By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 5, 2008 10:25 AM
It's a rough time for political junkies.
The presidential campaign is over, the big Cabinet jobs have been filled, even the Georgia Senate runoff has come and gone. About all we have to cling to is the Franken/Coleman recount in Minnesota, which is making Florida look highly efficient, and the race for RNC chairman, which frankly isn't doing it for me.
Even the Palin-in-2012 chatter now seems too distant to get the adrenaline going.
But what if we were to talk about one of the country's most hotly debated talk show hosts jumping into politics? Usually the traffic moves in the other direction. Joe Scarborough, Harold Ford, Donna Brazile, Newt Gingrich, Dick Morris, Karl Rove and Howard Wolfson have all jumped from politics to the cable circuit.
But the voluble host of "Hardball" may go the other way. Here's my report:
Chris Matthews has always admitted that his life dream was to be a senator. But now that the MSNBC host is actively exploring a run in Pennsylvania, he has created a thorny dilemma for his network.
By ratcheting up his efforts -- Matthews is considering buying a house in the state -- the onetime Democratic operative has created an awkward situation for MSNBC, where his $5 million-a-year contract expires in June. Although some analysts say his electronic trail of controversial sound bites could hamper a 2010 campaign, a Rasmussen poll released yesterday has Matthews trailing the Republican incumbent, Sen. Arlen Specter, by 46 percent to 43 percent.
Matthews, 62, declined to be interviewed. "We're not going to comment on a speculative story," says MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines.
But more than speculation is involved. Matthews met with state Democratic officials last week and has twice consulted former representative Joe Hoeffel, who lost to Specter in 2004. "I believe he would be a strong candidate," Hoeffel says. "He's clearly interested. I told him celebrity is really a two-edged sword. It gives him great entree, but it's hard for a national celebrity to come back to their home state. There might be some resentment."
Matthews, who has a daughter at the University of Pennsylvania, has been a Chevy Chase resident for two decades.
Although MSNBC executives take Matthews's soundings seriously, they have not ruled out the possibility that the "Hardball" host is trying to gain leverage in upcoming contract talks, which are expected to start soon. Matthews expects to be offered a deal with a significant pay cut. Politico reported yesterday that Matthews has asked some of his advisers whether he should leave MSNBC before his contract expires. Further exploratory efforts would put Matthews in the difficult position of, for instance, interviewing Republican senators while angling to join their ranks as a Democrat.
Television analyst Andrew Tyndall says there is no need for Matthews to step down now. "He's free to put out feelers and then decide not to do it," Tyndall says. "Because of his style of interviewing -- highly subjective, first-person, opinionated, always injecting his views -- I don't think it impacts his journalism."
But if the situation drags on, Tyndall says, MSNBC staffers are "going to have a really hard time because they've been identified as cheerleading for the Democratic side."
Specter told CNN on Sunday that he expects a close race no matter who runs: "I long ago adopted the philosophy of Satchel Paige, the old pitcher, and that is I never look over my shoulder, never look behind. Somebody may be gaining on me."
Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, hasn't exactly talked up Matthews's chances. "Nobody beats Arlen Specter, except in a Republican primary. And I told Chris that," Rendell said on MSNBC in October.
Matthews, a Philadelphia native, ran for a House seat from that city in 1974. He was a speechwriter in Jimmy Carter's White House and served as a top aide to Tip O'Neill, then the House speaker, before becoming a San Francisco Examiner columnist in 1987.
His wife Kathleen, a former anchor at Washington's WJLA-TV, told the Harrisburg Patriot News in July that her husband "loves politics, and I think the idea of being a U.S. senator is one of the most romantic things he can think about, so he's got to make a tough decision."
Some women's groups assailed Matthews in January for what they called a history of sexist remarks about women. He apologized for saying that the reason Hillary Clinton was a senator and a presidential candidate "is her husband messed around."
Matthews openly boosted Barack Obama's candidacy, saying he felt "this thrill going up my leg" when the Illinois senator spoke. Days after the election he sounded more like a Democrat than a journalist, telling viewers that "I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work."
Saul Shorr, a Democratic consultant in Pennsylvania, says Matthews would likely be "a pretty appealing candidate, a Northeast Philadelphia guy made good. It's a question of whether he'll be disciplined enough" after a career in cable news.
But former Democratic strategist David Sirota wrote in the Huffington Post yesterday that he hopes Matthews is "humiliatingly obliterated in a Democratic primary," adding: "The sense of entitlement that this blowhard personifies is truly stunning."
At the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen has this reaction:
"For what it's worth, I don't doubt that Matthews is giving this serious thought, but I also suspect he expects his celebrity status to propel him to the front of the pack. If so, he's mistaken -- Matthews doesn't even own a home in Pennsylvania, he's rightly perceived as a creature of the Beltway, and popular in-state Democrats like Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Joe Sestak, and state Rep. Josh Shapiro, have all expressed interest in the race. If Specter is seen as vulnerable, and I believe he is, the field could grow quite a bit."
Back to the president-elect: Not only is the right someone muted about Obama right now, almost no one -- there are always exceptions -- is carping about the incoming secretary of state. In the Daily Beast, John Bachelor examines why that is:
"The secret truth of it is that everyone is guiltily, honestly, deeply relieved that foreign policy is now with a veteran team of Washington hands led by Hillary Clinton at State and General Jim Jones as national security adviser, supported by old Bush family consigliere Robert Gates at Defense and Clintonista champs Eric Holder at Justice and Janet Napolitano at Homeland.
