By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Chris Matthews will continue playing hardball, but not in politics.
After months of exploring a run for the Senate in his native Pennsylvania, the MSNBC host told his producers yesterday that he has decided against seeking office, a network spokesman said.
Matthews drew criticism when he consulted with state Democratic leaders about challenging Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in 2010, even as he continued to host "Hardball" and talk politics on other MSNBC shows. But he recently received a solid offer to renew his contract; the talks are continuing, but he is expected to sign soon.
Matthews, 62, was not available for comment. A onetime Democratic operative who worked for President Jimmy Carter and the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Matthews has long said that his life dream was to be a senator. But he had to weigh the risks of an all-out campaign -- in which he would not be ensured of winning the Democratic nomination, let alone defeating Specter -- against the comforts of living in Chevy Chase and signing another lucrative contract. He made a final decision over the Christmas holidays.
There had been hints that Matthews was planning to stick with his cable gig. His brother Jim, a Republican commissioner in suburban Montgomery County, Pa., told the Web site PolitickerPA this week that the commentator loves his MSNBC job and that he has a new contract offer in hand. "What you'll see is an announcement from the network, not by Chris, that he's re-upped his contract," Jim Matthews said.
The host is being asked to take a substantial pay cut from the $5 million a year he earned under his previous contract, which expires in June. But a person familiar with the talks said Matthews will still earn at least $2 million annually.
Although some observers dismissed Matthews's Senate soundings as a contract ploy, he carefully consulted with such Pennsylvania power brokers as Gov. Ed Rendell and drew as close as three percentage points behind Specter in early polls. But that created an awkward situation for MSNBC after a year in which Matthews, who at times openly rooted for Barack Obama, drew flak for being a Democratic partisan.
Now his short-term future, at least, is set: Matthews and Keith Olbermann will co-anchor MSNBC's coverage of the Obama inauguration.