WASHINGTON — National Republicans are advising candidates with celebrity status to follow the footsteps of a former comedian they hoped would never step into the Senate: Al Franken.
According to a report in POLITICO Tuesday, the GOP advised Sean Duffy, a former reality TV star who appeared on MTV’s “The Real World,” to focus on policy rather than his former career.
Duffy is running in Wisconsin’s 7th District, currently held by retiring Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey. The district borders Minnesota from Lake Superior down south to Michele Bachman’s 6th District in the center of the state.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has spoken with Sean Duffy, a former prosecutor who appeared on the show’s 1997 season, about “how to mitigate celebrity.” And according to one Republican familiar with their conversations, the committee has urged Duffy to take lessons from Minnesota’s successful celebrity-turned-politician: former comedian and now Democratic Sen. Al Franken.
Franken struggled early in his campaign to explain some of his more off-color remarks as a humorist, and had to explain why he once made a joke about rape. But he ended up narrowly defeated Republican Sen. Norm Coleman after a protracted recount battle.
The NRCC credits Franken for bringing in national political advisers who helped him focus on policy – a move that ultimately convinced voters and the media that he was a serious candidate.
There are always a few celebrities running for Congress each year.
Former Buffalo Bills tight end Jay Riemersma is a Republican candidate for Michigan’s 2nd District, while former Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler is better known to residents of North Carolina’s 11th District as their sophomore Democratic congressman. Former WWE CEO Linda McMahon (running for Senate in Connecticut) today faces similar questions about her pro wrestling background that Franken did about his comedy.
Go back a few years further and you’ll get astronaut-turned-Ohio-Sen. John Glenn, or musician-turned-California Rep. Sonny Bono. Look beyond Congress and you’ll see a whole host more: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura. The list goes on.
“Al has always tried to keep his focus on things his constituents care about and that’s the advice he’d give to anybody running for office,” Franken spokeswoman Jess McIntosh said.