Inquirer staff writer Sam Wood reports:

If talk show host Chris Matthews decides run against Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, he should expect half-hearted support from many of Pennsylvania's Democratic Party heavyweights.

Speculation is rampant this week that the MSNBC pundit is readying himself for a 2010 run. Politico.com reported Thursday that Matthews is househunting in Philadelphia and has been advised by operatives to quit his $5 mil a year MSNBC gig and launch his campaign.

Matthews, 63, has also been privately chatting up grass roots leaders across the Keystone State.

"You don't usually have hosts of national TV shows calling political leaders at the county chairman level. It's just not done," said Terry Madonna, who heads the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

"One of Matthews calls was to an Allegheny Co. chairman and he's called the Dauphin Co. chairwoman several times," Madonna said. "I'm sorry, but Tom Brokaw or Bill O'Reilly, to take two opposite ends of the political spectrum, just don't do that."

In 1974, Matthews ran for a congressional seat in Pennsylvania's Fourth District and was resoundingly defeated. His brother, Jim Matthews, serves on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and unsuccessfully ran for Lt. Governor in 2006 as a Republican as Lynn Swan's running mate.

This time around, the political winds appear to be in Matthews' favor, said Madonna, who cites what he called the "Democratic tide" sweeping the nation -- and the previously conservative-leaning Philadelphia suburbs – as incentives that might fuel Matthews' Senate aspirations.

But a successful Matthews candidacy would have to come with the full blessing of Gov. Ed Rendell.

How likely is that?

"Arlen hired Ed for his first job as Assistant D.A. in Philadelphia," Madonna said. "Ed never campaigns too hard against Arlen Specter. He won't go too far out of his way. So Matthews can't count on Rendell's boys jumping on board."

Matthews still could be a formidable candidate, Madonna said.

"He's a very smart guy," Madonna said. "And he understands politics."

He notes that Matthews is arguably the best known of the five potential Democrat candidates: U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, Allison Schwartz, Joe Sestak and Pa. State Rep. Josh Shapiro.

"I don't think anyone is going to rollover if he decides to run," Madonna said.

Especially Specter, who, despite his age (78) and health (recovering from another bout with cancer), remains popular among Pennsylvania voters.

"Arlen is the most successful politician in the state's entire history," Madonna said of the five-term Specter. "He understands the state, and he takes care of Pennsylvania. That's a prime hallmark of his career. And he's popular in the Philadelphia suburbs where most elections are resolved.

"For any candidate, defeating Arlen Specter would be a huge challenge," he said.

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