What About Jerry?

Reid Keeps Lines Open to Springer

Posted July 30, 2003 at 6:31pm

As Senate Democrats continue to express wide-ranging opinions about Jerry Springer’s (D) possible Ohio Senate bid, one of the party’s top leaders is keeping lines of communication open with the controversial talk-show host.

Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has talked to Springer about the race before, tried reaching Springer at his Chicago home Tuesday morning but ended up leaving message.

“I’m answering any questions he has,” Reid said Wednesday, downplaying suggestions that he was encouraging the talk-show host to jump into the race as word spread that Springer is delaying beyond this week his decision on whether to run.

Reid described his communication with Springer and other potential candidates as “one of the jobs I have here.”

“I speak to people all the time,” Reid added, noting he had also recently talked to Missouri Treasurer Nancy Farmer (D), who announced Friday that she will challenge Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) in 2004.

According to Mike Ford, a longtime Springer friend and political operative who is expected to run the campaign should one materialize, Reid has spoken on more than one occasion with Springer, who has spent the better part of this year traveling the state to test the waters.

Ford also offered his own assessment of what could be generating the communication from Reid.

“Rather than they heard he wasn’t going to run, I think they heard that he can win,” Ford said, adding that there could be “some empirical evidence of that” floating around.

Springer is currently vacationing in Italy and this week pushed off a self-imposed July 31 deadline to reveal whether he will enter the 2004 race against Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). That decision is now expected to come within weeks, according to Springer operatives.

If he runs, Springer will face state Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D) in a primary.

Reid said he has spoken to Springer while he has been in Italy and described the former Cincinnati mayor as “somebody who is well-known.”

But while the Minority Whip reserved criticism of the colorful talk-show host, other members of the Democratic Caucus have not been as accepting.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) was quoted in a story The Cincinnati Enquirer published Wednesday saying “Lord help us all” if Springer runs.

When asked about the race on Wednesday, Landrieu went to even greater lengths to demonstrate she would not back Springer’s bid.

“Is he serious?” she asked, before further probing to see whom Springer would face in the general election. “I would not be supporting him under any circumstances. So, I might be campaigning for Voinovich.”

Although Springer is campaigning as the ultimate Washington outsider — and he has used the disparaging comments made by Senate Democrats to illustrate that fact on the stump — the denigration by the group of people he one day hopes to join may still be a factor in his decision.

“Obviously it doesn’t help the situation if major leaders of his own party are not being particularly kind to him,” said Springer spokesman Dale Butland.

At a breakfast with reporters last week, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) openly questioned the wisdom of a Springer candidacy.

“There’s some risk that he’s radioactive,” Corzine said. “It’s not your standard candidacy, and it could be divisive.”

However, Ford said Corzine’s comments were not “a new linchpin in the decision at all” and that Springer is weighing what Democrats are saying as a whole.

“I think he is agonizing over this and he wants to do the right thing and that’s the question: What is the right thing?” Ford said. “That’s what he’s reckoning with.”

Still, he conceded: “We’ve got enough to deal with to have our own party beating up on us.”

Corzine said Wednesday he has not spoken to Springer and that Reid’s conversations with the potential candidate have not been “official” calls connected to the Senate’s campaign operation. He said that right now Senate Democrats are neither reaching out to Springer, nor are they rejecting him.

“If there is an official position it is that he’s not our first choice as a candidate,” Corzine said. “But we’re going to leave it to the people of Ohio.”

While some Democrats agree with Corzine’s “radioactive” assessment and see Springer’s candidacy as a potential problem for the party’s presidential nominee, others in the party are quietly elated about the prospect of the millionaire entering the race.

Those Democrats note Springer’s ability to self-finance a campaign in a key presidential swing state, and that the race would also take place in a state where the Democratic Party is badly in need of re-energizing.

DSCC Vice Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) said the issue of Springer’s candidacy has not been addressed in Caucus meetings and called the Ohio situation an “interesting race.”

She said Democrats are concentrating on winning seats, but there has not been a particular focus on Ohio.

“I don’t think there’s any consensus [on message] or reaching out,” she said, adding that it is up to individual Senators to handle the Springer situation as they see fit.