Michael Smerconish lit up the phone lines and filled his in-box this morning at his WPHT show with word that he's planning to vote for Barack Obama -- marking the first time since he registered to vote 28 years ago that he'll pull the Democrat lever for president.
He'll explain all in his Sunday column in The Inquirer's Currents section -- as much as he can do in 750 words. The intro reads: "John McCain is an honorable man who has served his country well. But he will not get my vote."
In a chat this afternoon, Smerconish acknowledged that most of the callers and e-mails were scathing, capping months of criticism that began when Smerconish invited Obama to speak on the air. "They never wanted me to welcome Obama in the first place," he said. In the spring, Smerconish announced that if he were a Democrat, he'd prefer Obama over Hillary Clinton.
Smerconish's associations with John McCain date back years. I remember a Smerconish "book club" appearance with McCain at the Downtown Club in December 2005 that was a veritable love-in for the Arizona senator.
Smerconish also acknowledged that this "coming out" might hurt his career nationally. He's been a frequent guest on and fill-in host for big names such as Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly -- both of whom wear their conservativism loudly and proudly.
Which is the case with most talk radio today. As a Republican -- and Smerconish was a HUD administrator here under Bush 41 and he spoke on behalf of 43 here in 2004 -- Smerconish's politics have been frequently mislabeled as "conservative."
"Take a look at idealogues who dominate the [talk] industry today," he told me. "Nobody who straddles [the local and national scene] like I do has success at a national level unless they work at the ends of the political spectrum. I'm never going to be Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann." He agreed that making his decision public was "not in my professional best interest, but it's how I see it. Mine is an opinion, purely based on a lot of circumspection. I'm fortunate that I've chatted with both, been in their presence, so this is not uninformed decision."
That said, "I'm not telling people what they ought to do. Do whatever you want."
He said he would not leave the Republican Party. Should McCain lose, he said he thinks there will be a battle for the direction of the party, and he wants to be involved in the debate. He sees the GOP as becoming "less directed at conservative elements."