The primary is less than two weeks away and surely you’d like to get to know the candidates better before voting. What better way to do that than by comparing them to reality TV stars? This time around, we’ve paired candidates in the major races — Senate, Attorney General, select State House and President — to reality stars with parallel elements. Each race has its own show, from Jersey Shore to Real Housewives.
The usual caveat: We don’t actually think a sitting assemblyman is the equivalent of a guy arrested for tax fraud who’s nicknamed after his abs. We’re just having fun. Enjoy!
John Fetterman: Jennifer Hudson
Talk to young people and you’ll hear the name John Fetterman. Perhaps you saw him on “The Colbert Report.” He’s a superstar. You can plainly see it in the way he distinguishes himself from other politicians. But can he win? Polls would say no. In other words, he’s a little bit like Jennifer Hudson. With a slightly unorthodox look and voice, she captivated viewers but fell way short of winning “American Idol” in season three. She’s had the last laugh of course, going on to fame as an actress and musician most every other contestant would kill for. If Fetterman’s profile continues to rise, maybe we’ll be looking back on this race and also wondering how he didn’t win.
Katie McGinty: Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken had the judges. In Idol season two, he was brought back on as part of the wild card round and quickly became beloved. Everybody thought he could win going into the last show. Then the votes came in. Ruben Studdard won. Katie McGinty has the judges’ support right now: endorsements from Barack Obama, Tom Wolf and just about every powerful Democrat in Pennsylvania and Washington. But in the end, only the votes matter. As it did for Aiken, that could prove a challenge for McGinty.
Joe Sestak: Adam Lambert
Joe Sestak can’t get any love from powerful Democrats in Pennsylvania and Washington. They didn’t like him for running against Arlen Specter in the 2010 primary and even after he nearly toppled Pat Toomey they still don’t trust him. Sestak, content as he may be as the anti-establishment choice, will need the Party for the general election if he wins the primary. You can almost picture him wooing Ed Rendell, Tom Wolf and Barack Obama with the defiant words of the first big single from “Idol” bad boy Adam Lambert: “Whatya Want From Me.”
US Congress 2nd District
Dwight Evans: Lisa Vanderpump
Who doesn’t Dwight Evans know? In political circles, the Northwest Alliance is one of the strongest in Philadelphia. It showed last year, when the longtime state Rep. Evans helped bring together a coalition of black politicians that got Kenney elected, and in 2014, when he endorsed Tom Wolf for governor (remember this little power lunch with Evans, Kenney and Wolf from just before the mayoral election?). Kenney and Wolf are now supporting Evans for Fattah’s congressional seat. Lisa Vanderpump of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has all the right friends, too. Everyone loves her and perhaps most importantly, she knows how to gain favors from them. Vanderpump has parlayed her own fame to get onto a bigger stage: her own show. Can Evans do the same?
Chaka Fattah: Teresa Giudice
Fattah enters this election a wounded politician. His trial for federal fraud charges is scheduled to begin next month. Teresa Giudice, of Real Housewives of New Jersey fame is a reality star who certainly knows about being in a similar position. She was convicted of fraud charges and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. But here’s the thing: Giudice somehow always managed to come out on top. She even scored a reality TV special, “Teresa Checks In,” as her prison sentence began.
Brian Gordon: Jacqueline Laurita
Jacqueline Laurita has had all kinds of trouble fitting in on Real Housewives of New Jersey. Nobody really listened to her and many times she was brought to tears. Looking at the candidates in this race, Gordon doesn’t quite fit in either. Muroff, Fattah and Evans are longtime Philly politicians. He’s a suburban lawyer and Lower Merion Township Commissioner.
Dan Muroff: Caroline Manzo
Caroline Manzo was a rare woman on the Housewives series. She was considered reasonable. Dan Muroff is much the same, having gained a solid reputation as a longtime ward leader. He’s come into a race with more glamorous names (Fattah, Evans), made gun control a central issue and even offered a reasonable solution for how to enact better gun laws in Philly. Manzo was able to reason her way into her own show. It’ll be much tougher for Muroff to do the same in this election.
Keeping Up With the Kardashians
John Morganelli: Brody Jenner
Brody Jenner has been overshadowed throughout his reality TV career, starting on The Hills and continuing through Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The closest thing he’s had to a star turn might’ve been MTV’s Bromance. In the one-season show, he searched for a new best friend among a cadre of other 20-and-30-somethings. John Morganelli can relate. He’s run for District Attorney before but always lost to someone more popular. The reason he’s running this time might be something else entirely: It’s been reported Morganelli has become Zappala’s biffle and is in the race to take away votes from Shapiro. Now that would be a strong bromance.
Josh Shapiro: Kylie Jenner
Shapiro has endorsements from most members of City Council, numerous special interest groups, Senator Bob Casey and even Barack Obama, but his experience is limited. He wants to be Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor. Relevant experience for such a job is generally to have served as, you know, a prosecutor at some point in your life. Shapiro never has. Though his political experience is deep and he’s worked in corporate and real estate law, he’s never prosecuted anyone. Say what you will about the Kardashian clan but some of them have used their fame to start businesses (Kim) or were successful before the reality show (Caitlyn Jenner). You can’t say the same for Kylie Jenner. She’s coasted to fame for who knows what reason. But she is famous. And getting there is really all that matters.
