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Jewish Journal

Prager Mulls Run for Senate in 2004

by Buzzy Gordon

February 27, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Prominent nationally syndicated radio talk show host Dennis Prager may run for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Prager told the Journal this week.

"I'm still only in the thinking and talking stage," said the outspoken Republican. "No exploratory committee has been formed. I won't announce that until I am close to being certain. I don't want to disappoint people who have invested hopes."

Prager said he's off to Washington next month to feel out senators, in order to help him make his decision. Already, he said he has "good responses" from conservative columnists Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett as well as his listeners.

When Prager first broached the subject on his show in early February, his listeners expressed support. "I also have commitments for the serious kind of money it takes to mount a campaign," he said.

"The Dennis Prager Show," broadcast live weekdays 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA 870AM, reaches 45 cities and is heard worldwide over the Web. Despite an 18-year history with KABC, Prager jumped ship in 2000 after losing his syndication deal with Jones Radio Network and signed with KIEV, which later changed its call letters to KRLA.

Prager covers a wide range of topics on his show and speaks often about relationships, religion, morality and international relations. An ardent supporter of Israel, Prager had broadcast live from Jerusalem in the spring of 2002 and shot a documentary, "Israel in a Time of Terror."

When it comes to foreign policy, Prager is no isolationist. "The United States is morally obligated to use force for good," he proclaims.

Prager maintains that he is a "centrist --  even a liberal, in the JFK mold." He was a Democrat until 1992 and considered running for Congress, as a Democrat, some 20 years ago.

Prager eschews a descriptive label, and said he is neither a conservative nor a moderate Republican. "I prefer to ask not 'what is left and what is right,' but 'what is wrong and what is right.'"

For Prager, one of his motivations in running is to garner a larger audience -- even though he would have to give up the show and his syndicated column if he won the race. "In the Senate, I would be in an influential position; people would pay attention to what I have to say," he said. "Also, if a Republican can win in a Democratic state like California, he would have to be taken seriously as a contender for national office, such as vice president."

Prager also believes he could be a role model, for Jewish and non-Jewish Republicans. "I would serve as an example of a politician who does not have to compromise his principles. And finally, as someone who would step down from office voluntarily; I do not believe in being a career politician."

Prager, who endorsed Bill Simon's bid for governor in 2002, is targeting Boxer because he and other Republicans feel she is vulnerable. "Unlike Diane Feinstein, Boxer has not made an impact, except for real leftists," he said.

Boxer campaign spokesman Roy Behr told The Journal, "A lot of ex-candidates have said the same things, all of whom ultimately went on to lose to Barbara Boxer. The reason is that she represents California's mainstream voters. She has stood up for California's mainstream for 12 years in the Senate, and this is the only reason that she has been elected and re-elected by convincing margins."

Boxer won her second Senate term in 1998 with 53 percent of the vote.

Prager is also buoyed by political strategist and author Arnold Steinberg's contention that he is the one who can beat Boxer.

Jerry Parsky, who ran George W. Bush's campaign in California, and Lionel Chetwynd, the White House Hollywood liaison, are also reportedly backing Prager, according to Dave Berg in The Washington Times on Feb. 19.

Prager discounts any notion that Jewish voting patterns, which favor Democratic candidates for national office, might mitigate against his candidacy. "First of all, I don't know if there is such a thing as a Jewish voting pattern in California," he said. "But if there were, now it would be different. We are in a new world. There is greater receptivity on the part of Jews to vote Republican.

"Moreover, I would be an exception to the norm. I have a record of a lifetime of devotion to Jewish causes, and Israel."

Prager may be right about shifting voter trends. In 2000, the Republican ticket received 20 percent of the Jewish vote -- more than Dole won in 1996, and double that of George H.W. Bush in 1992. Perhaps surprisingly, that 20 percent came despite Jewish excitement about Joe Lieberman's nomination as the first Jew on a major party ticket.

Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks said that a survey conducted by his organization shows that 48 percent of Jews responding indicated they would consider voting for President Bush for re-election in 2004. More significantly for Prager, the poll also revealed that 27 percent were more likely to vote for Republicans for other offices.

According to political consultant Allan Hoffenblum, "Prager would likely give Boxer a run for her money. He would take away Jewish voters who are concerned about the situation of Israel in the Middle East. And he is not a typical right-winger; he is more of a libertarian than a hard-core conservative."

Prager would first have to win the battle for the Republican nomination. Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento), a moderate, is the only candidate so far to announce the formation of an exploratory committee. Also expected to toss their hats into the ring are Rep. Daryl Issa (R-Vista) and current U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin.

Prager told The Journal he'd run only "If I feel I have a reasonable chance of winning -- in the primaries as well as the general election."

He insists that in the end, his decision will be swayed by his belief in not "whether I can win -- since there is never that certainty -- but where I can do the most good.

"In the end, it will boil down to answering these two questions: Am I cut out for this kind of life? And, can a politician run as a man of his own conscience and not be forced into unacceptable compromises by running?"  

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