By Barry M. Horstman
Post staff reporter
Jerry Springer, the politician-turned-TV phenomenon whose raunchy show lifted his fame from Cincinnati City Hall to the world, has decided not to run for the U.S. Senate next year, top advisers said today.
After spending more than six months and nearly $1 million of his own money exploring a possible 2004 Senate bid against incumbent Republican Sen. George Voinovich, Springer decided that he could not, as Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Dennis Lieberman put it, "get around all the bad baggage'' associated with his popular but much-maligned show.
"Jerry was concerned about whether he could get beyond his show,'' said longtime confidant Tim Burke, co-chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party. "That was going to be an issue, and it wasn't going to go away.''
Although Springer's decision relates only to the 2004 Senate race, Burke, a City Hall aide to Springer in the 1970s, suggested that it could be a sign that the former Cincinnati mayor and City Council member has all but closed the door on a possible return to politics.
"My own sense is that this is as much of a lifetime choice as it is for this particular race,'' Burke said. "Jerry's never come this close before, and though I don't want to say never -- that might be the case.
"But he's the only one who can say that for sure.''
After leaving public office, Springer was a reporter and anchor on WLW-T (Channel 5), then started a local talk show that would later soar to the top of the ratings nationally after he relocated it to Chicago. There, Springer steered the program into the realm of decidedly low-brow entertainment built around guests clobbering each other and spewing out bleeped defamations, usually over a variety of sexual misadventures.
Although he earns a reported $6 million a year on the show, Springer has repeatedly expressed a willingness to walk away from the lucrative salary to resume a political career. Three years ago, he also seriously considered a U.S. Senate bid, though he did not invest nearly as much time or money in his 2000 flirtation as in this year's effort.
Springer's decision leaves state Sen. Eric Fingerhut as Ohio Democrats' only major declared candidate in the race against Voinovich.
During his exploratory period, Springer's potential candidacy had generated both considerable excitement and disdain among the public and his fellow Democrats alike.
Supporters felt that Springer's near universal name recognition, coupled with his populist policies and his superiority as a public speaker, would make him a formidable candidate in 2004.
Critics, however, argued that his internationally syndicated show's role in popularizing what many see as a degrading form of cultural pollution left Springer ill-suited for the Senate seat that, during his pre-TV days in Cincinnati politics, seemed a realistic long-range target. Even some Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House said they hoped Springer stayed out of the race.
"We caught flak from some who should have been our friends, or at least kept their mouths shut,'' Burke said.
Indeed, one poll early this year showed that nearly three-quarters of Ohio voters surveyed had an unfavorable impression of Springer.
In the end, that obstacle -- and the belief that it would take more time to overcome it, if ever -- will keep Springer on the sidelines next year.
"It was clear that the one thing people attacked him over was the show,'' Burke said. "When they listened to him, he got a tremendous response. But the show was going to be a problem with some people.''