PERRY ATKINSON, a host on his own talk-radio station in
Phoenix, Ore., hit on the idea of running for Congress when GOP
Rep. Bob Smith announced his retirement late in 1993.
But then Atkinson had to ask himself whether he'd be stepping
up or stepping down.
"Should I stay on the air and reach 10,000 to 20,000 on a daily
basis in shaping their thinking and disseminating what I consider
true?" he asked. "Could I be relegated to just one of 435 (House
members)? I really wrestled with that."
In the end, Atkinson became one of at least seven talk-radio
hosts who have turned in their headsets for a chance to tackle the
problems they've been talking about for years. All seven who have
done so to date are Republicans.
Two women who had been talk-show hosts are seeking the GOP
nomination for the Senate, in Michigan and Massachusetts. Part- or
full-time hosts of general interest talk shows have also left the
airwaves to run for House nominations in two Florida districts and
one each in Indiana and Arkansas.
In New York, "shock jock" Howard Stern announced in March that
he'll run for governor as a Libertarian, although he has yet to go
off the air.
For every talk-radio personality who personally takes the
plunge into politics, there are many who make their presence known
in other ways. The most famous is conservative commentator Rush
Limbaugh, whose show has become an advertising magnet for
Talk radio's political impact has been proved on national
issues ranging from the congressional pay raise in 1989 to the
nomination of Zoe Baird to be attorney general in 1993. But the
distance between issue-oriented talk and a winning candidacy
remains substantial. And the two parties disagree, predictably, on
the nature and future of the talk phenomenon.
Republicans speak gleefully of finding a cheap, effective way
to reach and mobilize like-minded voters, while Democrats say the
medium's effectiveness has not been proved in congressional
"I think talk radio is to some extent unchartered waters for
politics at a congressional level," says Mike Casey, director of
communications for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"There are still important questions to be answered: To what
extent do talk shows of a certain ideological bent preach to the
converted? To what extent do their audiences act on what they hear
on talk radio?"
Until questions like those are answered, Casey says, he's "not
sure anybody can make the case that this is going to help one side
or the other. …