IS CABLE-TV host

Chris Matthews

running for a Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat in 2010?

A prominent Democrat tells Clout that Matthews has picked out a house in Center City to establish state residency. Matthews himself says he's "90 percent" committed to running for the seat, now held by Arlen Specter, according to the source.

We checked in with Gov. Rendell, whom Matthews admires.

"That's news to me," Rendell said. "All I know is he told me he's seriously considering it, but has not in any way said it's a go. I thought he told me his timetable [for a decision] was [next] summer."

A feature story on Politico.com yesterday said Matthews is house-hunting in Philly and "discussing quitting MSNBC as proof of his intense interest," according "NBC colleagues, political operatives and friends."

It's a ticklish situation for Matthews and his network. He reportedly makes about $5 million a year under a contract that expires in June. The earlier he gets into the race, the sooner he'll have to get off television - and that will cost him a bundle.

On the other hand, the more chatter there is about Matthews' running, the more difficult it becomes for his network to keep him on the air, hosting a political-talk show.

The Politico piece said some believe that Matthews is floating the possibility of running to gain leverage with the network as he negotiates a new contract.

MSNBC spokeswoman Alana Russo said yesterday Matthews isn't giving interviews, and the network doesn't comment on speculative stories.

Early numbers for DA

It's 5 1/2 chilly months until May 19, when the city holds its spring primary election, but the race for district attorney already is shaping up as a hot one.

Young Philly Politics, a left-leaning Web site, commissioned an independent poll focusing on city budget issues. But it threw in a question about the D.A.'s race. The results give the city's former inspector general, Seth Williams, an early lead over five potential competitors, but "undecided" is outpolling the field.

Research 2000, based in Olney, Md., talked to 500 registered Democrats in late November. Williams, who plans to formally announce his candidacy tomorrow, was the choice of 31 percent, followed by former Councilman Dan McElhatton (12 percent), Daniel McCaffery (11 percent), Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker (5 percent), Michael Turner (2 percent) and Brian Grady (1 percent). That left 38 percent who said they were undecided.

Pollster Delair Ali said that at this stage, the numbers reflect name recognition more than anything else. Williams has more of it than his competitors, from his tenure as inspector general last year and his primary campaign four years ago against incumbent D.A. Lynne Abraham, who is retiring.

"That doesn't mean he's a lock to win," Ali said. "With that many undecided, it's wide open. People are not really focused right now. They're just getting over the general election."

In the other corner . . .

Philadelphia's Republican leader, Michael Meehan, says several people are interested in the GOP nominations for district attorney and city controller.

Clout was able to identify just two. Former prosecutor Scott Sigman, 34, acknowledges that he's exploring a run for D.A., and Al Schmidt, a recent hire as the city Republican organization's executive director, who says he's giving "very, very serious consideration" to taking on the Democratic city controller, Alan Butkovitz.

Sigman caused a stir four years ago when he described several drug figures as "domestic terrorists" and charged them with possessing "weapons of mass destruction." A judge threw out the charges, but Sigman says they reflect his aggressive approach to crime. He has been practicing with the firm Bochetto & Lentz.

Schmidt, 37, is a scholarly-looking East Falls resident with a doctorate in political history. He spent five years working in a nonpartisan job for the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, directing audits of the Department of Homeland Security. But he and his wife moved from Washington to Philadelphia in 2005, looking to raise a family, and later he began working for the city Republican organization as a volunteer.

NSC choice has local link

Barack Obama's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has an old friend in Pennsylvania. While studying at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar 20 years ago, one of her Rhodes classmates was Joe Torsella, now president of the National Constitution Center. With a third classmate, they shared an apartment for a year.

Rice worked on the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration and became assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Madeleine Albright. She joined Obama's inner circle at a time when Hillary Clinton was the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

New roost for Wolf

Tom Wolf, who gave up his job as Ed Rendell's revenue secretary last month to lay the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign, is visiting Philadelphia so frequently that he has rented an apartment near Washington Square. He and his wife, Frances, still own a house in York County, their primary residence. *

Staff writers Bob Warner, Dave Davies, Gar Joseph and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

Have a news tip? Gossip? Suggestion? Contact Bob Warner at warnerb@phillynews.com, call 215-854-5885, or fax 215-854-5910.