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Matthews’ Brother Passes on House Race

While TV talk-show host Chris Matthews has dreamed of running for Senate in his native Pennsylvania some day, his Republican brother has decided to pass on a run for Congress there in 2004.

Jim Matthews, a Montgomery County commissioner and the brother of the MSNBC “Hardball” host, said Tuesday he will not run in the Keystone State’s 13th district in 2004. The suburban northeast Philadelphia seat is currently held by Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.), who is expected to announce next month that he is running for Senate.

“I am not reluctant at all in saying I like my job and I’m going to stay here,” Matthews, a Republican, said in an interview Tuesday.

His brother the talk-show host is a one-time aide to Democratic politicians like former President Jimmy Carter and late Speaker Tip O’Neill (Mass.).

Jim Matthews, who is seeking a second four-year term on the commission this November, said that timing above anything else precluded him from seeking a Congressional seat now, although he left the door wide open to any future opportunities to join his brother in Washington.

“I’ve thought of it for years,” Matthews said, referring to running for Congress. “I would love to reside in a little mansion on Kirk Street with Chris. I know the rent would be very agreeable. I think I’ve got a better shot than anyone else in the 13th of being on ‘Hardball’ on a semi-regular basis, and I’d love to be down there to negate his occasional liberal tendencies.

“But I’m fully committed right now. The timing is horrible for me. I’ve always wanted to be on the Hill, but the reality is I’ve got an election already in November.”

Matthews is currently vice chairman of the commission and, if re-elected, will serve as chairman of the governing body in a county which, he notes, is bigger in population and budget than four states.

Although a host of Republicans are being mentioned for the seat if Hoeffel leaves, Matthews called ophthalmologist Melissa Brown the “most logical choice” to be the party’s nominee.

Brown challenged Hoeffel in 2002 and took 47 percent in a race that ended up being closer than had been expected.

“I’m inclined to go with Melissa,” Matthews said. “I like to see people invest a little blood and she has.”

State Rep. Ellen Bard (R) has already announced she is running for the seat. Other Republicans mentioned include: state Rep. Denny O’Brien, former Rep. Jon Fox, Al Taubenberger and Joe McColgan, who ran twice against then-Rep. Bob Borski (D) in what was then the 3rd district.

During redistricting, Hoeffel’s suburban Montgomery County-based district was merged with parts of Borski’s northeast Philadelphia district to improve the Democratic performance. Borski chose to retire instead of face Hoeffel in a primary.

The redrawn district voted 56 percent for then-Vice President Al Gore (D) in the 2000 presidential contest.

Among the top-tier potential Democratic candidates eyeing the seat are state Sen. Allyson Schwartz, who placed second in a 2000 Senate primary, and Joseph Torsella, the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, which will hold its grand opening on July 4.

Torsella formerly served in the administration of then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell (D) and could have now-Gov. Rendell’s backing in a primary.

Party strategists also note that after helping to raise upwards of $180 million for the Constitution Center, he would have little trouble fundraising for a House race.

“He’s young, he’s energetic and he may be the perfect mix for that district,” noted one Democratic strategist. “He’s the [Massachusetts Gov.] Mitt Romney [R] of Democratic politics, or he certainly has the potential to be.”

Other Democrats mentioned in the 13th include: State Rep. Mark Cohen, former Philadelphia City Manager Joe Martz, Philadelphia Controller Jonathan Seidel and former Hoeffel Chief of Staff Josh Shapiro.