Retirement announcements from long-serving politicians are always followed immediately by eager campaign announcements from the next wave of candidates. When Representative Frank Wolf said yesterday that he plans to call it a career after 17 terms representing Virginia’s 10th District in Congress, the first person to jump in was Tareq Salahi.
Wait, that guy? The one who crashed a White House state dinner, starred on Real Housewives of DC, and whose wife, Michaele, left him for Journey guitarist Neal Schon?
Yes, that guy wants to represent Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties in the House of Representatives. We caught up with Salahi, who is running a Republican, last night at the Fairmont Hotel before he headed into a party honoring the US Olympic bobsled team. He wasn’t crashing: the bouncer waived Salahi in as someone’s plus-one. Here’s how he plans to go from gatecrasher to Congress:
Why are you running for Frank Wolf’s seat?
As you probably know I’ve been appointed by Democratic and Republican governors [to the Virginia Tourism Board]. If you only followed me on reality TV you’d have no idea what my real life was like. You only saw the Real Housewives and Michaele and I. The true me, the real me, is someone who has supported small business, who has been very strong and very aggressive in protecting small business.
Do you know how many votes you got when you ran for governor this year?
I don’t know exactly how many votes I got, but I understand from one of my staffers I got 4,801.
You know how difficult my name is to spell? Can you spell my name?
For most people that would be a challenge, so we’re happy with that number.
But let’s be honest. Most people know you from the White House, from Real Housewives, from your divorce. You’re trading on it.
Well, sure. Off course we’re playing off it. You ask anyone at the event tonight, you ask any student at UVA, George Mason, “How do you feel about that?” They’re probably going to smile about it and relate it to entertainment, and that’s OK. They love it. You should do your own poll. They not only want to hear what I have to say as a legitimate candidate—
Are you a legitimate candidate?
I’m a legitimate candidate. And this is why: Look at the whole thing. Certainly reality TV is reality TV and I’m paid to play the JR of the show, and I loved it. I enjoy the drama. It’s doing a job. I think Senator [Fred] Thompson did quite a bit of that in a different role.
So, what’s your pitch to voters?
So much respect for Frank Wolf. This man is an institution in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I have a number of letters from him supporting my agenda—the Farm and Winery Act—he was very supportive in all of that. And what do I tell Virginians? I’ve been through it all—good and bad, rich and poor. And I’m going to be the man they can relate to, who’s been through it all, gone through a lot in life like most Virginians, especially in the Shenandoah Valley.
OK, but run-ins with reality TV and Journey isn’t like what a lot of Virginians go through.
It was a job. Got paid for it, just like any actor. You’re paid a salary. I enjoyed it, I loved doing it.
It had a pretty big toll on your personal life.
Well, of course. I’m not going to lie. Of course I was disappointed when I found out what happened with my wife. But I look at that in the past.
They got married last weekend. Do you still talk at all?
No, no. I’ve just decided to reinvent myself, to go back to my true nature, who I was before I met Michaele. I’ve been heavily involved in politics in Virginia.
Are your reality TV star days over?
I would say I still do television, but not the Bravo style. The true me is back. Will I do a segment on a travel show saying how beautiful Virginia is? Of course. I did that before reality TV all the time.
So no parties on pay-per-view for you?
No. I’m back to the old Tareq. The Tareq you may have know before I met Michaele and before I met reality TV. And by the way, I’m back this way. [Points to his gut, which is smaller than it appeared on Real Housewives.] I have no regrets in life. I have no regrets in my marriage. The White House, same thing. I was never scared about the White House because I knew I never did anything wrong.
And if you get elected, there won’t be any ambiguity when you go over there.