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December 9, 2008

Senator Matthews?


Chris Matthews is one of those non-politician celebrities who was always rumored to be running for a certain political office. And now that Arnold Schwarzenegger (California governor) and Al Franken (Minnesota senator) have finally taken the plunge, that seems to leave only Matthews (Pennsylvania senator) and Charles Barkley (Alabama governor.)


Now, with the presidential election over and his MSNBC contract about to expire, Matthews is making noises like never before about seeking the seat, currently held by Sen. Arlen Specter, that comes up for re-election in 2010. Matthews, according to news reports, has been meeting with area Democratic power brokers, and was even spotted house-hunting in the Philadelphia area.


For pure entertainment purposes, it would be great to have Matthews run for the Senate, and even better to have him win. But can Matthews win? Should he?


There are reasons to think Matthews running is a good idea. He has strong name recognition, is Irish Catholic in a state with much of that demographic and clearly knows politics and policy. He's been a congressional and White House staffer, as well as a journalist, and would bring encyclopedic knowledge of recent political history to the seat.


Why couldn't he? Well, there's the carpetbagger factor. Even though Matthews is a Philadelphia native, he hasn't lived in the Keystone State in decades and has been a Washington fixture for as long as he's been in the public eye. Meanwhile, much like Franken, Matthews has a long, long paper trail of thousands of hours of TV broadcasts, not to mention a whole bunch of newspaper columns and books.


There's also the matter of his likely opponent. Specter, who is 78 years old and has battled cancer multiple times in recent years, is a very popular fourth-term incumbent – one of the few remaining moderate Republican elected officials in the Northeast, and he has been adamant about his intention to seek re-election.


Now, because Matthews is a former aide to legendary Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, has been vocal about his praise for Barack Obama and dislike for George W. Bush, and works for MSNBC, the perception is that he's some sort of far-left-wing liberal.


But the truth is a bit more complicated. The right, of course, nearly universally considers Matthews part of the hard-left MSM machine. But most left-wingers I know don't like Matthews much either, noting that he’s long been a vocal Clinton hater, and even has said that he voted for Bush in 2000 (a fact that would disqualify the majority of potential Democratic senators).


The liberal blogosphere largely despises him, deriding him as “Tweety.” A recent piece in the Huffington Post by David Sirota largely sums up their feelings on him, arguing that Matthews “stands for absolutely his own career and by extension Beltway culture.” And some women, both on blogs and in feminist groups, have taken issue with some of Matthews's past statements, including those directed at Hillary Clinton.


In reality, rather than the Olbermann/Maddow left, Matthews's politics are more a throwback to the urban, white ethnic, Catholic populism of the older Democratic coalitions. He's exactly the sort of candidate who could play to Philadelphia's white ethnic wards, as well as its vote-rich suburban counties, which are traditionally Republican but were carried by Obama by a large margin. (Matthews's brother, Jim, is a Republican elected official in suburban Montgomery County, although he recently had a falling out with the county GOP establishment.)


But that brings up another dimension, which is Matthews's way over-the-top praise of Obama throughout the presidential campaign. There was his infamous “thrill going up my leg” comment, the time he admitted on the air that he sees his goal as ensuring the success of the Obama Administration and other praise of the president-elect. Should Obama take a turn toward the unpopular prior to the mid-terms, you can expect around-the-clock ads, placed by Matthews's opponent, featuring that reel.


We will likely find out in the next few weeks whether Matthews will run. If he does, Pennsylvania will be sure to host one of the nation's most fascinating Senate races in 2010.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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