Outside View: Dems goofed on Springer

By CLIFF SCHECTER, A UPI Outside View commentary
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Talk-show host Jerry Springer, the king of daytime sleaze, recently spent several weeks openly contemplating a run for the United States Senate from Ohio. As laughable as it may have been, the idea should have been taken seriously.

Detractors said Springer could not have won, that he would have given the Democratic Party a black eye. While they had legitimate points, the truth of the matter is far more nuanced. Rejecting a Springer candidacy because it could fail is like refusing to drink water when you are dying of dehydration because it might be polluted.


The Democratic Party, which has recently seen success in Ohio elections on par with the Green Party, simply had nothing to lose. But they never gave his candidacy a chance, and with its disappearance, so has any chance of defeating incumbent GOP Sen. George Voinovich.


The shame of this whole episode is that the national party has been struggling to raise a quarter of the hard money banked by the GOP fundraising junta, and has had trouble recruiting candidates with the built-in name recognition of a Liddy Dole.

Finally, after a decade in the wilderness, Ohio Democrats could have gotten someone in their race who could attract mass media attention and spend millions without limitation as a candidate.

Springer, with his cult following among the downwardly mobile, would have made it more likely that the Democratic message reached just the rural and lower-income male voters the party has been trying to win back in recent years.

There is more to this story. Springer's political journey did not begin in 2003, but in the late 1970s, when he was repeatedly elected to the Cincinnati City Council. Following the practice of the time, he was appointed mayor when he won with the most votes of any council member at the ripe old age of 27.

Later, Springer became an Emmy-winning news commentator.

Talk to Cincinnatians, and they still recall this Jerry Springer, the charming and articulate man on whose campaigns former Ohioan and current U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., once worked in the 70's.


Springer was called a "policy wonk" who would "surprise people with his intellect." Mark Shields, host of CNN's the Capitol Gang, saw Springer in action when Shields was a young staffer in Ohio. He has compared it to coming across a high school baseball phenom with all the tools to become a major league star.

He hasn't lost his touch. According to columnist Sandy Theis of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, who has seen his speeches, "...Like he has done in dozens of other counties, Springer generated a large crowd, won an enthusiastic reception from the audience and gave the kind of speech that moves Democrats..."

The national Democratic Party still never gave Springer any indication they would treat him like anything but a malignant growth on the party. Immediately upon announcing he might run, Democratic leaders such as Jon Corzine, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., all but wrote him off.

"It is up to the people of Ohio -- and we hope they make the right decision," they seemed to say. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., dismissed him out of hand. The implication was clear. Don't run Jerry.


Sure his negatives in his first poll were, at 71 percent, very high. A vast reserve of money and ability to reach marginal voters can change the whole dynamic in politics. Just ask former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

You would think that Corzine, who spent $68 million to win his Senate seat, would understand this. He seems to in other cases, as he has been trying to recruit self-funders in every state to make up for the Republican financial advantage. Jerry Springer would have fit this pattern perfectly.

Assume for a minute that Springer could not get past his negatives and was unable to win. The effects of his race would still have been felt by Democratic candidates across the country. The DSCC could have saved millions for other close contests, giving them an increased chance at victory and regaining a majority.

Springer's massive advertising campaign would have beamed the Democratic message throughout a bonafide swing state that in the not too distant past supported Democrats Howard Metzenbaum, John Glenn and President Bill Clinton.

Republicans have dominated recent elections for no other reason than better organizing and fundraising. A Springer candidacy, even one that lost, would have been exciting and well-covered, with the potential to revitalize the Democratic Party in a state where it has been languishing.


Most importantly, the Springer media frenzy, much like the current one in California centered around Arnold Schwarzenegger, would have probably raised turnout in Ohio, an occurrence likely to benefit Democratic candidates. Even Corzine begrudgingly admitted this, observing that Springer would "bring people to the polls who usually don't come." His would have been the real NASCAR candidacy.

It is all for naught. The 2004 nominee will likely be Eric Fingerhut, a state senator and former United States Representative that nobody knows. Last time I looked, he had raised about $200,000, just 7 percent of what Voinovich has on hand.

What a shame. The party has chosen to accept the status quo of failure, rather than embracing a risk worth taking. If the Democrats fail to take back the Senate in 2004, the party might want to ponder the race that never was.

-- Cliff Schecter is a Democratic Consultant and frequent contributor to the FoxNews Channel

-- United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues.

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