The possibility of the host of MSNBC's "Hardball" Christopher Matthews, running against Senator Specter of Pennsylvania, a Republican, for Mr. Specter's senate seat in Pennsylvania is intensifying.
Although Mr. Matthews said to Bill Maher of HBO that he's "not getting involved in it" when asked about whether he would seek the position in 2010, it is odd to employ his television program in a way that would make him a favorable candidate to run for senator of Pennsylvania as a Democrat.
Mr. Matthews, who is from the Philadelphia area, broadcasted his show from Philadelphia during the week of the Pennsylvania primary. Political figures that appeared on his national show were the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and an African-American congressman of Philadelphia, Chaka Fattah. In addition, Mr. Matthews interviewed on "Hardball" the chairmen of the Democratic committees of Allegheny, Montgomery, and Lackawanna counties, James Burn Jr., Marcel Groen, and Harry McGrath, local figures vital to any statewide candidacy.
The "Hardball" host would not be a complete neophyte to politics. He was a former staffer to President Carter and the speaker of the House, Thomas O'Neill. In 1974, he ran for congress in Pennsylvania. His brother, James, a Mongtomery County Commissioner, ran for lieutenant governor as a Republican in 2006.
If Mr. Matthews were to run he would join others in the entertainment business turned politician or who attempt to turn politician such as actor/body builder Arnold Schwarzenegger who is the governor of California and comedian and commentator Al Franken who is running for the Senate from Minnesota.
Unlike those of the entertainment world, however, Mr. Matthews would be the rare person attempting to move from the press. He would be a test case for the notion that interrogating, blustering, and posturing on cable television can prepare one for a life of questioning and public speaking on the floor of the Senate.
Such a candidacy also would measure to what extent O'Neill's aphorism, "all politics is local," still matters. Mr. Matthews used that motto in the book that made him famous, "Hardball: How Politics Is Played By One Who Knows the Game." But, Mr. Matthews has been working at the national level of politics â€” he has been a creature of Washington, not Pennsylvania, for several decades.
Much of Pennsylvania is the kind of place where celebrity and glitz doesn't count for much. Voters tend more often to opt for the familiar, selecting Robert Casey, the son of a former governor, as a senator in 2006. "We're a different kind of state with media stars and or actors. Pennsylvania is a tough state for people who don't live here," a political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College, Terry Madonna, said.
But a Democratic run for the Senate by Mr. Matthews might be a viable idea. "It would be interesting ... He's got a great history. He knows how to do it," the chairman of Allegheny County's Democratic Committee, Mr. Burn, standing inside of Pamela's P & G Diner in Millvale, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pa., told me. "I look forward to having a conversation with him about his candidacy."
Mr. Matthews could be an attractive option for Pennsylvania Democrats as a well-known personality is needed to challenge Senator Specter, who is a state institution. The governor's seat of Pennsylvania, which will be up the same year as the Senate seat in 2010, likely will draw many of the major statewide political figures. This will leave local and national Democrats in search of a challenger for Mr. Specter, a five-term incumbent, who is a national anomaly because he is a moderate Republican.
Mr. Matthews should know that Mr. Specter is a tough campaigner, who vows "to be prepared for a tough opponent in the general." But Pennsylvania's eastern side is becoming more Democratic. "The Democrats are in search of a candidate of huge proportions," Mr. Madonna said.
Mr. Specter has tacked leftward over the years, voicing criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the judicial aspects of the War on Terror. Most recently, he cosponsored the State Secrets Protection Act with Senator Kennedy. But this is not enough for the Democrats.
Mr. Matthews would be a more liberal option. To say he has been a vocal critic of the Iraq War would be an understatement. He also has made supportive comments about Senator Obama on-air which could hurt him down the line since Mr. Obama did not fare well in Pennsylvania. Moreover, opposing operatives will find a treasure trove of material in the thousands of transcripts and video clips of Mr. Matthews on television.
But it just may be that Mr. Matthews might turn out to be the most well known and best financed of the potential Democratic candidates in 2010. For that reason, his is a candidacy to be taken seriously in the battle for the U.S. Senate, the 100-seat body where every member counts.
A 'Hardball' Senator? - April 29, 2008 - The New York Sun