Would Chris Matthews Play "Hardball" On Illegal Immigration?
December 12, 2008, 04:00 AM
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As the current Senate race between Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman and television personality Al Franken enters the final days of its recount, a 2010 marquee contest with the same dynamic is taking shape.

In Pennsylvania Chris Matthews, of television Hardball fame, may take on Arlen Specter—like Coleman, a Jewish, RINO incumbent.

As has long been rumored, MSNBC's Matthews plans to challenge the ancient, ineffective, sickly and pro-open borders Specter. A Rasmussen poll released last Tuesday showed a close race in a Specter-Matthews match-up. Among likely voters, the split was 46 percent to 43 percent, respectively. [Matthews vs. Specter? Nobody's Sure Yet, by Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 9, 2008]

Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans alike agree that Matthews could give Specter a tough battle.

Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell:

"Chris would be a formidable candidate. He told me he's seriously considering it, and he asked me for my advice and I told him that Arlen Specter is a tough guy to beat in the general election." [Matthews for Senate?, by Foon Rhee, Boston Globe, December 11, 2008]

Former Republican U.S. Senator Rick Santorum agrees with Rendell.

"I think Chris would be a credible primary candidate under the right circumstances. Since Chris would have no geographic base in the state, he would need to have at least one primary opponent from each of the Democratic strongholds—Pittsburgh and Philadelphia—to be competitive. The real questions are, how soon will he come back to the state to begin running full time, and how much retail politics does the celebrity have in him? Others are organizing and raising money now and are getting around to the county Democratic dinners sewing up support."

Matthews is gambling that what he perceives as his local Philadelphia boy, high visibility profile—name recognition, in other words—will give him an edge over the vulnerable Specter, even though the incumbent has a 62 percent voter approval rating.

Here's an oddity, though. In truth, throughout Pennsylvania Specter's name is better known than Matthews'. It's just that hearing "Specter" turns off an increasing number of voters. (Read my previous columns about Specter's plans for another term and his horrible Congressional record here and here.)

Santorum raises the question whether aspiring amateur politicians— be they athletes, actors or astronauts—can win against professional, established hacks with deep pockets.

Matthews, however, isn't a novice.

Before television, Matthews' experience included a four-year stint as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter speechwriter and six-years as a top aide to former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill.

But a sobering note for Matthews regarding celebrity candidacies: two years ago in the gubernatorial race, Ed Rendell crushed one of the state's most popular figures, Lynn Swann—a Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Famer, four-time Super Bowl hero and a University of Southern California All-American.

In terms of his appeal, Matthews is not Swann. And he's not Ronald Regan, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Clint Eastwood either—all personalities who transitioned successfully from the screen to politics.

To win, Matthews will have to be an informed, effective campaigner. And he would be. Unquestionably, Matthews knows the issues.

Specter's record offers Matthews multiple targets. The ones that interest us the most are:

  • Immigration:

Although this is not as big an issue in Pennsylvania as it is in other states, residents are aware of it and leery. Matthews understands immigration and could weave it easily and effectively into his campaign.

In a 2006 interview with then Virginia Sen. George Allen, Matthews, noting that the 1986 amnesty was "a joke" asked:

"Twenty years ago, the Senate, the House and the president got together.  They had a big signing ceremony and they said they were going to stop illegal immigration into this country.  It was a joke, nothing happened.

"Illegal immigration continued even faster than before.  Why should we trust the government to enforce the borders, to enforce our immigration laws now?"

  • Jobs (as they relate to immigration)

Again, immigration and its impact on employment is a subject that Matthews' has thought through and grasps.

Here's an excerpt from a 2006 exchange between Matthews and Florida Senator Mel Martinez about the proposed guest worker program:

"What happened to the market though, Senator?  We believe in the free market, you do too I assume.  If a sheet rock guy who is putting up plaster is making five bucks an hour, you'll have fewer workers available.  You give this guy $10 or $15 an hour, you'll find a lot more people preparing and teaching themselves out of high school, dropouts, whatever, to learn how to do sheet rock, carpentry, learn how to paint

"People will go to a job if it pays a living wage.  Right now these jobs are barely paying a living wage, so it's the immigrant worker who is available.  Why don't we just raise salaries for people so you get the guys who are unemployed in this country to work?" 

And in response to Martinez's argument that the Chamber of Commerce approves of more guest workers, Matthews replied:

"Those guys also want cheap labor." 

Not only is Specter (purposely) obtuse about the negative impact of open borders on American wages, he has the worst voting record of anyone in Congress on the crucial issue of more visas for foreign-born workers.

Working along side Ted Kennedy, one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats, Specter devised the sale for $500 each to major American corporations of hundreds of thousands of additional work visas and permanent green cards to hire foreign workers for high-tech and professional jobs in the U.S. for periods of between three and six years.

Specter may not be wise to immigration patriots' archenemy, Senator Edward Kennedy. But Matthews is. He once remarked: "We just had Ted Kennedy here. He's a liberal. He's a Democrat. He has a very pro-immigration position. Maybe pro-illegal immigration. I'll go that far."

Matthews, should he decide to challenge Specter, would have to answer to charges of sexism and defend what must be hours of "Hardball" videotape wherein he said foolish things.

But if Franken survived all his dubious taped statements, so can Matthews.

In fact, Specter is so weak a candidate that he might not survive the Republican primary. In 2004, he barely survived a vigorous challenge from a good anti-illegal alien candidate. Congressman Pat Toomey.

Over the past six years moderate Republicans, especially in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, have defected to the Democratic and Independent parties.

The next move is up to Matthews.

His contract with MSNBC expires in June 2009. But negotiations are in progress as I file my column.

What's unclear is whether the current talks are to renew his contract ahead of schedule—as the network did with the thuggish Keith Olbermann last month—or to break it, so Matthews can begin his campaign.

If Matthews plans to stay in television, negotiating now is advantageous since his ratings are high because of the endless 2008 presidential race and the intense interest it generated.

Indeed, some view the Matthews' senate rumor as a leverage ploy to increase his value to the network.

From the immigration patriot perspective, the goal is to get rid of Specter. If that's Matthews'—obviously savvy about immigration—great.

Whether Matthews, if elected, would really take up the cause is uncertain. But since Specter has a D- grade on immigration, any change will be an improvement.

If there's another candidate yet to emerge, that's okay too. Bottom line: we can't do any worse than Specter.

Joe [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.