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December 9, 2008
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?
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
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
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.
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
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.
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