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Twelve Rock Stars Who Ran for Public Office

The political aspirations of Sonny Bono, Martha Reeves, Youssou N’Dour and more

sonny bono

AP Photo/Joe Marquette

Last week Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour announced his candidacy for the president of Senegal. He's far from the first rock star to try and cross over into politics. Sometimes they are successful (Martha Reeves, Sonny Bono), but more often they discover that voters just aren't willing to take their candidacy all that seriously. Click through for a gallery of rock stars who tried to make the transition. 

By Andy Greene

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Youssou N’Dour

In America, Youssou N'Dour may be that guy who played with Peter Gabriel on So, but in his native Senegal it's a very different story. Many people there probably see Peter Gabriel as the guy who once played with Youssou N'Dour. The singer's long catalog dates back to 1984, and mixes Senegalese dance music with hip-hop, pop and jazz. He's undoubtably one of the most beloved artists in the entire continent of Africa. He just announced his campaign for the presidency of Senegal. "I'm going to win this election in the first round. Definitely. No question," N'Dour told the BBC. "I am the most credible, most popular candidate. And what I say is coming from the people."

wyclef jean

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Wyclef Jean

Wyclef Jean's attempt to become the president of Haiti didn't work out so well in 2010. The Electoral Commission ultimately ruled that he didn't meet the residency requirements, and critics said that not speaking fluent French or Creole would be a major problem. Hell, he couldn't even get Pras to support him. Lauryn Hill never weighed in on the matter, but when half of your bandmates are opposed to your run, you have a problem. It's also going to make matters a little awkward at the next Fugees reunion. "Hey Pras, remember that time you told everybody that I shouldn't be president of Haiti? That was messed up."

sonny bono

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Sonny Bono

Sonny Bono ran for the mayor of Palm Springs in 1988 after getting frustrated with the city over his inability to get a permit for his restaurant. He actually won, and four years later he unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate. He lost the election, but he gained enough traction with voters to win a seat in the House of Representatives during the Republican takeover in 1994. He served his until he tragically died of a skiing accident in 1998. His wife Mary Bono took over his seat, and has served in the House ever since. Few people saw this path for Sonny during his time as a pop star in the 1960s and 1970s, but the man was ambitious. 

krist novoselic

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Krist Novoselic

Krist Novoselic has been devoted to left-wing causes since his Nirvana days in the early 1990s. He nearly ran for Lieutenant Governor of Washington in 2004, but ultimately backed out. He later teamed up with FairVote, which is a Washington non-profit that promotes electoral reform. Washington state's ballot laws allow for anyone to make up a political party and get themselves on a ballot, so in 2009 he ran for Wahkiakum County Clerk as a member of the fictional Grange Party. It was a protest run designed to show how ludicrous the state's election laws were, and he dropped out before the election. 

jello biafra

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Jello Biafra

Jello Biafra has been involved with politics since his Dead Kennedys days way back in the 1970s. He ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 with a platform that stated that businessman had to wear clown suits within city limits. Despite that goofiness, he came in fourth out of 10 candidates and attracted 3.79 percent of the vote. In 2000 he tried to run for President with the Green party, but Ralph Nader won the nomination. History would have been very different had he managed to take Nader down in the primary. Al Gore would almost certainly have beaten Bush in 2000 without having Nader on the ticket as a spoiler. 

justin jeffre

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Justin Jeffre

Remember 98 Degrees? They were a poor man's Backstreet Boys, or a slightly wealthier man's LFO. Since their split in 2002 Nick Lachey became internationally famous as Mr. Jessica Simpson, Drew Lachey won Dancing With the Stars and Jeff Timmons worked at (no joke) Chippendales in Las Vegas. Fourth member Justin Jeffre took a very different turn by running for Mayor of Cincinnati. He only got 708 votes in the primary, but that's 708 more votes in an actual election than any other boy band alum ever got. "Hurricane Katrina happened right before the election and that really hurt turnout," Jeffre told Rolling Stone in 2010. "Overall, it was just disappointing . . . I still think we need to  have to have an independent movement in the country and not one that looks like the Tea Party."

john hall

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John Hall

Stephen Colbert asked John Hall an amazing question during his campaign for Congress a few years back: "How does your partner Daryl Oates feel about the run?" It was a joke, but many people were confused about John Hall's background. His name suggests a weird Hall and Oates hybrid creature, but he was actually a member of 1970s soft rock group Orleans, best known for their hit "Still The One." Hall was always very active in politics, and in 2006 he was elected to the House of Representatives in a wave of new Democrats. Sadly, the next midterm election was a wave for a different party and he lost his seat. 

roy acuff

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Roy Acuff

Nashville legend Roy Acuff is best remembered for his long tenure with the Grand Ole Opry and for co-founding Acuff-Rose music, which signed Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. In 1948, however, he ran for Governor of Tennessee as a Republican. Former Governor Gordon Browning won the election, but Acuff got a healthy share of the vote and helped boost other Republicans on the ticket. 

peter garrett

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Peter Garrett

Midnight Oil's most famous song "Beds Are Burning" urges Australians to give the country back to the aboriginals, so it's no surprise that frontman Peter Garrett is a man of intense political convictions. In 2004 he left music behind to run for the Australian House Of Representatives. He was re-elected in 2010 and later appointed Minster for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth. Garrett hasn't totally left music behind, and in 2009 he reformed with Midnight Oil for a benefit concert. 

luther uncle luke campbell

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Luther “Luke” Campbell

In 1989 Florida rap group 2 Live Crew became unlikely advocates for the First Amendment when their album As Nasty as They Wanna Be was banned in Florida for violating obscenity laws. The ruling was overturned in 1992, but the firestorm of controversy helped the album sell two million copies. In 2011 2 Live Crew frontman Luther Campbell ran for mayor of Miami-Dade County on a platform that included taxing strippers. He got 11 percent of the vote, proving that at least 11 percent of the people in Miami-Date County are fucking awesome. 

martha reeves

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Martha Reeves

As the frontman of Martha and the Vandellas, Martha Reeves sang some of Motown's greatest songs, including "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave," "Dancing In The Street" and "Nowhere To Run." Between 2005 and 2009 she served on the Detroit City Council. She lost her re-election bid after critics complained that her music career didn't leave her enough time to govern, often taking her out of town while crucial bills were being debated.