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Friday, October 28, 2016

By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — At a closed-door meeting once in Boise, Idaho, a group of Republican governors quizzed actor-turned-aspiring-politico Arnold Schwarzenegger on the secret of raising money for a campaign.

Easy, he said with a laugh. Make hit movies and marry a Kennedy.

The marriage didn’t work out. But the hit movies definitely opened a door to politics that many others might find harder to pry open, if not downright locked.

Now comes Clay Aiken, a singer declaring this week he’ll run for a seat in the House of Representatives from North Carolina. If his attempt to jump from show business to politics seems a leap, note that it’s an often successful one for candidates ranging from Ronald Reagan to the guy who played “Gopher” on “The Love Boat.”

“Celebrities do surprisingly well, a number of them run for office and win,” said Darrell West, the director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “You shouldn’t underestimate them.”

Aiken, a bestselling singer launched to fame as the 2003 runner-up on the TV show “American Idol,” announced this week that he’s running as a Democrat for the congressional seat held by Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers.

It’s a conservative district. But West, author of the book “Celebrity Politics,” said celebrities bring several advantages to running for office.

“They’re well known, able to get a lot of media coverage and they are able to raise money,” he said. “And a lot of celebrities do well in relating to voters, they have experience dealing with fans.”

Among celebrities who have won political office:

—Reagan, an actor elected twice as governor of California and then twice as president.

—Sonny Bono, the singer elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, and then to Congress.

—Jack Kemp, a football star was elected to Congress and nominated by the GOP for vice president.

—Bill Bradley, the basketball star elected to the Senate.

—Clint Eastwood, the actor elected mayor of Carmel-By-The-Sea, California.

—Steve Largent, the pro football Hall of Fame player elected to Congress.

—Al Franken, the comic elected to the Senate;

—And Jesse Ventura, the pro wrestler-turned-Minnesota governor who told CNBC this week that he’s now filming a new TV show in a secret location in Mexico so drones can’t find him.