Gilbert abruptly ends campaign for Congress

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Actress Melissa Gilbert is abruptly ending her campaign for Congress in Michigan’s 8th District, citing health problems stemming from two accidents in 2012.

The Howell Democrat said she is ending her campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester on the advice of her doctors.

“While I have received the best treatment and therapy I could have asked for, those injuries have only gotten worse,” Gilbert said Tuesday in a statement. “As much as it breaks my heart to say this, my doctors have told me I am physically unable to continue my run for Congress.”

Gilbert’s sudden departure leaves Democrats without a viable candidate in a congressional district that encompasses northern Oakland County, and Livingston and Ingham counties.

Lansing resident Linda Keefe was the only other Democrat to file for the congressional seat, but her candidacy is in jeopardy of ending Thursday. The state Bureau of Elections determined Keefe was 96 valid voter signatures short of the 1,000-signature minimum requirement for congressional candidates. The State Board of Canvassers on Thursday will consider removing Keefe from the August primary ballot.

Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said Gilbert will be able to remove her name from the ballot, citing the health problems, and let the party chairs in the three counties select a new Democratic candidate for the Nov. 8 general election.

Gilbert will likely remain on the primary ballot.

After the primary, a candidate for Congress can have their name removed from the general election ballot if they become physically unfit, said Fred Woodhams, spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office.

“I wish her the best and hope her health improves,” Bishop said of Gilbert. “I plan on continuing my campaign and talking to voters about solutions to help this country move forward."

Democrats believe the polarizing campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump could help down-ballot candidates win marginal congressional districts. Bishop endorsed Trump’s candidacy earlier this month, The Detroit News reported.

“Make no mistake, this district is still a top target for us,” Dillon said. “Career politician Mike Bishop continues to put special interests in front of the needs of his constituents, uses taxpayer money to line the pockets of his donors, and supports trade policies that would ship even more Michigan auto jobs overseas.”

Over the weekend, Gilbert disclosed on Twitter she has suffered from migraine problems since sustaining two concussions and unspecified neck injuries in 2012.

Gilbert wrote a thank you note Saturday on her Twitter account to the St. Joseph Mercy hospital in Brighton emergency room staff “for helping to get rid of a 4 day long migraine.”

The “Little House on the Prairie” star moved to Howell three years with her husband, actor Timothy Busfield, and two boys, bringing a dash of Hollywood glamor to Livingston County.

Gilbert launched her campaign to challenge Bishop, a freshman, last August to much fanfare, attracting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign checks from friends in Hollywood, including actors Alec Baldwin and Kiefer Sutherland and actress Jennifer Garner.

But Republicans dogged Gilbert’s campaign early by highlighting more than $470,000 in back taxes she owes the Internal Revenue Service and the state of California. The Detroit News first reported about Gilbert’s unpaid taxes in June 2015, months before she formally entered the race for Congress.

Michigan Republicans railed against Gilbert last fall when her campaign accepted two donations of $2,700 from her husband while the couple still had unpaid six-figure tax bill.

In April, Bishop’s campaign dug up video of a 2009 appearance Gilbert made on “The View” talk show in which she called attempts to sentence filmmaker Roman Polanski for the 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl “excessive.”

“I think the punishment at this point may be excessive — I don’t know, that’s just my opinion,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert also suggested the crime of rape was “a gray area” in the Polanski case because the teenage girl’s mother took the girl to be photographed by the filmmaker.

Days after the video surfaced on YouTube, Gilbert disavowed the comments and apologized, saying “I said something I didn’t mean and don’t believe.”

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood