Springer Nixes Senate Bid in Ohio

Posted August 6, 2003 at 2:25pm

Jerry Springer, the one-time Cincinnati mayor who rose to prominence as the king of trash talk television, announced Wednesday that he will not seek the Democratic nomination for Senate in Ohio, citing the inability to separate his populist message from the antics of his show.

Springer, who last month formed an exploratory committee and began running national infomercials to raise funds for a 2004 Senate bid, said the response he has received so far has been “most gratifying.”

But he said the show prevented him from breaking through to the nontraditional voters who haven’t flocked to hear him speak at state Democratic Party functions in recent months.

“As long as I’m doing that show, my message, no matter how sincere and no matter how heartfelt, does not get through to the people I need to reach,” Springer said at a nationally televised press conference in Columbus.

Springer, meanwhile, vowed to find “other avenues to be helpful” and left the door open to a future run for statewide office.

“I can’t do it at this time,” he said. “I need that separation.” An enticing possibility could be a run for governor in 2006, which will be an open seat.

Springer’s announcement leaves state Sen. Eric Fingerhut as the lone Democratic candidate vying to challenge Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) in 2004. Fingerhut showed $233,000 in the bank as of June 30, compared to the incumbent’s $3.4 million cash-on-hand.

Springer has been traveling the state for six months testing the waters for a Senate bid, and during the past two weeks he has agonized over the decision. He was still reconsidering running as late as Tuesday night and did not begin calling supporters and Democratic Party leaders to notify them of his decision until Wednesday morning.

Springer spokesman Dale Butland said several factors, including the fear that he could do more harm than good for the party, led to the talk-show host’s decision not to run. He also didn’t want to put his family through an “intensely negative and personal campaign,” Butland said.

“He feels that if he were going to continue to be the issue throughout the campaign, that probably was not going to be helpful to the constituency he cares most about,” Butland said, pointing specifically to the Democratic Party and the working-class viewers of his show.

A February University of Cincinnati poll showed Springer’s favorable/unfavorable rating was 13 percent to 71 percent. Last month, the Ohio Republican Party released a poll that showed Springer losing the Democratic primary to Fingerhut, 51 percent to 21 percent.

Springer had said all along that he would only run if he saw empirical evidence of his political viability and if it were clear that he could cut through the clutter of his show.

Springer’s contract agreement to do the “Jerry Springer Show,” which runs through 2004, was another factor in the decision. The host had said that if he ran for Senate, he would end the show and he had been exploring a bid under the impression that he could have all of next season’s shows taped by the end of this year.

That option had hit “some snags,” Butland said, and Springer worried about taping the show, which has garnered criticism and high ratings for its trademark vulgarity, nudity and violence from guests, while campaigning for Senate. The show is currently in its 13th season.

“It would be hard to cut through the clutter of the show if he was still doing the show, even if it’s early in the year,” Butland said, noting that the Democratic primary is set for March 2004.

In a statement responding to Springer’s announcement, Fingerhut invited his would-be primary foe to join the ranks of his campaign’s supporters.

“This election is about building a brighter future for the state of Ohio,” Fingerhut said. “Springer’s candidacy clearly wasn’t going to get us there, but neither is the leadership of George Voinovich.”

Although Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) recently called Springer potentially “radioactive,” some party operatives had privately hoped Springer’s high profile candidacy would make the race interesting, and possibly competitive.

A DSCC spokesman said the party remains confident in the possibility of having a competitive race in Ohio.

“With or without Jerry Springer, the facts on the ground haven’t changed,” Michael Siegel said. “Ohio under George Voinovich has one of the worst economies in the nation. … George Voinovich is clearly going to be the issue and … we feel that Ohio remains a very strong possibility for Democrats.”

Democrats in the Senate had expressed a wide variety of views about Springer’s possible bid and a source close to the talk-show host said that the disparaging comments coming from Washington contributed to his decision not to run.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who worked on Springer’s failed 1982 gubernatorial bid, had said Springer would make a good Senator, but others in the chamber had not been as kind. Last week, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) threatened to campaign for Voinovich if Springer ended up as the party’s nominee.

“Jerry always knew he was going to get clobbered by Republicans, but he was a little concerned that he might be facing a year’s worth of attacks from his own party,” said a source close to Springer. “Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Jon Corzine and others have now gotten their wish. They will have a state senator and his $230,000 to run against George Voinovich, and we will get rolled again.”