When we last saw Justin Kanew, he was racing around the world as a contestant on The Amazing Race.
At the time, he was a writer and film producer. His Race partner, Zev Glassenberg, made headlines as the show’s first contestant with Asperger’s Syndrome. They became fan favorites and were called back to compete in 2011’s Amazing Race: Unfinished Business.
But now Kanew is running a new race: he wants to be the United States Congressman from Tennessee’s 7th District.
“After doing the Race, I worked in entertainment in Los Angeles. I got married and we had a baby,” he tells PEOPLE. “We decided we didn’t want to raise our daughter in Los Angeles, so we decided to go to a place that was more community oriented. We wanted it to be more about family than Hollywood. We came to Franklin, Tennessee, and fell in love with the area.”
The plan was pretty simple: The Kanews would buy a house in Tennessee. He would work as a writer/producer, with occasional trips to Los Angeles. His wife, Nicole, would work as a behavioral analyst for a local school district.
But then, Kanew, 38, says that world events inspired him to reconsider his future. “I just saw things happening in the country that I thought were dangerous,” he says. “As a father, I started thinking about the world that my daughter would grow up in, and I wanted to help.”
His competition is formidable: he’ll be running against Marsha Blackburn, a Republican who has been in office since 2003. (Her office did no immediately return PEOPLE’s call for comment.)
Kanew acknowledges that it’ll be a fierce race, but says voters shouldn’t count him out. “I do see a path to winning,” he says. “I want to listen to people’s concerns. I want to engage with them. Face the music if things go wrong, and really try to help. If after the campaign, people don’t agree with me, they don’t have to vote for me. But I hope they’ll listen to me, and I’ll listen to them.”
While Kanew prepares for his first public appearance as a candidate on July 20, he’s aware that he’s a political outsider who was once on a reality show — something that might once have been a liability. “I’m not a career politician,” he says, “but I think in many ways that’s a plus. I think this election showed career politicians aren’t necessarily what people are looking for right now.”
A Democrat, Kanew has been a vocal critic of President Trump, but he insists that he wants to work with both parties. “It’s not about right vs. left,” he says. “It’s right vs. wrong. We all want the same things. I remember when bipartisanship was a good thing and not a threat. I want it to be about leaving a better country and world for our kids. That’s why I’m doing it.”