Sean Duffy is used to being called a lot of things: “Daddy,” “D.A.” and “that guy from MTV.” But lately he’s been having a small identity crisis. “People will call him Congressman,” says his wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy. “And we both look at each other, like, ‘Where is he?'”
They can stop looking. Last month, Duffy-a star of MTV’s The Real World: Boston in 1997-was sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I’m honored and humbled,” says Duffy, 39. But his MTV credentials might mean little in D.C. “Celebrities often find their background not particularly helpful,” says congressional scholar Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution. Others are enthusiastic. “I think he’s very impressive,” says Republican blogger Meghan McCain of Duffy, who ran on a conservative pro-life, tax-cutting platform. “I love that I grew up watching them on The Real World.”
Duffy admits he “never” dreamed of a life as a lawmaker. “You don’t plan on doing reality TV if you plan on getting involved in politics.” Fortunately he didn’t have to worry about any racy hot-tub scenes or fistfights on YouTube. “My show was pretty benign, but you do say and do things that are dumb at that age,” says Duffy who, when he and his housemates attended a Presidential Summit in one episode, was caught napping during President Bill Clinton’s speech. “Those shows have me locked in at age 25.”
He notes that a lot has changed: He married Rachel, a Real World: San Francisco alum, whom he met on Road Rules: All-Stars, had kids, went to law school and became district attorney in Ashland County, Wisc., near where he was raised to be a champion lumberjack athlete. Despite returning to his snowbound roots, attack ads claimed he “lives large,” something Campos-Duffy, 39-mom to Evita, 11; Jack, 8; Lucia-Belen, 6; John-Paul, 4; Paloma, 2; and MariaVictoria, 10 months-laughs at. “Living large in Ashland with six kids and a used minivan?” she cracks. “I don’t think so.”
Instead life revolves around the kids’ log-rolling lessons, Friday night fish fries, church on Sunday and dinners filled with political conversations. “It’s funny: My kids know all about the stimulus, China and debt,” says Rachel. “She’s got a great political mind,” Duffy says of his wife of 12 years. “She’s a great teammate.”
That commitment to each other is evident. Twice, Campos-Duffy auditioned to be a cohost on The View, and both times Duffy agreed to move to New York City and be a stay-at-home dad if she was hired. She wasn’t but started a blog (on ParentDish.com) and wrote a book (Stay Home, Stay Happy, a guide for moms). “But my primary job is as an at-home mom, and I love it.”
That job is harder now that Duffy is 1,100 miles away. “I can tell you, you’re not meant to be a single mom with six kids,” says Campos-Duffy. She and MariaVictoria accompanied Duffy to orientation in Washington, where she reached across the aisle to thank Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for putting nursing rooms on Capitol Hill. Since then Duffy is in D.C. four nights a week, living in his office, which isn’t uncommon. “I have an air mattress,” he says. (He showers at the gym.) Though he’ll work in-district one week a month, he plans to stay connected by video chat. “If I want to do flash cards with Lucia, I can.” Adds his wife, either philosophically or as a friendly warning: “He can’t be a good congressman unless he’s a good husband and dad too.”