"I heard a deep sigh from every Republican I pressed to talk -- and this was followed with a grin of consternation as they remarked that it could have been much, much worse. They sounded like survivors of a Prius crash. How much worse? Naming John Kerry or Bill Richardson made my colleagues gasp for air.
"Will any Republican go far enough to say they love it? No. Yet when you consider that this is the same posse that once chased the Clintons to impeachment and trial by Senate and harassed Mrs. Clinton as a harridan from Hades, the fact that no one is launching a website war against the nomination process, not a single Republican senator has offered a disconsolate word, neither a talk show doll nor a robo-talking head has popped up out of the trenches to aim an RPG--and even trusty Fox News shrugs in resignation--then this all translates into stealthy hosannas."
Not-so-stealthy hosannas at the New Republic, where A.J. Rossmiller marvels at the naming of Hillary, Janet Napolitano and Susan Rice:
"These appointments have garnered little criticism in large part because each appointee is so obviously -- indeed, overwhelmingly -- qualified. These are not token appointments, but rather a collective reflection of a recent and unprecedented ascendancy of women in these fields. Government positions dealing with war-fighting, tough negotiations, and security have for too long been off limits to women, due to prejudice and stereotypes, as well as structural impediments such as military restrictions against women serving in combat positions, a common path for upward mobility in these fields. But despite these long-lasting barriers, no one now questions the toughness or capabilities of these women. That these appointments have been met by a collective public yawn is itself a remarkable development."
National Review's Jim Geraghty might be watching too much TV:
"At first I groaned, then I laughed at the commercial for the 'Obama Commemorative Plate.' If you've watched cable news at all, you know the one. The announcer says the plate marks 'the day the world changed forever' and features a man writing a letter, who suddenly stops and looks over to make sure that Obama is still watching over him from the plate. The one where the announcer veers into self-parody, declaring, 'his confident smile and kind eyes are an inspiration to us all.' Speak for yourself, pal. By the way, guys, Chairman Mao's hagiographers called, they said that line was over the top."
Did you hear the one about Ed Rendell, caught on an open mic saying that Janet Napolitano is ideally suited to be homeland security czar "because, for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19-20 hours a day to it."
The Pennsylvania governor's explanation to Gail Collins: It wasn't a sexist crack; he has no life either.
The Plaxico Burress story seems more suited to the New York Post than the WSJ op-ed page. But here's the Cato Institute's David Kopel arguing that the Giants star shouldn't be prosecuted because New York City's gun law violates the Constitution:
"To be sure, Mr. Burress got caught because of what appears to have been stupid and irresponsible behavior connected with the handgun. But he does not face prison for shooting himself. His impending mandatory sentence highlights the unfairness and unconstitutionality of New York City's draconian gun laws.
"Mr. Burress had previously had a handgun carry permit issued by Florida, for which he was required to pass a fingerprint-based background check. As a player for the Giants, he moved to Totowa, N.J., where he kept a Glock pistol. And last Friday night, he reportedly went to the Latin Quarter nightclub in midtown Manhattan carrying the loaded gun in his sweatpants. Because New York state permits to possess or carry handguns are not issued to nonresidents, Mr. Burress could not apply for a New York City permit."
All right, but isn't there a law against acting like a moron?
This is taking research a step too far:
"Feds busted the FBI-agent boyfriend of actress Linda Fiorentino after he stuck his nose into sensitive files about disgraced private eye Anthony Pellicano -- the subject of a screenplay being penned by the 'Last Seduction' beauty.
"Veteran agent Mark Rossini, 47, was charged with five misdemeanor counts of illegally accessing FBI computers between January and July 2007," the New York Post reports.
"The G-man was one of the FBI's most popular figures and was often the bureau's frontman in highly publicized events. Now, he'll cop to accessing the files on the convicted investigator."
Slate's newest contributor isn't exactly winning plaudits from Salon's Andrew Leonard:
"Need to rehabilitate a career after utterly humiliating and disgracing yourself in front of the world? Get an online column at Slate!
"First came Henry Blodget, the go-go securities analyst for Merrill Lynch who symbolized, more than anyone else, the corrupt relationship between Wall Street analysts and the companies they covered during the dot-com boom years -- and got himself banned from the securities industry for life for his efforts. How he reinvented himself as a China expert for Slate, I still don't fully understand.
"But now comes an even bigger disgrace, Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York and high-end prostitute patron. He has some thoughts to share on the financial bailout. For the most part, I agree with him -- a Wall Street built from smaller companies could be more competitive on the world stage, and simply shoveling billions at existing mega-corporations to maintain the status quo doesn't seem like a forward-thinking policy.
"But fundamentally, I'm just flat-out impressed. What do you have to do in this country to absolutely, completely, ruin your long-term income-generating potential?"
Uh, steal your own sports memorabilia? O.J. is being sentenced today.
If A-Rod is right, there's been some pretty shoddy reporting out there:
"Alex Rodriguez has broken his silence for the first time about his mysterious relationship with Madonna.
"The bottom line? 'We're friends -- that's it,' A-Rod told People in an interview appearing on the magazine's Web site Friday morning.
"Also in the interview, A-Rod, 33, denies reports he travelled to Mexico with Madonna as well as the rumor that they are shopping for a Manhattan apartment together. 'I can tell you this -- I have never been on a plane with her,' A-Rod told the mag. 'I've been to two [Madonna] concerts, yet I've read that I went to 20. I've also read that we were buying an apartment together. That is absolutely ridiculous and not true.' "
Hey, he's ruining everyone's fun.