By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - With TV's Jerry Springer set to decide within days whether to run for Senate, the prospect of his candidacy Tuesday drew snorts, chuckles, groans and eye rolls from the very group he wants to join: Democratic senators.
"Lord help us," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "He's an American citizen, and he has the right to run; but all I can tell you is if our politics have deteriorated to that level, Lord help us all."
Her fellow Louisiana Democrat, John Breaux, pronounced Springer "pretty colorful for Ohio."
"He may be able to run in Louisiana," a state with a long history of flamboyant and eccentric politicians, Breaux said.
"I think it's a mistake," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "To go from the show to the highest legislative elected office in the country is a very big jump."
Howard Metzenbaum, Ohio's 86-year-old retired three-term senator, said earlier this month that Springer's TV show made him a lousy candidate. "I could just see the TV ads that would be produced based on his activities in the past," Metzenbaum said.
Springer, 59, has campaigned at Ohio Democratic Party events, aired a 30-minute infomercial and filed official candidacy papers in Washington. Despite all that, his campaign spokesman insists Springer, who is vacationing in Italy this week, won't make his final decision for several days.
Springer, whose show often features screaming and fights, "might be suitable for some of our squabbles here," joked Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Most Democrats tried to duck the question. Several, like Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said they hadn't thought about Springer's candidacy, though it has been a staple of politics shows and late-night comedy monologues.
Several professed to be neutral in a possible primary between Springer and state Sen. Eric Fingerhut - even as they went out of their way to praise Fingerhut.
"That's up to the Democrats in Ohio. Eric Fingerhut is a fantastic candidate, and I know he's out working all over the state. My expectation is that he'll be the nominee," said Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., the party's leader in the Senate.
"I don't get involved in primaries," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. But, he volunteered, he served in the House with Fingerhut from 1993 to 1995 and found him "a terrific guy." Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., also said he thought Fingerhut would make a good senator.
Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., who's charged with electing Democrats to the Senate next year, said he was staying out of the party nomination. But he noted, Springer "is not my first choice."
Springer's communications director, Dale Butland, said Ohioans, not senators in Washington, would decide whether Springer would make a good senator.
"With all due respect, none of them live in Ohio," he said of the Democratic senators. "None of them understand Ohio's particular brand of problems."
Some of them didn't even know where Springer was running.
"I don't know anything about Indiana politics," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. Told Springer was running in Ohio, he said, "Well, I don't know anything about Ohio politics. I'll let the folks in Ohio make that judgment."
Republicans were more than happy to talk about Springer and seemed gleeful at the prospect of his candidacy.
"A solid, well-respected gentleman, George Voinovich, who's ably served the people of Ohio as a mayor, a governor and now a senator, versus Jerry Springer. I like that match-up," said Sen. George Allen of Virginia, National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman. "We're not recruiting anyone like Jerry Springer to run."
A few senators seemed more welcoming. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., worked on Springer's 1977 campaign for Cincinnati mayor and his 1982 race for Ohio governor. She told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this month that people would be surprised by Springer's intellect. "There's much more to him than his TV show," she said. "He's a policy wonk."
Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributing: Ledyard King, GNS, and Greg Korte, The Cincinnati Enquirer
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