- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

President Bush and the Republican Party garnered impressive victories in the recent midterm elections, gaining seats in both houses. But in California, it was politics as usual. Democrats maintained their stranglehold on the state, and even managed to re-elect Gray Davis, the most universally disliked governor in modern history.
But now, Republicans are beginning to smell blood as they look forward to 2004. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer will be running for re-election, and Republicans see her as vulnerable. And now they have found a prospective candidate, who they believe has an honest-to-goodness chance of beating her. He's conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager, an icon in Southern California, where his show has aired for 20 years. He has reached a national audience since 1999 through syndication.
Mr. Prager is a devout Jew who is a persuasive proponent of both Jewish and Christian ideas and traditions in this country, which he believes will be its saving grace. A former Democrat, he switched to the Republican Party after realizing during the Carter presidency that the "late great Democratic party" had moved too far to the left. He's a strong conservative, but not an ideologue; a Bush advocate, but not a cheerleader.
He waxes passionate about religion and values. He likes to point out that the nation's "moral compass is broken" mostly because of the predominance of liberal ideas in education, mainstream churches and synagogues and professional organizations and the media.
But Mr. Prager has one drawback: He likes his job on the radio so much that he may not want to give it up to run for the Senate. He says he already has an audience, and may already be doing the work God wants him to do
He admits he doesn't really like politics, but he's considering the possibilities. He recently told his listeners, "I'm not naturally political. It's not the way I think. But what if it does give you a forum to touch more lives? What if it does?"
Mr. Prager is painfully aware of the political realities involved in a Senate campaign, which can cost up to $60 million. Such a heady environment tends to attract two types of people: multimillionaires, who can afford to pay for much of their own campaign expenses; and those for whom politics is a way of life. He abhors both trends, and insists that if he did decide to run, he would be the kind of candidate that the Founding Fathers had in mind: He would do it to serve his country, not his career or his whims.
Despite his reluctance, Mr. Prager has solid backing. Jerry Parsky, who ran presidential candidate George W. Bush's campaign in California, recruited Mr. Prager and believes he would make a formidable candidate. White House political guru Karl Rove is also said to be impressed, and Lionel Chetwynd, an Emmy-winning writer-director and the White House Hollywood liaison, is on board.
Mr. Prager would need to raise about $10 million for the primary, and already has solid financial pledges from members of the Republican Jewish Coalition and others.
California Republicans have been bitterly divided since the embarrassing loss of the recent governor's race to Gray Davis, but one thing unites them: an overwhelming desire to trounce Barbara Boxer, who polarizes the state like no one else. Mr. Chetwynd calls her "California's Hillary Clinton."
Mrs. Boxer is the quintessential left-wing Democrat. "The National Journal" described her voting record as "the most liberal in the Senate in 1999 and 2000." She is a mouthpiece for the feminist left, strongly backing abortion rights and vehemently opposing the partial-birth abortion ban. She voted against giving Mr. Bush the authority to attack Iraq.
Like most Democrats in California, Mrs. Boxer relies heavily on the ethnic vote to win elections, but Mr. Prager's popularity may attract voters from two crucial Democratic strongholds Jews and blacks.
Mrs. Boxer has been silent about Israel, which has raised concerns in the Jewish community. Mr. Prager, whose watchword is clarity, has taken an unabashedly pro-Israeli stance. He openly condemns Palestinian terrorists, who he believes seek to destroy Israel, while it desires only a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Mr. Prager's message of moral standards, not moral relativism, may resonate in the black community, where the grip of Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat, and Jesse Jackson may be slipping.
He has until November to make up his mind. His listeners are as conflicted as he is about running. Many have made heartfelt pleas on his show for him to stay behind the mike, where they believe his message is most effective. Others think he can do more good in the Senate, where his eloquent voice of reason could make a difference.
Mr. Prager's reluctance actually makes him a stronger potential candidate. In politics, blatant ambition can have an erosive effect on honest intentions. The best person for the job is often the one who doesn't want it.

Dave Berg is a producer for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."


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