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The four Republican candidates for U.S. Senate debate on Wisconsin Public Television Ch. 36 at 8 p.m. Friday. The primary is Tuesday.

Should talk radio hosts endorse candidates?

It was an interesting conversation. Political talker Jay Weber asked his morning audience on WISN-AM 1130 whether he should let them know who he was going to vote for in the U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday.

"I've narrowed it down to two," Weber said on air Tuesday. "But I want to know what you think. Should people like Vicki (McKenna), Mark (Belling) and I endorse candidates?"

Jay even mentions Charlie (Sykes) in the discussion, and I'd throw 620 WTMJ-AM's Jeff Wagner in there as well. Those five are pretty much the top ones – what I would call conservative political commentators – listened to in southeast Wisconsin.

It is a good question, and I was surprised to listen to the callers share their pro and con thoughts on the issue.

There are so many variables when endorsements are made. I've been on both sides of this before while working for newspapers. As a journalist, I would sometimes disagree with the editorials and endorsements made by my colleagues in the opinion side of the newsroom. The paper would make an endorsement, and I and the rest of my staffers would be in the mix, sometimes getting ridiculed or praised for something we had no say in.

While a columnist and editor working on the opinion pages, I sometimes wrote editorials. Sometimes – well, more often than not – I had to write an opinion I personally disagreed with. It was the nature of the job; it's what you did when you worked with an editorial board.

Political talkers on the radio play in that same gray area. They aren't news journalists. They may provide information (and commercial messages) to the public, but by and large they are not journalists. However, in their commentary, there is a slant or opinion given. That's the nature of the job. So, in some ways I put them on the same level of an editorial board. They research candidates and topics, and share their thoughts on it.

But when endorsements come, there's a chance of fragmenting their own audience. And to the commentator's credit, especially in our market, they usually don't worry about that. I don't think I've ever heard Belling, Sykes, Wagner, McKenna or Weber afraid of getting someone upset by sharing their opinion.

It would be interesting to see one of these radio talkers let everyone know who their horse was in this GOP race between Tommy Thompson, Eric Hovde, Mark Neumann and Jeff Fitzgerald. I do know that when it comes to the general election, I can all but guarantee none of these talkers will endorse Democrat Tammy Baldwin. Call me crazy, but I think that's a pretty safe bet.

I know that the editorial staff at the Journal Sentinel will conduct interviews with the candidates and issue an endorsement or two. I know that a number of other local talkers and radio hosts, like Eric Von at WMCS-AM 1290, will cover the election, the candidates and the issues as well.

What I personally believe in is all of that just fits into the overall fabric of our current political system. Commercial spots, dinner table conversations, sound bites and whatever else ... people will determine how to vote on their own system. That's why a campaign will never be predicted with 100-percent certainty.


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