Stephen Zappala: Kim Kardashian
Like Kim Kardashian, now a businesswoman and brand manager, Zappala is experienced. He’s been the Allegheny District Attorney since 1998. And also like Kim, he has a special somebody by his side. For Kim, it’s Kanye, a superstar rapper liable to go off the deep end. Dozens of rappers owe him a creative debt for influencing their style. For Zappala, it’s Johnny Doc, a superstar labor leader and political dealmaker liable to go off the deep end. Dozens of politicians in Philadelphia and beyond owe a great deal of political debt for helping them get elected.
State House 182nd District (Center City)
Lou Lanni: Vinny
Vinny was the guy in the background. He was in his element but never challenged The Situation Ronnie and Pauly D for women or alpha male status. Lanni fills that role in this race. He’s hovered around Philly politics for ages but has never broken to the front.
Brian Sims: The Situation
Like him or not, The Situation was the leader of the pack on Jersey Shore. He assumed the role of alpha male from the beginning, doing whatever he had to do to get it (falling on a grenade, etc.). Brian Sims came to power in a bold way, too, challenging party-backed Babette Josephs and soundly beating her. As a state Rep., Sims has made a splash promoting equality-based ideas but hasn’t turned most of those ideas into legislation. Despite some missteps, The Situation never lost his grasp over the household on the show’s many seasons. Sims is certainly hoping it will stay that way for him.
Marni Snyder: Angelina
Marni Snyder lacks name recognition and is a political novice, but she’s a Center City lawyer who can match verbal jabs with about anyone running for a House seat. On Jersey Shore, Angelina never rose to the fame levels of JWoww, The Situation or Snooki — she wasn’t present for much of the first two seasons — but she always knew how to get in the middle of everything.
Ben Waxman: Ronnie
It really seemed like The Situation and Sammi “Sweetheart” were meant to be. They held hands on the boardwalk! Then Ronnie came along and swept her away. This seat is Brian Sims’ to lose. He’s a popular incumbent who has achieved a degree of statewide fame for being Pennsylvania’s first openly gay legislator. But Ben Waxman has received important union and ward endorsements in recent weeks. Yesterday, he was officially endorsed by the Democratic City Committee. If anyone is primed to pull a Ronnie and take the seat away from Sims, it’s him.
State House 202nd District (Northeast)
Jared Solomon and Mark Cohen: Wes and Kenny
Local political races usually feature diplomacy. Even if opponents don’t like each other they say all the right things in public. Diplomacy left the building long ago in this two-person Democratic primary contest. Mark Cohen, who has held the seat since literally Watergate (1974), has accused Jared Solomon’s supporters of an “endless pattern” of property damage against his supporters (throwing rocks through windows, dumping dog waste on lawns). Solomon sort of countered back by fueling a rumor that a Cohen consultant may have stolen his trash.
These guys are bitter rivals, just like Kenny and Wes from The Challenge. They were once friends, until Kenny got together with Wes’ ex Johana. For a couple seasons in a row they were at each other’s throats. Like Kenny’s and Wes’ battles on The Challenge, this one should be close. In 2014, Cohen beat Solomon by 118 votes.
Laguna Beach/The Hills
Hillary Clinton: Lauren Conrad
LC was the anointed one. She was Laguna Beach’s first narrator and the main character. She was a senior. High school life revolved around her. And then junior upstart Kristin Cavallari stepped in. She stole much of thunder from LC on Laguna in their romantic triangle for Stephen. On The Hills, Heidi feuded with LC, again seizing the spotlight. The year of Hillary was supposed to be 2008. Then Barack Obama came along. Now in 2016, she’s dealing with Bernie. Can she win one for all the LC’s of the world and remain the star?
Bernie Sanders: Kristin Cavallari
Team Kristin? Might as well call it Team Bernie. Kristin may have been as much of a stuckup elite as LC, but she served the role of underdog. Bernie is nearly as much of the establishment as Hillary, having begun his service as a Congressman in 1991. But he’s positioned himself as the underdog. Can he be like Kristin and actually topple the Democratic favorite?
Ted Cruz: Spencer Pratt
Even compared to other reality stars, Spencer Pratt was incomprehensibly annoying. You’d watch an episode of The Hills and wonder, “where did he come from?” “Why is he here?” Ted Cruz was a Texas solicitor general arguing anonymously in front of the Supreme Court in record amounts and now after a few years of Senate duty he’s within striking distance of the Republican nomination. He has almost no friends among his government colleagues or his college acquaintances. Oh, and nobody would be surprised if Cruz had at some point dropped a really lame rap album that sold like four copies.
John Kasich: Whitney Port
It’s easy to look normal when you’re surrounded by weirdos. John Kasich has stretched his campaign all the way to the finish line because of this optical illusion. He might not win, but he’s coming closer than anybody would’ve guessed in August. On The Hills, Whitney had steady, normal jobs with Teen Vogue and then a PR firm. It seemed like she was a reality star who wouldn’t fall into the TV trap. But she did. After The Hills, she became the star of her own show, The City.
Donald Trump: Heidi Montag
Heidi tried to be Donald Trump and not just by emulating his orange glow. She wanted the name recognition and the big brand, and she got into all the petty fights she could with LC to make try and make it happen. It didn’t quite work. Sure, Heidi and her husband Spencer got their own show, but her name has been irrelevant for years. Trump has bullied about half of the original Republican field out of the primary and is still standing. Now it’s crunch time and like Heidi Trump is starting to feel the pressure and could easily fall short of his goal.