North Dakota Democrats are actively pursuing liberal MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz as a candidate to replace Sen. Byron Dorgan, who announced Tuesday he would not seek reelection.
State House Minority Leader Merle Boucher told POLITICO he made an official overture to Schultz late Tuesday night about launching a campaign and said he believes the TV commentator is "intrigued by the idea."
"We have to find someone that has a high profile and a national fundraising base, and I can't think of anyone better than Ed Schultz in that regard," said Boucher. "He certainly didn't say no to me by any means," he added.
Dorgan's retirement announcement took state Democrats by surprise and immediately sent party leaders scrambling for a viable opponent to take on likely Republican candidate Gov. John Hoeven. Hoeven, who led Dorgan by double digits in public polls this fall, is expected to announce his candidacy within weeks.
"Very few people have the resources and the backing to take on John Hoeven, and Ed has taken on John Hoeven before on his radio show. I don't think anyone knows John Hoeven and his record better than Ed Schultz," said Boucher.
Minutes after Dorgan's announcement, Schultz began receiving e-mails from across the country, urging him to run.
"We've gotten a ton of e-mails," said Vern Thompson, programming manager for Schultz's nationally syndicated radio show. "I think it's something he would be interested in, but it is a little early. To be honest, I don't know what he will do," added Thompson, who served as executive director of the North Dakota Democratic Party from 2001 to 2004.
In that role, Thompson tried to recruit Schultz to run against Hoeven for governor in 2004. He said Schultz seriously considered it but passed on a race to pursue his broadcasting career.
"It was the right decision because now we have this huge voice at 30 Rock," Thompson said. MSNBC host Schultz said Wednesday during his show that he might run for the seat and noted that state Democrats requested that he consider it.
Schultz said on his show Tuesday evening that he believes North Dakota law holds that a candidate would have to be a resident for the past five years to run, and he hasn't been living in the state.
“I'm flattered to have gotten a lot of calls in the past 24 hours,” Schultz told POLITICO through a spokesperson, adding that “it is an honor to be asked to consider it.”
He said no one from the national party had contacted him.
When asked whether MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews’s flirtation with a Senate run in Pennsylvania has influenced his decision whether to run, he said it had not.
“Chris's decision had not impacted my response to this,” Schultz said.
State Senate Minority Leader David O'Connell said Schultz would be a strong candidate not only because of his ability to rake in cash from around the country but because of his detailed knowledge of Hoeven's record.
Throughout Hoeven's first term, Schultz repeatedly lambasted Hoeven as "an empty suit" during his morning Fargo radio show — a characterization he repeated Tuesday on his show.
"But, you know, if I was still there," Schultz said, "I'd love to run against the empty suit, because that's what I used to call John Hoeven, the sitting governor."
"A lot of people think he's blowing hot air, but the thing is, he never put anything on the air until he confirmed it. He'd always call about stuff and wanted to check his sources," said O’Connell.
Boucher said he didn't expect Schultz to make a snap decision, and Democrats acknowledge that it might be hard for the talk show host to give up a lucrative and glittery broadcasting career for the tiring and tedious campaign trail.
"He said he would visit and get back to me, and I'm going to give him all the time he needs to make that decision," said Boucher.
Andy Barr and Michael Calderone contributed to this report.