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Pa Women Are Ready To Play Hardball

As Chris Matthews mulls over whether to run for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania, he may want to start thinking about how he'll make nice with women and Hillary Clinton supporters--two key constituencies that remain unlikely to view him favorably after a series of disparaging remarks about the New York Senator earlier this year. Women activists in the state have had colorful things to say about the possibility of a Matthews candidacy. Jeanne K.C. Clark, a NOW member in Pittsburgh who described Matthews as a "media primadonna," told TNR that his candidacy "would be a total insult to the women of Pennsylvania and to Secretary of State Clinton … I'm trying to encourage women to call our Democratic party leaders to tell him to stay in DC." According to Clark, word of Matthews's inflammatory remarks is spreading among the state's activists—who are sure to make his comments an issue if he runs. Pennsylvania NOW president Joanna Tosti-Vasey agreed that she found the possibility of a Senator Matthews "discouraging," but pointed out the organization relies on its national PAC to determine its endorsements.

Former Congressional candidate Lois Herr, who characterized Matthews as "a political ambulance-chaser," hopes that someone would "grill him hard and long" about his commitment to women's issues. His uphill climb with these groups aside, she doesn't think his style is consistent with the politics of the moment: "His in-your-face attitude might be a problem with conservative Pennsylvanians and younger Pennsylvanians who don't really go for confrontation anymore—they want someone like Obama who is calm, clear, articulate, and ready to solve our problems. Chris Matthews's approach is quite the opposite."

It would add further insult to injury, many women said, if Matthews emerged victorious at a time when Pennsylvania finally has the possibility of electing a woman Senator. Many mentioned Allyson Schwartz, a congresswoman from the Philadelphia suburbs, as their top choice for the spot. Schwartz's spokesperson says she's focused on her work in Congress, but "she's not going to rule out anything." Clark is hopeful that energy sparked by Clinton's campaign will galvanize women: "More women are going to be running for office, too," she said. "It gets harder for men to get away with the sexist crap that Matthews likes to peddle."

Specter's self-described pro-choice stance will probably make it harder to convince likeminded women that voting for Matthews is a matter of political necessity. Still, as Susan Woodland, another NOW member pointed out, two years is a long time away—and Matthews could do a lot of work to erase voters' memories in the meantime. Even Herr wouldn't eliminate the possibility of working for him. As Heather Arnet, executive director of the Women and Girls Foundation, put it, Matthews would have a lot of work to do proving his commitment to women's issues before he'd gain their support.

But she, like many other feminists, is still cool to this particular MSNBC host. "I would be happy to have Rachel Maddow run for Senate!" she said.

--Marin Cogan