Leading the pack of prospects -- at least in celebrity -- is Chris Matthews, the MSNBC "Hardball" host and a former Capitol Hill Democratic staffer. The Philadelphia native has been toying with a run for months, and this week he sat down with state Democrats to discuss the prospect of taking on the five-term GOP senator.Specter is pushing 80, he's been in the Senate for decades and is one of three Republican senators left in the Northeast (the others being New Hampshire's Judd Gregg and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe up in Maine). Theoretically, that would make him ripe for defeat two years from now.
The problem is Specter is a moderate, and that plays well in Pennsylvania. Yeah, Republican registration in the Keystone State tanked this year, but that doesn't mean it can't possibly rebound - even ever so slightly - before the 2010 midterms. Matthews is also a moderate - he'll be the first to tell you he's not a knee-jerk liberal Democrat, and he voted for Bush in 2000 - but my instinct tells me that his returning to the state simply to run for the Senate will not go over well with Pennsylvanians.
Remember that Lynn Swann, the former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and pro football Hall of Famer, couldn't snatch the governorship away from Ed Rendell in 2006. Granted, that was a big Democratic year, one in which Pennsylvania's longtime arch-conservative stone-hearted Senator Rick Santorum also lost, but Swann was still a celebrity, and he still lost. And he played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matthews is from Philadelphia, he is proud of his Pennsylvania roots and is a huge Phillies fan (as he should be!), but I don't think anyone really associates him with Pennsylvania. They associate him with being cranky on MSNBC. He's a cable TV host, not a United States Senator. This isn't Minnesota, for crying out loud.
My bet would be that, if it's Matthews vs. Specter, Specter wins by a few percentage points. Yeah, I know it's a long way off, but that's what my gut tells me, at least right now. As the article points out, Specter's always in a tough fight anyway. Even as an almost-octogenarian, I'm sure he can play hardball with Chris Matthews.
FYI: I like Chris Matthews, as well as his show, I just think he'd be wasting his time here.