BOSTON—Having previously stated that Jerry Springer will be Ohio's punishment should it fail to go blue, I thought I ought to sample the experience. Springer, who will probably run for governor of Ohio in 2006—and whose money will be likelier to buy the Democratic nomination should the Ohio Democrats blow it for Kerry—is an Ohio delegate to the Democratic Convention. The Ohioans are seated directly in front of Slate's highly coveted single seat inside the FleetCenter, which Slate's nine convention correspondents have stuffed into like a pack of 1940s teenagers in a telephone booth. This vantage point allowed us to view a steady stream of convention delegates having their picture taken with the trash-talk celebrity—and, truth to tell, little else, since we're behind the podium. (Before he spoke, I felt sure that Gary Locke, governor of Washington, was Mike Dukakis, based entirely on the architecture of his hair.)
Chatterbox had to hear what Springer was yammering about.
"Education is so valued in Boston," he was telling a reporter when Chatterbox approached. "In my state we have an exodus of young people." My state? Chatterbox thought. The guy only just re-established residency after maintaining a Florida home as his principle residence while taping his show in Chicago.
But there was no denying Springer had a weird kind of charisma. A young black man, a delegate, handed Springer an envelope and spoke urgently of his need for help getting a job. He was willing to work hard, he said, but he was having no luck. He didn't sound crazy; just anxious and a little desperate to seize any opportunity that presented itself. Springer handled him beautifully. "You're going to get a job," he said. "The way you just sold yourself to me tells me you're going to make it. Don't worry. But I will look at this."
Next up was—of course!—a transgender delegate, i.e. a man-turned-woman, who wanted to thank Springer for defending transgender people. "Never, ever judge people by what they are," he told her. "I'll never judge you based on what you are." Coming from Springer, this laudable statement seemed to take on a particular meaning: You tolerate me, and I'll tolerate you.
Finally it was Chatterbox's turn. Is he a candidate? "I don't know," he said. If he does decide to run, he said, he'll stop doing the TV show. So if he stops doing the show, we know he'll run? "The first decision is to run," he said.
But what about his negatives, which run as high as 75 percent? Springer sputtered that the poll that was based on was a year and a half old; his negatives were now down to 50 percent. How would he drive that down further? "That's what a campaign is about," he said. "If my ideas are good, I'll have a year to present my case to the people of Amer—the people of Ohio." (An ominous slip of the tongue?) The Jerry Springer Show "didn't shut down one factory ... it's absolutely irrelevant to people's lives." It is, he said, "a side issue."
On to the money question. How much has he given to Ohio Democrats in the last year? $1.5 million, he said. How much will he spend if he runs for governor? "I'll spend an awful lot. ... People tell me it costs $20 million in Ohio. It wouldn't be all my money."