CHRIS MATTHEWS STILL EYEING SENATE RACE…. Last week, FiveThirtyEight reported that Chris Matthews, the MSNBC “Hardball” host and a former Capitol Hill Democratic staffer, has “negotiated with veteran Obama staffers” about joining his team for a Senate campaign against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania in 2010. Soon after, Matthews said the report is “absolutely not true.”

Of course, Matthews wasn’t denying interest in the campaign, he was only denying the report about negotiations with Obama staffers. In fact, by all indications, Matthews is seriously considering the Senate race.

Chris Matthews is dead serious about running for the Senate in Pennsylvania — and shopping for a house in the state and privately discussing quitting MSNBC as proof of his intense interest, according to NBC colleagues, political operatives, and friends.

The garrulous host of the show “Hardball with Chris Matthews” has already picked out a home in Philadelphia to establish residency in the state, according to a Democratic operative in discussions with him about a potential candidacy. Over Thanksgiving weekend, at his vacation house in Nantucket, Matthews’ family gave him their full backing.

As speculation surrounding his potential candidacy heats up, Matthews has also been asking advisers whether to step down from his MSNBC post well before his contract expires in June. At one recent meeting, he was advised that if he truly intends to run, he should resign from the network as soon as possible.

“We talked about the value of doing this now and six months from now. I advocated that he do this as soon as possible,” the operative said. “It’s the MSNBC stuff that’s going to jam him up. I said, ‘if you want to be a U.S. senator, step up and get into the race.’”

It’s possible that Matthews is using a possible campaign as leverage in his upcoming contract negotiations with MSNBC, but a Democratic advisor told the Politico, “He genuinely wants to do this.”

He certainly seems serious about it. Last week, Matthews reportedly sat down with Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania to “discuss the prospect” of a Senate campaign. This week, he met with two party lawyers and the state’s incoming treasurer to get additional input about a campaign. Last month, Matthews chatted with former Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D), who said, “He is interested, and that’s about all I can say.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt that Matthews is giving this serious thought, but I also suspect he expects his celebrity status to propel him to the front of the pack. If so, he’s mistaken — Matthews doesn’t even own a home in Pennsylvania, he’s rightly perceived as a creature of the Beltway, and popular in-state Democrats like Reps. Allyson Schwartz and Joe Sestak, and state Rep. Josh Shapiro, have all expressed interest in the race. If Specter is seen as vulnerable, and I believe he is, the field could grow quite a bit.

What’s more, Matthews’ on-air presence is a double-edged sword. Yes, he’s very well known, but his constant commentary has led to a variety of remarks that may come back to haunt him.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.