* Spitzer returns to spotlight two years after scandal
* TV show gives Spitzer time to see if voters soften (Adds interview with Parker and Spitzer)
By Mark Egan
NEW YORK, June 23 (Reuters) - Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace two years ago after admitting to using a prostitute, will co-host a new show on CNN, the cable news network said on Wednesday.
CNN said the man who rose to political prominence as New York’s attorney general, earning the nickname “Sheriff of Wall Street” for his relentless efforts prosecuting financial malfeasance, will co-host a show with 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post.
Parker, a self-professed conservative whose columns are syndicated nationally, said in a statement from CNN: “With Eliot Spitzer as my co-host, Wall Street and Main Street will finally meet. It can’t possibly be boring.”
Spitzer, a Democrat, promised the program would “inform, challenge, and entertain” in the same CNN statement.
In an interview with Reuters, Parker likened chat shows to cocktail parties, saying she hopes hers will draw viewers because it will have better conversations and better guests.
Parker made headlines during the 2008 presidential campaign when she said Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin should step down as Senator John McCain’s running mate because she was out of her league.
Asked if Palin might be a guest, she said, “Maybe she will be our first guest.” She laughed off suggestions Palin might be upset by her assertion that she was out of her league in 2008.
“I think she probably agrees with me,” she said.
Spitzer said for him the job was, “An opportunity to take part in a fun show.” He declined to say if he would consider running again for political office.
Spitzer has gradually been returning to the public spotlight, writing for online magazine Slate and appearing as a commentator on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher.” In May, he was a guest anchor on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan show.
Spitzer, who was not charged in the prostitution scandal, recently told Fortune magazine he was “incredibly frustrated” at no longer being governor and would not rule out another run for office.
“I love politics,” he told Fortune.
But memories of the scandal that waylaid the political ascent of a man once seen as a leading Democrat with potential for national office have been kept in the public’s mind, most recently by a new biography and documentary.
The biography by Peter Elkind, an editor-at-large at Fortune, said Spitzer spent as much as $100,000 on high-priced prostitutes before he resigned. “Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer” also says he paid to have a prostitute flown to Puerto Rico where he was attending a meeting.
The hit CBS television show “The Good Wife” is loosely based on the Spitzer marriage, with actress Julianna Margulies portraying the wife of a politician who is forced to resign after it is revealed he paid for escorts.
Ashley Dupre, the real-life escort at the center of the Spitzer case, has bared all in Playboy and writes a sex advice column for the New York Post.
Despite all the attention, in April nearly half of New York voters in a Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll said Spitzer should run for office again someday. However a majority said they did not want to see him run this year.
Lee Miringoff, director of Marist, said the CNN job will give Spitzer a home in the spotlight as he waits to see if voters’ opinion of his misdeeds soften.
“It makes sense for him to stay visible while he figures out what he wants to do in the long run politically, and whether voters will soften on him,” Miringoff told Reuters.
CNN, which is owned by Time Warner TWX.N, has struggled with slumping prime-time ratings since the 2008 election and is seeking to reinvigorate its lineup amid stiff competition from rivals such as MSNBC and Fox News.
CNN said the new hour-long program will be shown at 8 p.m. EST and will start in the fall in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. The yet-to-be-named discussion program replaces Campbell Brown, CNN said.
Reporting by Mark Egan, Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman