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Making a run for it

Each election season sees a new crop of ready-for-C-SPAN players: radio and TV broadcasters capitalizing on their local celebrity status to throw their hats in the national political ring.

In Fresno, Calif., former KFSN-TV anchorman Richard Rodriguez is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A Republican, he's challenging Rep. Cal Dooley, who's running for his sixth term. A recent
Fresno Bee

poll shows the two running within four points of each other.

In Wausau, Wis., a former weatherman with the nickname "Wrong Sean" is trying to unseat 31-year Rep. David Obey, a Democrat. Sean Cronin is running a spirited campaign focusing on health care and education. "We have a chance to win this, and I believe we are going to win," Cronin says, although incumbent Obey will be tough to beat.

In Moline, Ill., Republican Mark Baker, a former anchor and reporter with WGEM-TV, is running against the incumbent, Democrat Lane Evans, a nine-term member of Congress. Baker is running a close race and has had strong support from Congressional leadership in Washington, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert-who also is from Illinois-and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Baker also has made it part of his campaign platform to push Hollywood to "raise its standards," using that theme in campaign commercials.

In Boston, former radio talk-show host Republican Janet Jeghelian is trying to defeat incumbent Democrat Joe Moakley. Jeghelian is a seasoned campaigner, having tried to take Ted Kennedy's Senate seat and having run for lieutenant governor.

Jeghelian is a long shot. Massachusetts is a Democratic stronghold, Moakley is an entrenched incumbent, and Jeghelian has failed to raise much money. She had only about $7,000 in her war chest at the end of September, reports the Center for Responsive Politics, while Moakley had almost a half million dollars. At the end of September, Jeghelian reported having raised just more than $15,000, while Moakley had raked in some $1.2 million.

Finally, former conservative radio commentator John Carlson is running for governor in Washington State against incumbent Democrat Gary Locke, the country's first Chinese-American in a governor's mansion.

Locke is likely to win, but the race is close. Carlson's flamboyant, talk-radio style has helped him. Locke has struggled a bit in his re-election campaign because he is considered bland and businesslike. (Speaking of broadcasters, Locke's wife, Mona Lee, was a reporter for king-tv.)

Being a local celebrity gives news anchors, weathermen and talk-show hosts an advantage in local politics.

"Channel 9's viewing area makes up about 80% of this district," says Cronin. "And my name recognition is 100% in those areas."

Opines Michael Schudson, a professor of communications at the University of California at San Diego: "It makes a certain amount of sense that news anchors should run because getting name recognition in this day and age is not easy, and they come with that."

Sonny Bono parlayed name recognition into local office, then served as a representative from California. Fred Grandy, of
Love Boat

fame, was a member of the House from 1986 until 1994. Georgia Democrat Ben Jones (Cooter on
Dukes of Hazzard
) served in the House in 1988-94 before being beaten by a nonbroadcaster who would soon become a familiar face on TV: Newt Gingrich. Wisconsin alone so far has had two Representatives who started as TV anchors: Republican Scott Klug of Madison served two terms in Congress in the '90s; Democrat Jay Johnson of Green Bay, one term in 1997-98.

In today's Congress, there are several members with backgrounds in broadcasting.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), facing a tough re-election campaign against Democrat Brian Schweitzer, was a radio announcer and station owner. Sen. Rod Grams (R-Minn.), who is expected to lose his seat next month to wealthy businessman Mark Dayton, is a former TV anchor. Rep. Ron Klink (D-Pa.), also a former TV anchor, is running for the Senate against incumbent Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) is a former sportscaster. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), expected to return for a second term, owns radio stations with his wife in Oregon.

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.