Matthews brings local flavor to DNC news coverage

Voice of the Northeast: Somerton’s Chris Matthews attended last week’s Democratic National Convention and hosted MSNBC’s coverage each night. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

Chris Matthews felt right at home at last week’s Democratic National Convention.

Matthews lived near 15th Street and Hunting Park Avenue in Nicetown until moving to Somerton at age 5 in 1950.

Today, at 70, he hosts Hardball on MSNBC. The show airs weekdays at 7 p.m.

Matthews sounded ever the Philadelphian on air at the convention, hosting the cable network’s coverage each night from the final gavel until 2 a.m.

“My accent keeps coming back,” he said.

Young Chris Matthews grew up at 1242 Southampton Road. He attended Maternity BVM Grammar School in Bustleton for first and second grades before St. Christopher was built.

An altar boy, he accompanied priests to the former Philadelphia State Hospital (Byberry) to serve communion and hear penance. He was also an Evening Bulletin paperboy.

“I picked up the papers at the firehouse at Byberry and Worthington,” he said of the former Engine 58.

Matthews attended La Salle High School back when it was located at 20th Street and Cheltenham Avenue. He graduated from Holy Cross College in 1967 and served in the Peace Corps in Swaziland from 1968–70.

By 1974, he was back in the Northeast and challenging U.S. Rep. Josh Eilberg in the Democratic primary. He lost that race, 76 percent to 24 percent. He’s never run for office again, though he considered a move back to Pennsylvania in 2010 to challenge Sen. Arlen Specter, who at the time was still a Republican.

Married with three children, his wife Kathleen ran for a Maryland congressional seat this year, but finished third in a crowded Democratic primary.

Before writing and talking politics for a living, Matthews was a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and a top aide to House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

He’s covered 20 political conventions, including in 2000, when Republicans came to Philadelphia. He still has family in the Philadelphia area and gets back somewhat often. He has honorary degrees from Villanova, La Salle and Temple, among other universities, and was inducted into the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame in 2014.

While he has a background in Democratic politics, he has voted for Republicans in the past, including George W. Bush in 2000 and Specter when he ran for mayor in 1967. He’s also more mainstream than most of the other hosts of MSNBC, which generally caters to a liberal audience.

Before making it to Philadelphia, Matthews spent a week in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention, which nominated Donald Trump for president. He thought Ivanka Trump did a good job introducing her father.

“The money people were not there. The working class is going for him, but not the economic elite,” he said. “In Cleveland, there was a kind of uneasiness. Republicans were very unsure of themselves.”

The network’s Democratic convention coverage included appearances by Matthews at the Reading Terminal Market and Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the TV personality talking about the city’s “addytude,” plethora of universities and love for the “Iggles” and Big 5 basketball at the Palestra.

Matthews hosted three nights of coverage near the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, then spent the last night at McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Center City talking about Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech.

The convention got off to a fast start, Matthews said, with first lady Michelle Obama delivering what he called a “conversational and dramatic” speech.

“Mrs. Obama was dynamite,” he said.

On the second night, former President Bill Clinton spoke about his wife’s background.

“All of a sudden, Bill Clinton is selling his wife as the new kid on the block. That’s going to be a hard sell. The force for change is so strong,” Matthews said.

As for Pennsylvania’s Senate race, Matthews believes Hillary Clinton might be able to help Democrat Katie McGinty oust Republican Pat Toomey.

“That’s a tough race. Toomey is tough. He comes off not extreme,” he said.

As for the presidential race in Pennsylvania, Matthews sees Trump’s strong with people fed up with illegal immigration, trade deals, wars and the cultural elite.

“It’s nationalism. That’s Trump’s argument. It appeals to a lot of people,” he said.

Jobs will be a key issue, he said.

“It will be a battle in the Philadelphia-area media market and the counties out west, the Appalachian counties.”

Nationally, Matthews thinks Clinton could win in a “Goldwater landslide,” though she could settle for a closer victory by taking one of the three big battleground states.

“Republicans have to win Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida,” he said. ••