Liberal and Conservative Talk Radio Campaign Ties
In Several Congressional Races, Air America At Issue
UPDATED with new Minnesota coverage
To reach elective office, is talk radio really an effective stepping stone?
With a number of others diving head-first into Congressional campaigns this year, probable 2008 Minnesota US Senate candidate Al Franken apparently isn't the only one with ties to the medium. In addition, several have at least indirect connections with liberal radio network Air America.
And at the center of their fledgling 2006 candidacies, some are fighting off talk radio-related controversies.
While relatively little attention has so far been paid to these hopefuls, that should change as political silly season soon kicks off.
--- In Georgia, the brother of former Air America and Clear Channel executive Jon Sinton has quietly thrown his hat into the ring for the state's Sixth Congressional District. From Clint Williams at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Republican from Roswell, has more competition for Georgia's 6th Congressional District seat.
Steve Sinton, a Democrat who lives in east Cobb County, announced late last month he is running for the office.
"We can do better," Sinton said. "Even the Republicans I talk to are not happy with Washington."
The district, redrawn last year, includes all of Cherokee County and portions of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. The county had been divided between the 6th Congressional District and the 7th Congressional District.
Sinton, 55, has worked in radio, appearing on the air as Steve Sutton on 96Rock and WGST. He worked with his brother, Jon Sinton, in establishing the liberal talk radio network Air America.
While running for Congress, Sinton said he is concerned about the most local of issues — traffic congestion. Many of the region's key roads are federal highways, he said, citing Ga. 400.
"We all moved here for the quality of life, and that quality of life is under assault on the Northside," Sinton said.
While Jon Sinton remains with Air America as an in-house consultant, it's unclear what role his candidate brother ever had with the network. Were it significant, would this really be a bragging point?
Interesting nepotism question not explored in the article: did Steve Sinton/Sutton's on-air Clear Channel tenure overlap with that of brother Jon?
If Steve Sinton really wants to list Air America on his resume, one hopes Democrat and Republican opponents will have a field day delving into any possible role he may have had in some of the company's sleaziest corporate actions.
--- In Michigan's Ninth Congressional District, former Chicago and Detroit-area Air America Host Nancy Skinner is not only ready for battle, but apparently unapologetic about her ties to the liberal radio outfit.
Skinner intends to bring Franken himself to Michigan for campaigning, according to Perry Simon entertainment trade publication All Access:
Former WLS-A/CHICAGO and WDTW-A/DETROIT host NANCY SKINNER tells the DETROIT NEWS that she'll be running for the Democratic nomination for the 9th Congressional District in MICHIGAN for the right to battle incumbent Republican Rep. JOE KNOLLENBERG.
SKINNER, who ran against now-Senator BARACK OBAMA for the Democratic nomination for Senator in ILLINOIS, tells the NEWS she'll bring in AIR AMERICA RADIO's AL FRANKEN and other friends to campaign for her.
--- In San Diego, Democrat Francine Busby's warm embrace of Air America for campaign purposes continues to generate controversy. Today, KSFO/San Francisco morning host Melanie Morgan (above photo) took Busby strongly to task in a WorldNetDaily Op-Ed:
Democratic candidates are flocking to the liberal radio network, despite the apparent ethical wrongdoing by Air America. What does that say about these Democrat candidates' commitments to ethical reform?
Francine Busby is a Democrat candidate to fill the vacant congressional seat that had been held by Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Cunningham was forced to resign after admitting his guilt to a number of corruption and bribery charges.
Yet despite the focus on ethics in the race, Democrat Busby has now appeared on Air America programs several times, including on Al Franken's nationally syndicated show. Busby's campaign events are also promoted on the website of Air America's San Diego radio affiliate.
With Air America's help, Busby has raised approximately $520,000 – more than any other Republican or Democrat candidate for the seat.
Which is why they stooped to the level of using taxpayer funds from charities to keep the lights on – to benefit Democrat candidates like Francine Busby.
--- On the Republican side, what seemed like a futile effort to recruit a viable candidate to take on Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) has suddenly paid dividends.
Former Massachusetts GOP Congressman and WRKO-AM talk show host Peter Blute appears poised to take on the decrepit Bay State Senator this year.
Although Kennedy has amassed a great deal of money to take on any Republican challenger, Democrats are looking surprisingly weak this year, in a state finding its electorate increasingly turning independent and non-partisan.
Over the last several years, Democrat Party voter registration has seen a significant slide. And major missteps by a once-leading Democrat gubernatorial candidate may have substantially damaged the party's image in 2006.
While Blute, who recently departed WRKO's morning show, has a minor scandal in his past, he feels it can be overcome. From the Boston Herald:
“I think people will take that for what it is. I think people realize that that was a mistake. It was a one-day mistake and I took responsibility for it,” Blute told the Herald yesterday.
The Shrewsbury Republican, who was forced out of the top Massport job just a day after his picture was taken aboard the Nauticus with a breast-baring partyer, plans to make up his mind soon about running for Senate or another post.
Blute said his record of winning five out of six elections makes him an attractive candidate.
Kennedy has vowed an aggressive campaign against any challengers, a threat he backs up with a nearly $8 million war chest.
But even a losing run would help raise Blute’s profile and Kennedy’s scandalous past from Chappaquiddick may help mute criticism of Blute’s boozy boating. In 1969, Kennedy companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned after Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick.
Blute wouldn’t address Kennedy’s past directly but said of his own ousting, “In the scheme of Massachusetts political issues, it doesn’t seem to be a big one.”
Why might Blute have a shot this November? For one thing, by those looking for a chance to finally take down Teddy, it's highly likely big money could be raised from around the country. In addition, younger voters just don't have the fierce Democrat loyalty that in the past made Massachusetts a one-party state.
If millions can be raised, this may finally be the year for Teddy's retirement celebration.
As the election year progresses, expect the Radio Equalizer to closely follow all of these races.
UPDATE: a new piece from Congressional Quarterly. While the state GOP believes it's a great campaign issue, a Minnesota Democrat running in the First Congressional District is also happy to have Franken's support:
Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz, who is running in the state’s 1st District, is a high school teacher and Army National Guard veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Walz this weekend will kick off his campaign against Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht, who has usually won re-election by solid if not lopsided margins.
Walz said he expects to collect some campaign cash at a fundraiser next week with Al Franken, the outspokenly liberal comedian and radio show host who is considering a Senate bid in 2008. Walz received a $1,000 contribution from Franken’s new political action committee, Midwest Values PAC.
Mark Drake, the communications director for the Republican Party of Minnesota, said he expected Gutknecht would win re-election. He said Walz’s connection to Franken would be a “real liability” for his campaign.
Drake said Walz is becoming “the darling of the MoveOn.org, hard-left blogger crowd and I don’t think that kind of approach is going to play real well.”
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Skinner photo: All Access, Blute: Boston Herald library picture, Patrick Whittemore