Melissa Gilbert of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Ran for Political Office, but Dropped out for a Heartbreaking Reason

Melissa Gilbert first began playing Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie at the tender age of 9 in 1973. In the ensuing decade, the show’s success made her and several co-stars households names, and she remains well-liked by the show’s passionate fanbase.

Those fans might not be aware that Gilbert made a pivot later in life that many showbiz stars consider: politics. She actually got considerably far in this endeavor, but an unexpected tragedy forced her to cut things short.

What office did Melissa Gilbert run for?

Melissa Gilbert of 'Little House on the Prairie' signs copies of her book 'My Prairie Cookbook' at Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove
Melissa Gilbert of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ fame. | David Buchan/Getty Images

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As reported by MLive, Gilbert declared her candidacy for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in 2016. The state’s 8th District encompasses most of the state capital, Lansing, and bits of Detroit. Gilbert sought the Democratic nomination, in opposition to incumbent Republican, Mike Bishop.

“I’m running for Congress to make life a little easier for all the families who feel they have fallen through the cracks in today’s economy,” Gilbert said in her announcement. “I believe building a new economy is a team effort, and we need to bring fresh voices to the table to get the job done.”

While not able to out-fundraise Bishop, Gilbert’s showbiz connections gave her a fighting chance. She was aided in her efforts by notable Hollywood Democrats like George Clooney and Alec Baldwin.

She did, however, face controversy due to some outstanding tax problems. Upon the announcement of her candidacy, Gilbert owed over $360,000 in federal income taxes. The actor attributed this situation to her divorce from TRON star Bruce Boxleitner some years prior and the recent economic recession.

She worked with the IRS to set up a repayment plan. Nevertheless, as a Hollywood outsider in a largely Republican district, she was heavily scrutinized for these tax issues.

Why did she drop out of the congressional race?

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In the lead-up to the Michigan primary election, Gilbert was seen to have the momentum to secure the Democratic nomination and potentially unseat Bishop. However, tragic circumstances from her past reared their ugly head in May 2016.

Gilbert had suffered head and neck injuries in an accident that occurred while she was competing on Dancing with the Stars. Those injuries worsened four years later and the actor was urged by her doctors to withdraw her candidacy, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“While I have received the best treatment and therapy I could have asked for, those injuries have only gotten worse,” Gilbert said 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 spot on the ballot was filled by Suzanna Shkreli, who Bishop defeated in the general election. Bishop was, however, later defeated by Democrat Elissa Slotkin in the 2018 midterm election.