BOSTON – Jerry Springer knows a thing or two about what works on television, so he seemed as good a person as any to ask what advice he would give John Kerry as the Massachusetts senator prepares to give the speech of his life at the Democratic National Convention.
After all, Springer is here this week as a bona fide member of the Ohio delegation with his vote pledged to Kerry.
“I’d tell him to throw all his advisors out of the room and talk one-on-one to every person in America,” Springer said. “This is 1980 in reverse.”
It was nearly 24 years ago that Ronald Reagan went toe-to-toe in a televised debate with the incumbent, Jimmy Carter. “Every poll showed America headed in the wrong direction,” Springer recalled. “America tuned in to watch Ronald Reagan.” They were nervous about the former California governor, Springer said. They needed to be reassured “he wouldn’t push the button.”
History speaks for itself. The Great Communicator wowed the nation. “He was avuncular. He wasn’t going to blow us up.”
Kerry needs to similarly reassure people, to connect in a personal way, to engender a feeling of “comfort” with him. He’ll never have a better chance than tonight, Springer says. “This is his moment.”
Springer’s advice is heartfelt. He’s serious about Democratic politics, having attended every national convention, either as a TV newsman or as a delegate since 1972. Never been to a GOP convention, not once, not even when he was in the news business.
That passion for politics may propel him back into a race for the Ohio governorship when the seat comes up for grabs in 2006. The former Cincinnati mayor flirted briefly with a run against U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, but gave it up. Now his sights seem to be focusing on Columbus.
Springer has easily been the most visible member of the Ohio delegation at this convention, appearing on talk shows, dropping by the convention’s TV sky boxes for on-air chats, pausing for autographs, sitting for newspaper interviews. Wednesday night he was scheduled to appear at a Rock the Vote party at the Foggy Goggle Pub.
Does he feel like he’s become the face of the delegation?
“I wouldn’t wish my face upon anybody,” he jokes.
So, can a guy who made his fortune interviewing wives who hate their boyfriends’ transsexual lovers’ girlfriends step back into mainstream politics?
Springer’s already begun his transformation. He says he spends four days a week travelling Ohio, giving speeches, talking to people. He’s contributed more than $500,000 to the party (hence his delegate status).
And if he decides to take the plunge, he’ll end his “stupid” television show at the end of the current season, which would give him about a year-and-a-half to campaign.
“What’s becoming clearer and clearer to me,” he said of his travels, “is you don’t have to go on my show . . . to see people facing heartbreak.”
What would he want to do as governor?
“We need to find a way to turn the state back to the people.”
“That’s the first question I should answer if I decide to run.”
What worries him the most about the state? Sorry leadership and the decline in wages for working people.
“We can’t keep going back to the middle class and raising taxes,” he says. “The only way you get to pay for anything is with jobs.”
Springer says his decision on whether to throw his hat in the ring will turn on whether he can “make a difference.”
Would his reputation as host to weirdos be baggage he could overcome?
“I always say the show is stupid, because it is. But I don’t run away from it. In the end, the show is totally irrelevant to how we fix the state.”
But it has to help to be so well-known, to walk down the street and hear spontaneous chants of “Jerry, Jerry.”
“What celebrity gets you is the microphone,” he says, noting that’s not enough. “In the end, I have to have substantial answers.”
He’d give up flinging chairs to become a wonk?
“I don’t need a job. I’m doing fine. No one needs to worry about me.”
Copyright, 2004, Jeffrey C. Bruce. All rights reserved.