “Little House on the Prairie” actress and “Dancing With the Stars” contestant Melissa Gilbert decided to run for Congress in Michigan. Even though the Democrat eventually dropped out before she matched up against Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in the general election, it was clear that the media is hungry for any intersection of celebrity and politics.

This cycle, the early going has been meager on the celebrity front, but a handful of contenders have famous connections.

Comedian and actor Andy Richter is best known as Conan O’Brien’s sidekick on various late night talk shows over the last 20 years. Richter isn’t running for Congress, but his brother, Victor Swanson, is challenging GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren in Illinois’ 14th District.

As a Navy veteran and high school teacher, Swanson has a slightly lower profile than his brother. Hultgren is one of dozens of GOP incumbents on the Democrats’ initial target list, but Swanson will need to leverage his brother’s profile into some fundraising, or come up with serious cash from somewhere else in order to become a top-tier candidate. The race is rated Solid Republican. 

Danny Ainge played 14 seasons in the NBA as a shooting guard, winning championships in 1984 and 1986 with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. The Eugene, Oregon, native also helped the Portland Trail Blazers reach the NBA Finals in 1992.

Ainge is now general manager of the Celtics, but his son Tanner is running for Congress in Utah’s 3rd District, which will be vacant when GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz resigns at the end of the month. Like his father, Tanner graduated from Brigham Young University, but then went on to earn his law degree from Northwestern University and work for a couple of private equity firms.

The race is rated Solid Republican, and Tanner has a shot, considering that the race will be decided on the GOP side, although there will be a crowded field.

For nearly 50 years, Pauline Phillips wrote the “Dear Abby” advice column and her sister wrote the “Ann Landers” column for hundreds of newspapers across the country. Phillips passed away in 2013, but her grandson is challenging GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen in Minnesota’s 3rd District.

Dean Phillips is also heir to a fifth-generation liquor business and co-owned a gelato business, and Democrats believe he’ll be a strong challenger in a suburban district that Hillary Clinton carried by 9 points last fall, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. The race is rated Leans Republican.

At this point in the cycle, the best-known congressional candidate might be model and actor Antonio Sabato Jr. The C-List actor is best known for his roles on “General Hospital” and “Melrose Place” and an eighth-place finish on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2014.

The 45-year-old has been a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump and is taking on Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley in California’s 26th District, which Clinton carried by 22 points in November. The race is rated Solid Democratic.

Thankfully for Republicans and Democrats, celebrity status is not a prerequisite for getting elected, although it didn’t hurt the current president.