Can 'Real World' Star Make It in Real-Life Politics?

Can "The Real World" prepare you for holding elected office in the real world?

It's a question plaguing the campaign of Kevin Powell, cast member of season one of MTV's hallmark reality show, who's trying to carve out a political career by running for Congress in Brooklyn, N.Y.'s 10th district.

In the race for the Democratic nomination, Powell's up against a 13-term incumbent -- and criticism that, without substantive public service experience, his pop culture credentials mean zilch.

"A lot of folks know me from 'The Real World,' but this is something I'm very passionate about," he told "My life's calling is public service. Civic engagement should be a part of our values as much as MTV and Xbox."

His campaign slogan: Powell for the People. His platform: Bring more jobs to Brooklyn's depressed 10th district; rid the 'hood of crime and pollution; fix substandard public schools; and disseminate better health care. His resume highlights: Political science major, "Real World" alum, Vibe magazine scribe, Katrina cleaner-upper.

His pop culture pull is arguably his strongest credential of all, and the fuel for his campaign.

Powell held a fundraiser on July 9 that was supposed to feature comedian Dave Chappelle, who didn't show because he "missed his flight," according to the candidate. Even without Chappelle, the fundraiser drew A-list attendees, including Chris Rock and his wife.

A message from Afeni Shakur, mother of late rap icon Tupac, greets visitors to Powell's campaign Web site: "Like my son, Kevin feels the struggle of single mothers, our young people, and the 'underdog.'" That message is followed by a glowing endorsement from Gloria Steinem.

Powell's campaign has put out an online mix-tape that splices excerpts of his speeches with hits from Tupac, Kanye West and 50 Cent.

Some say that's just not enough.

"I would urge him not to take out a mortgage on a D.C. apartment or condo," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "He's never been in public office, and I doubt seriously if he'll win. This young man is going to find out he's running against incumbency, money and a strong party organization in that district. People are always impressed by celebrity, but that doesn't mean they vote for the celebrity."

Of course, there's a grand tradition of pop culture stars crossing over into politics: Ronald Reagan went from the silver screen to the California governor's office to the Oval Office; Arnold Schwarzenegger followed in his footsteps -- at least part of the way -- ditching his "Terminator" get-up to get elected governor of California. NBA great Bill Bradley and pro wrestler Jesse Ventura left the sports arena for the political sphere. "Saturday Night Live" alum Al Franken is running for the Senate in Minnesota.

But the difference between all those contenders and Powell, according to Sabato, is they had the political credentials to justify running for office, whereas the "Real World" alum does not.

"You have to have the right opening," he said. "Particularly in Schwarzenegger's case, he was quite wealthy and had the ability to spend as needed and attract celebrities to help him as needed. But he had been in and around politics for years. I doubt anyone has heard of this fellow since 'The Real World' all those years ago. If he was serious about Congress, he would've run for city council or state legislature first."

Granted, it's been 16 years since Powell, now 42, told his roommates he almost fled "The Real World" early because he thought they were so weird, and he's been largely out of the public eye since season one went off the air.

But Jon Murray, the show's executive producer, thinks Powell has what it takes to be a congressman, regardless of the fact that he spent more time in the "Real World" digs than in any public office.

"All of us at Bunim/Murray Productions are very proud of Kevin's accomplishments since being on 'The Real World' over 15 years ago. He was always a very smart, very articulate guy; so his decision to run for Congress is not surprising," Murray said in a statement to

His supporters extend beyond Hollywood. Powell has lured big names from Brooklyn's 10th district, which overwhelmingly supported Barrack Obama in New York's presidential primary, while much of the state went to Hillary Clinton.

Powell scored the backing of Jordan Thomas, who led the organization Brooklyn for Barack, and Arthur Leopold, an Obama campaign fundraiser. He also won support from local organizations, including Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats.

"He always says what he feels and he always says it in a clear way," said John Loscalzo, who runs the blog "His activism is enough of a qualification. It's about him getting his name out there and getting his message out. He's going to need the kids. If Kevin's able to harness that passion of the younger demographic, then he's got a shot.

"He's not Gopher from 'Love Boat' running for Congress," Loscalzo added, talking about actor Fred Grandy, who served as an Iowa representative for four terms. "I mean Gopher actually ended up being a good congressman, but still."

Powell's opponent, 13-term Rep. Edolphus "Ed" Towns, nearly lost the Democratic nomination in 2006, and now he's come under criticism for supporting Clinton in the presidential primaries. According to New York political strategist Hank Sheinkopf, he also represents an older, stodgier Brooklyn, while Powell's got that youthful Obama allure.

Towns was unavailable to comment for this story.

"Towns is at risk because of the demographic changes of that district," said Sheinkopf, who served as a strategic advisor to the campaigns of New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Comptroller William C. Thompson. "They've gotten younger and whiter; his constituency is older and deader. Towns is in his 70s, Kevin Powell's much younger. But Towns can raise the money -- can Kevin? Can he communicate with voters? Those are big questions."

Questions that will be answered when Brooklyn's 10th district votes in primary elections this September. If Powell doesn't win there, look for his name on another ballot.

"I would not mind running for Senate, I would not mind running for mayor of New York one day," he said. "As for president ... we'll let Barack Obama do his thing first."