Six years ago, MSNBC host Chris Matthews briefly flirted with running for public office—a Senate seat from his native Pennsylvania—and then quickly dropped the idea. But now it looks like his wife, Kathleen, might actually take the plunge.
“Last night, Kathleen decided she is going to take a serious look at running for the United States Congress from where we live in Maryland,” Matthews told viewers of Thursday night’s Hardball, his 7 p.m. political show. “Our local congressman, a very good guy, by the way, just announced he is running for the U.S. Senate, and this development is all unfolding quickly.”
Matthews explained that he was discussing the prospect of his wife’s candidacy on the air because “it’s important in my position here to be as transparent as possible with you, our loyal viewers.”
Thursday night’s disclosure was prompted by a report in Politico that Matthews’s wife of nearly four decades—a Marriott Corp. public relations executive and a local celebrity in her own right as a former longtime news anchor on WJLA-TV, Washington’s ABC affiliate—is “likely” to mount a campaign to replace Rep. Chris Van Hollen Jr. in the 2016 election cycle.
The seven-term Democratic congressman, who represents Maryland’s 8th Congressional District in the affluent suburbs of the nation’s capital, including Chevy Chase where Chris and Kathleen Matthews live, on Wednesday declared his candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring after 30 years in the Senate.
“This is something I’ve just got to deal with,” Matthews told me Thursday morning when I reached him at home. “I think people know who I am. I talk about Kathleen on the show all the time, and she’s been on a good number of times…I think viewers should have a heads-up from me about what I know—so they’re going to get it.”
If Kathleen Matthews does decide to run, her campaign would likely create ethical complications for her outspoken husband, 69, who is also the author of seven books about politics and history.
Addressing possible ethical issues, an MSNBC source told The Daily Beast: “As this process moves forward, if Kathleen decides to run for office, MSNBC and the Hardball Team would take all appropriate measures to ensure that coverage is transparent and fair, which would include fully disclosing Chris’s relationship to Kathleen if her candidacy is mentioned either by him or a guest.”
The MSNBC source added: “Chris doesn’t cover individual congressional races too regularly, which is worth noting.”
The question of campaign contributions would also be a potential sticky wicket. The NBC Universal News Group, of which MSNBC is a subsidiary, imposes strict rules on its anchors, who are generally prohibited from donating to political campaigns unless they receive prior approval.
In 2010, MSNBC personalities Keith Olbermann, a liberal Democrat, and Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, were punished with two-day suspensions for writing checks to various candidates without permission.
In Matthews’s case, he’s sleeping with the prospective candidate, the mother of their three grown children, so it’s reasonable to ask if he’ll receive a marital exemption.
The MSNBC source referred me to the “all appropriate measures” vow. After all, even if their bank accounts are not commingled and he doesn’t max out in hard money, Matthews, if he’s a decent spouse, will definitely be making “in-kind” contributions.
A self-styled centrist Democrat, Matthews was a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and a top aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill before joining the chattering classes as a columnist and Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner and later a television host and protégé of then-NBC executive Roger Ailes on the fledgling “America’s Talking” network, a forerunner to MNSBC.
“Kathleen and I have not had much time to talk about it—right now she’s on business overseas, heading from Berlin to South Africa right now—but I know she’s been involved with public issues her entire career, from anchoring the news to serving as a top executive with Marriott,” Matthews said on the air. “I know her commitment runs truly deep. In our nearly four decades together I have always had the strongest belief in her judgment and values.”
He added: “I am proud of her and support her. And if she does indeed decide to run, then we will make sure we continue to fully disclose my relationship—I’ve never denied it—with her, as part of our commitment here at MSNBC to be transparent and fair in our coverage.”