If you were watching the election results Tuesday night and the Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat from Wisconsin’s seventh district looked familiar, your eyes weren’t playing tricks on you.
Yes, that was Sean Duffy, who appeared on season six of MTV’s “Real World,” raising his hands in victory as he raked in 67 percent of the vote. The county prosecutor will now go on to face Senator Julie Lassa, the winner of the Democratic primary, in November’s election. Wisconsin native Duffy, 38, currently the district attorney of Ashland County, Wisconsin, is the kind of candidate seemingly custom-made for a political run in the land of cheese. One of 11 kids, he’s an expert log roller and speed climber, with three world titles at the National Lumberjack Championships, who has also done color commentary on ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games.
“I’m a traditional conservative, and because of the momentum I built and the ideas I’m talking about, a lot of folks in the Republican Party are excited about me,” Duffy said Thursday (September 16) from his car while traversing his district on another endless round of campaign stops. “When I decided to get into the race, they laughed at me, like, ‘Oh, wow, yeah, you’re a great candidate!’ But because of what I’ve done, people have gotten behind me.”
Among the Republican heavyweights who’ve endorsed Duffy are former Alaska governor and 2008 vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor and potential presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney also called Duffy to congratulate him.
Duffy — who is married to another “Real World” alum, Rachel Campos-Duffy, with whom he has six children — has been re-elected to his current post four times, and he threw his hat in the ring last summer, at a time when the district’s powerful incumbent, 40-year House veteran Democrat David Obey, seemed unbeatable.
But not long after he announced his candidacy, Duffy said he was prominently featured in a story on page one of The New York Times about some of the vulnerable chairmen on Capitol Hill, and just 10 days later, Obey announced his retirement. If he’s able to pull off the win, he could be crucial to Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives away from the Democrats.
Because his “Real World” stint portrayed him as a bit of a playboy and a naïf about racial politics, Duffy said you would never guess he’d be where he is now based on his reality-TV past. “Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he ever imagined he’d make the leap from the Boston firehouse to the Capitol. “But if you meet us now, reality TV is so not a part of our lives. We’re raising a family in Wisconsin and living the American dream.”
After taking a year off from law school to appear on the show, Duffy met Campos, got married, finished law school and moved back home to Hayward, Wisconsin, to work in his father’s law firm. “I think this country is going in the wrong direction,” he explained of his unlikely bid. “I haven’t been involved with a ton of politics, but I have some ideas for the people of Wisconsin.”
One of his major talking points is his opposition to the Obama administration’s trillions of dollars in economic-stimulus spending, which Duffy said he thinks is the wrong way to get the economy back on its feet. “Prosperity and growth comes from people in the private sector who create jobs,” he said.
Though he has the kind of name recognition and colorful résumé most candidates only dream of, Duffy said his reality-TV past doesn’t really come into play when he’s out there shaking hands at parades and campaign events. “Sometimes someone will reference my past, but I’m running on a set of ideas and a vision for Wisconsin and America, and that’s where I’m at,” he said. “People are not concerned about a reality show from 15 years ago.”
Duffy has gone further than one fellow “Real World” alum with political aspirations: season one’s Kevin Powell. The activist and poet, who has made two unsuccessful runs for Congress from New York, lost for a third time on Tuesday.
Are there any other “Real World” alumni you could see going into politics? Share your ideas in the comments!