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With One Now in the White House, Celebrities Crowd the Political Stage

It doesn’t end with Kid Rock; actors, a former Olympian and one of the ”sexiest men alive” plan to run

Kid Rock may have been among the first celebrities to emerge as a potential candidate in 2018, but he wasn’t the last. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Kid Rock may have been among the first celebrities to emerge as a potential candidate in 2018, but he wasn’t the last. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Kid Rock was undeniably the most recognizable celebrity name being thrown around as a potential 2018 candidate for Congress — until Sen. Bob Corker announced his retirement.

That led to chatter that Peyton Manning, the legendary NFL and University of Tennessee quarterback, could take the Republican senator’s Tennessee seat. But with Manning quickly quashing speculation he would make the race, Kid Rock was back on top.

“We will be scheduling a press conference in the next 6 weeks or so to address this issue amongst others, and if I decide to throw my hat in the ring for US Senate, believe me …  it’s game on mthrfkers,” his campaign website states.

Welcome to 2017, the year after a reality television star won the White House. Already an actor featured in a People Magazine “Sexiest Man Alive” issue has announced he’ll be running for Congress, as has a former “60 Minutes” producer and a former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver. A women’s golf champion and a gold medal-winning Olympic cyclist are among those reportedly considering bids.

Kid Rock, whose legal name is Robert James Ritchie, has been toying with challenging Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow for her seat in Michigan, although polling has the incumbent well ahead in a general election matchup against the performer, who is a Republican.

Polling aside, the musician is as cocky and bullish as his stage persona, which is built on braggadocio and machismo.

“The democrats are ‘shattin’ in their pantaloons’ right now … and rightfully so!” he explains on his campaign site.

Ritchie, who under Michigan law would have to run under his given name, would have plenty of company in the electoral arena from celebrities and quasi-celebrities. Several are either exploring their options for political campaigns or have jumped into the fray outright.

Natalie Gulbis, a Republican and one-time tournament winner on the LPGA Tour, stepped up her fame with an appearance in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and a turn competing on “The Celebrity Apprentice.” In June, the Nevada Independent reported that she’s considering running for a generally competitive open House seat based in suburban Las Vegas.

Gulbis would be trying to reclaim a seat that was Republican-controlled until Rep. Joe Heck made an ill-fated run for Senate last year. The Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jacky Rosen, is challenging GOP Sen. Dean Heller, creating the open seat.

Gulbis’ support for Donald Trump during the presidential campaign earned her a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention last year.

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Golfer Natalie Gulbis speaks at the Republican National Convention last year. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“I believe that God’s timing is perfect, and he puts people in our lives to help make a positive impact on those around us, and to help us achieve our goals,” Gulbis said in the speech. “One of those people for me is Donald Trump.”

She said Trump helped motivate her in business and also provided assistance for her to open a Boys & Girls Club. That was also her charity of choice when she appeared on the second season of Trump’s “The Celebrity Apprentice,” being “fired” toward the middle of the show.

Soaping up

Antonio Sabato Jr. is another celebrity shifting to politics now that Trump occupies the Oval Office. The soap opera star and Calvin Klein model said he will challenge Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley, who represents an affluent California district comprising parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Sabato, too, spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, highlighting his story as an immigrant from Italy and focusing on how he followed the law to earn citizenship after more than a decade.

He’s appeared on both “Melrose Place” and “General Hospital,” but might be best known for his modeling and as one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive.”

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Antonio Sabato Jr. visits with Rep. Mia Love of Utah. (Courtesy Antonio Sabato)

With immigration a key issue in Southern California, it’s no surprise that a Trump-backing Republican like Sabato would support the president’s plan for a wall on the Mexican border.

But as he made clear during a September interview with the Fox Business Network, he is also cognizant of the plight of fellow immigrants who came to the United States as children.

People who have lived here for years, paid dues and who love this country deserve to be here, Sabato said. “We can’t just pick them all up, and it wasn’t their fault to be here in the first place.”

“But from this point on we need to regulate,” he said in the interview. “We need to enforce the law. We have laws on the books that actually work. We need to build this wall.”

Sabato isn’t the only Republican soap star running for office. “The Bold and the Beautiful” actress Kimberlin Brown, who also spoke at last year’s convention, announced last week she will challenge Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz in California’s 36th District.

A sporting chance

Other pop culture figures are giving politics a shot too.

The retirement of GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, has created a competitive open seat in Pennsylvania. Among the potential Republican candidates is a Lehigh County commissioner named Marty Nothstein.

Nothstein’s name identification predates his foray into local government. Cycling enthusiasts might remember him for winning a silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and a gold in Sydney in the 2000 Games in the sprint.

Nothstein wrote a memoir in 2012, focusing on his cycling career and the sacrifices he made between 1996 and 2000 in the quest to become an Olympic champion, as well as his upbringing by a family descended from the German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania prior to 1776.

“The PA Dutch take pride in their blue-collar work ethic and propensity for physical labor,” he wrote. “They eschew a lavish lifestyle (to the point of obsessive stinginess) and invest in property before all else. Family comes first and foremost for the PA Dutch.”

The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown had reported Nothstein was thinking about running as a conservative candidate in the race even before the moderate Dent announced he would not seek another term.

In Ohio, former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican, filed papers in August to run for GOP Rep. James B. Renacci’s seat in the 16th District. Renacci is giving up his seat to run for governor.

Gonzalez was a star wide receiver at Ohio State University before turning pro. The Colts drafted him 10 years ago as they were coming off a victory in Super Bowl XLI. He retired in 2012 because of a spate of injuries and enrolled in the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Asked this year about the unexpected need to retire from the NFL, Gonzalez told the Indianapolis Star he needed time to find his footing: “My guess is that psychologically I went through what a lot of players did. You just have no idea what to do next.” 

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Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez has announced he will challenge Rep. James B. Renacci in Ohio. (Courtesy Indianapolis Colts)

It’s not just famous Republicans who are looking into congressional races. In Virginia’s 5th District, journalist and documentary filmmaker Leslie Cockburn is running as a Democrat against Republican Rep. Tom Garrett.

The Rappahannock County resident has produced for the CBS News program “60 Minutes” and worked on documentaries for the PBS “Frontline” series. As a foreign correspondent for NBC News early in her career, she snagged an interview with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Cockburn might also benefit from the reflected star power of her daughter, actress Olivia Wilde, of the TV series “House” and the movie “Tron: Legacy” fame.

“There’s waves of people who have never been involved in politics,” Cockburn said earlier this year when she was considering a run. “As a journalist, I’ve always been involved in politics. … And to shine that light on the 5th District? Given I’d be up against an opponent who’s very far right, who certainly doesn’t represent my views? It’s a lot of work, but it will be worth doing.”

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