- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

The search is on for a fierce liberal who can articulate the Democratic ideal with panache and precision someone to rivet the nation with blunt force, clear issues and a compelling voice.
The party wants a sure-footed new presence to take on the titans of the right: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, et al. These denizens of talk radio and the Fox News Channel, respectively, have fostered a painful moment of truth for Democrats.
Americans are not getting their message.
It is reflected in the ratings: Mr. Limbaugh has 20 million listeners on 600 radio stations; Mr. O'Reilly and Mr. Hannity anchor the nation's most popular cable news shows.
Vexed Democrats want some of that bounty, and seek a telegenic champion to get their point across an "angry liberal," according to the New York Times. But it is a complicated challenge.
Some blame the elections.
"When you don't have a White House, you don't have that bully pulpit," said CNN's liberal commentator Paul Begala. "Our last president was a talented communicator. I don't think our party's gotten over Bill Clinton, the way the Chicago Bulls never got over losing Michael Jordan. So they're casting about for somebody."
But some blame the party itself.
"God help anyone the Democrats anoint as their spokesperson," said Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers Magazine, which tracks the talk radio industry.
"They've been incompetent getting out issues that resonate with the public, or with the working person or the little guy," Mr. Harrison said. "They never created a meaningful dialogue with talk radio."
A liberal Limbaugh has yet to emerge, though Mr. Harrison said Fox News commentator Alan Colmes said to be on the verge of a radio syndication deal and New York City talk radio host Ron Kuby have potential.
Some have tried to assume the mantle.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and former California Gov. Jerry Brown both tried talk radio, as did liberal Alan Dershowitz and progressive Jim Hightower. None lasted.
Meanwhile, the liberal view is espoused by Phil Donahue and Bill Press on MSNBC, while CNN has Mr. Begala and James Carville, both former Clinton aides.
There is a sense, said Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, "that we haven't competed as well," and that the party has no "parallel set" of news organizations or personalities sympathetic to its cause.
"Is there some analog to Rush Limbaugh on the air out there in Abilene, Texas, or maybe Rockford, Ill.?" Mr. Mellman asked.
"Maybe. But this may be more about finding money to build an infrastructure to deliver the party message than finding a voice," he continued. "If I had to pick between some great voice and a guy with two billion dollars, I'd take the money."
But eager voices already are being heard. One source reveals that George Stephanopoulos, new host of ABC's "This Week," is piqued by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The New York Democrat has been rallying her high-profile peers to appear on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to personally underscore the party presence on the airwaves. Such things cut into Mr. Stephanopoulos' territory, and ultimately his ratings, the source said.
Such machinations may be for naught, however.
"The party may be looking for some special media person," said Ron Faucheux, editor of Campaigns and Election magazine. "The problem is not finding that person, it's with the message itself."
The party, it seems, has gotten off point.
"The Democrats already have plenty of articulate people, including their lawmakers," Mr. Faucheux said. "But the party had no coherent message which resonates with the mainstream and still energizes their liberal base."
The phenomenon happens to Republicans as well, Mr. Faucheux said.
"Four years ago, the face of the Republican Party was Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott. Now it's George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell. All popular," he said. "Until the Democrats have a presidential candidate, this problem won't be solved."
Democratic strategist Mr. Mellman agrees.
"The 'face' they're looking for is a powerful assist, an enhancement to the party. But this person is no substitute for a Democratic candidate for president in 2004," he said.
Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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