NO SEN. MATTHEWS…. We may never know for sure whether it was a sincere interest or an elaborate negotiating ploy, but either way, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is not running for the Senate next year in Pennsylvania. He reportedly told his “Hardball” staff yesterday in a production meeting that he’s staying where he is.

I suspect many Democrats are breathing a sigh of relief, and not just among the netroots, where Matthews is exceedingly unpopular. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) recently gushed about a possible Matthews bid, calling the MSNBC host the “strongest Democratic candidate without any doubt,” but that was a minority viewpoint.

In fact, it’s obviously just speculation, but if Matthews had run, I think he probably would have done rather poorly. A quick review of, say, his “greatest hits” from Media Matters shows a record that would have been tough to overcome. Matthews’ interest in the race was probably genuine, but he was under the mistaken impression that his celebrity status would propel him to the front of the pack.

With Matthews out, who’s likely to seek the party nod? Specter is considered vulnerable, so expect a sizable Democratic field. A month ago, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) dipped his toe in the water, hinting that he’s likely to run, and Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) has made similar overtures. State Rep. Josh Shapiro (D), considered a rising star in Pennsylvania, is reportedly mulling the race, and is worth keeping an eye on.

Before facing a Democratic opponent, of course, Specter will likely have to survive another Republican primary, including a possible rematch against former representative and far-right activist Pat Toomey.

As for Matthews, MSNBC will probably pay him handsomely well into the future. As a result, progressive bloggers everywhere will continue to mock his odd on-air comments, and breathe a sigh of relief that he isn’t a Democratic candidate. Atrios recently said, “I’ve long been waiting for an opportunity to vote for a Republican to establish my bipartisan cred, and while I never thought Arlen Specter would be the guy, if Tweety’s his opponent it’ll probably happen.”

Now, it won’t come to that.

Steve Benen

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.