"I wouldn't know him if I saw him," says Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Boston radio talk-show host Chuck Morse. But Morse definitely recognizes the ultra-leftist Frank -- Frank is in Morse's political crosshairs. The talk-radio host is challenging Frank for the Massachusetts 4th District seat in 2004.
"Barney Frank's policies are hurting America," Morse told me on Monday.
"Barney Frank has voted for appeasement," says Morse. "He's voted against every defense budget going all the way back to Ronald Reagan." Morse points out that Frank is the author of the 2001 Family Reunification Act, which would allow deported foreign convicts back into the United States. "Barney is into some liberal utopian ideas about creating a peaceful universe by surrendering America's military might."
On tax policy as well, Morse wants drastic changes: "I want to form a caucus to examine every government agency, do a full modernization, a streamlining and even an elimination of unnecessary government agencies." Morse also proposes going over the heads of the pork-barrel politicians by submitting a full report to the American people, in language they can understand.
Morse is taking the tough road to the Capitol. Barney Frank is exceedingly popular in his district despite his pornographic past, which includes a 1990 reprimand from the House of Representatives for paying a male prostitute, Steve Gobie, to be his live-in boyfriend and for using his congressional powers to fix 33 of Gobie's parking tickets. In the 2002 election, Frank ran unopposed. In 2000, Frank won 75 percent of the vote. In 1998, he ran unopposed. In 1996, he won 72 percent of the vote. Frank is simply dominant.
But Morse has high hopes. The 4th District, he notes, almost went for Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2002 election. Morse feels that deep change within the 4th District constituency has been accruing since Sept. 11.
There's another reason Morse feels he has a fighting chance against Frank: He's a talk-show host. In the past, this would have been laughable -- a career as a talk-show host being an advantage? With the rise of talk radio, however, that idea is nothing to scoff at.
"Besides the name recognition factor, a talk-show host is delving into public issues every single day," explains Morse, whose show had roughly 1 million listeners. "We're studying very hard, we're drawing opinions on issues, we're in touch with people on the street, we hear callers, we have a pulse regarding what people believe. Talk radio is one of the last bastions of democracy, along with the Internet, and to me a talk-show host is perfectly tailored to go into Congress and lend a fresh eye to what's going on there."
Talk Radio Network's Rusty Humphries, heard on over 200 stations, is more skeptical. Humphries sees the bottom line: No talk-radio host in the recent past has won major political office. It's hard to argue with Humphries' case. John Carlson, a Seattle talk-show host lost his 2000 bid for Washington governor in a landslide. Larry Ahrens, of New Mexico's KKOB, withdrew from the 2002 Republican gubernatorial primary after a weak showing at the nominating convention. Bruce Herschensohn of California was probably the best candidate to spring from talk radio, and he lost to Barbara Boxer in the 1992 Senate race.
"Talk-radio hosts running for office is a great idea -- talk radio is gaining popularity," Humphries observes. "But if you have a 10-share in the ratings, which is outrageously high, that's only 10 percent of the population of the city. You've got a lot of people who have never, will never hear of you. Most of them are great guys, and it would be wonderful if they won. But they're entertainers. Could they do a better job than most of these politicians? Yes. But it's a different arena. I'm skeptical. Maybe it will change, but I don't think that talk-radio hosts get respect -- true respect -- from the political arena."
That could change. Michael Reagan, son of Ronald and nationally syndicated host, has been discussed as a possible candidate for the Senate. Nationally syndicated host Larry Elder of ABC Radio recently switched party registration from independent to Republican; many consider him a possible candidate. Senatorial rumors have surrounded Sean Hannity, ABC Radio's syndicated talk-show host based in New York.
Morse remains optimistic for the future of talk-radio candidates. He's looking forward to debating Frank, telling me to expect "some real wild and raucous debates." At the very least, a solid Morse showing should solidify the trend of campaigning radio hosts. At the most, a stunning Morse upset could usher in a wave of talk-radio congressmen.