In 1998, Republican leaders in Lee County saw a great opportunity to defeat longtime Democratic state Sen. Ted Little. Rowdy Gaines, age 39, was a hero after winning three gold medals in the 1984 Summer Olympics. He was well-spoken, intelligent and solidly conservative. Yet he had a problem — he had not lived in the 27th District for at least three years (as required).

“That’s right, I have not lived here for at least three years, Greg, so there goes my campaign,” he verified to me, then. 

He continued as a swimming analyst for NBC. He has covered swimming at the Olympics since 1992. It began when Gaines received a swimming scholarship to Auburn University. He became a five-time NCAA champion due to the tutelage of head coach Richard Quick.

“The only way to explain this (lack of) candidate quality,” commented Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan a few days before Sen. Raphael Warnock won reelection over Republican Herschel Walker. New to politics, the 1982 winner of a Heisman Trophy was encouraged to run by former President Donald Trump.

Walker lowered the bar for U.S. Senate candidates: Family members said they were abused and neglected, he opposed all abortions unless he paid for them himself and he lied about having a college degree and serving in the military. He did not even know what pronouns are — simple words like he, she, they and us.

To lower expectations for a debate, Walker admitted that “I am not smart.” 

Based on his campaign missteps, I was not surprised. Warnock, too, had a domestic dispute. His wife called him “a great actor (who is) phenomenal at putting on a really good show.” Warnock denied allegations that he deliberately ran over her foot in a car. No charges were filed, though.

For Walker, it was found out he declared himself a Texas resident. But while with Gaines 24 years before, it was early enough to cancel the entry, Walker’s efforts done late in the stages. He had much unfavorable news and the race was close. If Walker had won, would he be disqualified as a non-voter in Georgia? Would he need to refund the thousands he received as a “resident of Texas,” because he is truly not a Texan? 

Meanwhile, Mehmet Oz, an American–Turkish television host and professor, ran for public office for the first time. He lost the 2022 U.S. election in Pennsylvania to Democrat John Fetterman, lieutenant governor. He was criticized for promoting pseudoscience. In medical journals, his views on alternative medicine and the paranormal left many voters unsettled.

The Republican’s ties to Pennsylvania were considered weak by most observers. In 1986, Oz received a medical degree and master’s in business from the University of Pennsylvania; the medical school is highly regarded, and Wharton School is very respectable.

The fact he was calling himself a Pennsylvanian based on attending U. Penn 36 years ago handled Fetterman a source to ridicule. Dr. Oz was another candidate pushed onto the Republicans so the former president could have people in debt to himself. To Oz’s credit, he did concede instead of claiming that fraud was being committed.

Nicholas Kristof is an American journalist who empathizes with forgotten human rights violations and social justice. He won two Pulitzers Prizes for The New York Times. He grew up on his parents’ farm and lived there until college. Although he visited the farm irregularly as a New Yorker, Kristof stated he has lived there at his “primary place of residence” since 2018.

Upon learning that the current Oregon governor was term-limited, he declared he was a Democratic candidate, in late 2021. Kristof left his longtime “dream job” at The Times. However, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said he did not meet the state’s residency requirements. Kristof challenged that, but the state Supreme Court upheld Fagan. Why? Kristof voted in New York in 2020; he did not have status as an Oregon voter for at least three years, as required.

Kristof at age 63 will have the chance to run for office again so long as he meets Oregon residency and all other requirements. As inspiration, I remind him that Gaines, after the 1980 Olympics boycott by the U.S., was quite upset. Soon he prepared for four more years, for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He won three gold medals, bringing attention and honor to Auburn University, to the state of Alabama and to the United States.

 Greg Markley moved to Lee County in 1996. He has a master’s in education from AUM and a master’s in history from Auburn University. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to The Observer since 2011. He writes on politics, education and books. gm.markley@charter.net.