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Analysis: Famous Names on the Ballot? Sure, We Got ’Em

Celebrities, semi-celebrities and their families vie for a ticket to Congress

Levi Sanders, center, here in 1995 with his father, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., is running for an open seat in New Hampshire.  (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Levi Sanders, center, here in 1995 with his father, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left and Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., is running for an open seat in New Hampshire.  (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Every election cycle, at least a few “semi-celebrities” (or those with connections to semi-celebrities) run for office. This cycle is no exception.

Actress Cynthia Nixon of “Sex in the City” fame is running for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York, while Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother, won the Republican nomination in Indiana’s 6th District.

But there are other semi-celebrity candidates — or relatives of semi-celebrities — running for Congress this year who are also worth noting.

Here are a few:

Scott Wallace

Democrat Scott Wallace is hoping to win his party’s nomination in Pennsylvania’s 1st District, where GOP incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking a second term.

Wallace is the grandson of Henry A. Wallace, who served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president during his third term. Roosevelt eventually dropped Wallace, a left-wing populist, from the ticket when he sought and won a fourth term, replacing Wallace with Missouri Sen. Harry S. Truman.

Roosevelt did appoint Wallace as secretary of Commerce, though he was eventually fired by Truman. Scott Wallace’s campaign website doesn’t mention that his grandfather was discredited for being soft on Russia, communism and Stalin. Nor does it mention that Henry Wallace left the Democratic Party and ran as a Progressive in 1948, winning less than 3 percent of the vote. Scott Wallace is a serious contender for his party’s nomination. Given the competitiveness of the new district, this is a district to watch.

Karin Housley

Minnesota GOP Senate hopeful Karin Housley has a famous name — her husband’s. Housley, a realtor and state senator from the Twin Cities area, is married to Phil Housley, the coach of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.

A defenseman who played for eight different teams from 1982 to 2003, Coach Housley was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. He played in 1,495 National Hockey League games, a record for a U.S.-born player until it was eclipsed by Chris Chelios in 2006.

Phil Housley also held the record for most points by an American-born NHL player. That record fell to Mike Modano in 2007. The filing deadline isn’t until June, with the primary in August, but Karin Housley could well be the GOP nominee against Democrat Tina Smith, who was appointed to fill Al Franken’s open Senate seat and is running in a special election to fill out the term.

Karin Housley would need to do better than her husband did this season. Not only did the Sabres finish last in the Atlantic Division of the NHL, but they finished with the league’s worst record.

Anthony Gonzalez

Anthony Gonzalez played football at Ohio State before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the last pick of the first round in the 2007 NFL draft. (The Colts had the last pick in the round because they had defeated the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl a couple of months earlier.)

But injuries took their toll starting in his third year with the Colts, and he eventually retired in 2012. Last week, Gonzalez — no relation to Roll Call elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales or 14-time Pro Bowl NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez — won the GOP nomination in Ohio’s 16th District.

He had the backing of many in the party establishment. His main rival, state Rep. Christina Hagan, accused him of being “the swamp’s choice” and noted that she was a strong supporter of President Donald Trump.

Hagan, who was endorsed by former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, also cited endorsements from leading House Freedom Caucus conservatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina.

The district, left open because GOP Rep. Jim Renacci is running for Senate, leans Republican, though it bears watching because of the current climate.

Gonzalez’s primary victory improves Republican prospects.

Watch: There’s Been a Dramatic Rise in Female Campaign Donors This Cycle

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Colin Allred

Former Baylor linebacker Colin Allred played four seasons for the Tennessee Titans. After his football career ended, Allred went to law school and then worked as a special assistant in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He finished first in the March Democratic primary in Texas’ 32nd District but faces a May 22nd runoff for the nomination with Lillian Salerno.

The winner of the runoff will face Republican Rep. Pete Sessions in November.

Levi Sanders

Levi Sanders, the son of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is running for the Democratic nomination in New Hampshire’s 1st District. The eventual winner will replace retiring Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.

Sanders’s bare-bones website doesn’t mention his father, but it does show a large photo of Levi passing his father as they shake hands.

Kimberlin Brown Pelzer

According to her IMDb profile, Republican hopeful Kimberlin Brown Pelzer has a long list of credits, including “The Young and the Restless,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Port Charles,” “General Hospital” and “One Life to Live.” In 1982, she “guest-starred” on an episode of “T.J. Hooker,” which starred the always memorable William Shatner.

Pelzner, who is running in California’s 36th District, spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Her website describes her as “one of a small, rare group of actors in Hollywood who are public about their conservative political beliefs.” She also started an interior design firm.

This district was once represented by Sonny Bono and later by his widow, Mary Bono. It includes Palm Springs and has been moving toward the Democrats.

Suneel Gupta

Suneel Gupta’s bio on his campaign website describes him as a “proven entrepreneur … who has built companies that have created thousands of good-paying jobs.” But for many people his biggest claim to fame is his brother — CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta.

Suneel served as vice president for development at Groupon, but in 2012, he and Sanjay “co-created Rise, a healthcare company that uses technology to shrink the cost of quality health care.” The congressional hopeful has a law degree and an MBA from Northwestern.

Gupta is running in a multi-candidate Democratic primary race in Michigan’s 11th District. The seat was left open by the retirement of Republican incumbent Dave Trott. The Democratic field includes a state legislator, two former Obama administration staffers and two entrepreneurs. The GOP field includes former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, the co-chairwoman of Trump’s Michigan campaign and a number of current and former state legislators.

Depending on your meaning of the word “celebrity,” other candidates could fill the bill, as well.

My Roll Call colleague Nathan listed a number of others in a column almost a year ago.

But even if I’m not sure what constitutes celebrity status, it’s pretty clear that the success of athletes, reality TV stars, entertainers and officeholders’ siblings and children will encourage other hopefuls to turn their name recognition or their bloodlines into future political gold.