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NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The speaker clamps the Hastert Rule on immigration reform. Three Republican senators now support gay marriage. And the Bay State Senate race goes into its last week. It's Wednesday and time for a penultimate edition of the political junkie.
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PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?
SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.
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CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. House Republicans and Senate Democrats talk past each other on immigration and abortion. Biden bids to bring back background checks and beat the NRA this time. Claire McCaskill tosses her hat in Hillary's ring. Bill Clinton calls the president a wuss on Syria. And Lisa Murkowski declares gay marriage part of the anti-big-government agenda.
In a few minutes, we'll focus on next Tuesday's special Senate election in Massachusetts. Later in the program, we continue our looking ahead series, junkie-style today, with senior Washington editor Ron Elving. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us as usual here in Studio 42, and we begin, as usual, with a trivia question. Hey Ken.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, since Christmas there's been four people appointed to the U.S. Senate, most recently Jeff Chiesa.
RUDIN: Jeff Chiesa, the person who replaced Frank Lautenberg, temporarily, in New Jersey. So the question is: Who was the last appointed senator to run for president?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last appointed senator to run for president of the United States, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And you can also - of course the winner gets a free political junkie T-shirt and that fabulous no-prize button.
In the meantime, Ken, last night the final debate in the Massachusetts Senate race.
RUDIN: Well, these guys don't like each other, of course.
CONAN: Just plain don't like each other.
RUDIN: They just plain don't like each other. And it was clear. This was the third and final debate of, as you say, the election - special election - to replace William Mo Cowen, who of course is holding the seat temporarily after John Kerry left. Anyway, the election is next Tuesday, but the debate was last night, and it was basically, it was stuff we heard before.
Gabrial Gomez, the former Navy SEAL, the Republican nominee, has gone after Ed Markey, the longtime Congressman, for being in Congress too long.
CONAN: For being a longtime Congressman.
RUDIN: Right, exactly. He's part of the what's wrong with Washington. He was first elected in 1976, which of course back then the people didn't trust government because of Watergate. Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976. That's how far back he goes. And even more upsetting, the Cincinnati Reds swept the New York Yankees in the World Series.
So anyway, so that's how long Ed Markey has been in Congress. And Markey's basically going after Gomez for being Republican. Aside from Scott Brown, you don't elect many Republicans to the Senate from Massachusetts. And so that's what you heard.
CONAN: Well again, later in the program, we're going to be focusing in on this race with, let's see, Jim O'Sullivan of the Boston Globe to focus in and see if he can be another Scott Brown and pull off another upset. Mr. Gomez we're talking about. In the meantime...
RUDIN: You know, speaking of sports, by the way, bad news for another special election, well not a special election but another election this year, Chris Christie, who's running for re-election as governor of New Jersey not only announced that he's a Mets fan, which upsets Neal Conan and Ken Rudin, but he's also, for football he's a Dallas Cowboys fan.
CONAN: My goodness.
RUDIN: That's kind of a strange thing. So - and also for basketball, he's a New York Knicks fan. So I don't know what's going on.
CONAN: Very curious, yeah, it's going to split the vote there. Anyway, there is news, though, about the upcoming Senate race, 2016, in Alaska.
RUDIN: 2014 of course.
CONAN: Excuse me.
RUDIN: Yes, and the news of course is that Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell, who's basically now the establishment choice, he said he will seek the Republican nomination to run against Mark Begich, who is the first-term Democrat from the Senate. But he has to get by Joe Miller, who was a Tea Party favorite. In 2010, Joe Miller defeated Lisa Murkowski - Senator Lisa Murkowski - in the Republican primary, but Murkowski came back to win the seat as a write-in candidate in November.
CONAN: And speaking of Lisa Murkowski, interesting that she becomes the third Republican in the United States Senate to come out today for gay marriage.
RUDIN: Exactly, following Rob Portman and Mark Kirk.
CONAN: And the argument is government should not get involved in our most private decisions, so the anti-big-government argument for gay marriage.
RUDIN: Well, this was always the Republican argument from the beginning: stay out of our bedrooms, stay out of our private lives. And of course that has not been the Republican argument as of late.
CONAN: And in the meantime, Republicans, some urge the party to, well, soften its position on abortion after the last election, when it did so badly amongst women who care deeply about this issue. And yesterday, the House passed an abortion bill that suggests Republicans aren't changing very much.
RUDIN: Well, of course you can make the case that there are - of course, there are pro-choice women, but there are pro-life women, as well. So I think women are split on abortion. But of course at the same time when you have a debate over abortion, which is very - it's very strict, no abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, you had Trent Franks, the Republican sponsor of the bill, talking the other day, or last week I guess it was, about - that the instance of rape resulting in pregnancy is being overblown.
Why Republicans keep talking about that four-letter word rape is beyond me, because it's gotten them, starting with Todd Akin, in trouble almost every, every time. But it was interesting, during this debate - during the debate we were having about abortion in the House - the Republicans had women, the female Republicans Kristi Noem, Marsha Blackburn, women like that basically arguing their case.
And it was interesting because last week when the vote came out of the House Judiciary Committee, there are no Republican women on that committee.
CONAN: Another issue on which Republicans have been urged to - including by many in their own party, to revise their thinking - immigration. And yesterday on a party-line vote, a House committee voted a very tough immigration bill that is not going to make - does not make the prospects of immigration reform look great.
RUDIN: Exactly, the House bill, the thing that came out of the House committee, was all about border security. Of course Democrats, and even some Republicans...
CONAN: It would also make it a crime, punishable by time in prison, to be in this country illegally.
RUDIN: Right not a civil offense, it would be a federal crime to be in the country illegally, which is far more - stronger than anything that - any language we've seen in the Senate bill. And of course then the Senate bill, they're still hoping to get a bill coming out around July 4th or so, or things like that.
But it was interesting, Speaker, House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday that he would not bring this bill to the House floor...
CONAN: Unless there's a majority - that's the Hastert Rule.
RUDIN: Right, exactly, and one of the reasons he said that, perhaps, Dana Rohrabacher - the conservative Republican from California - said that if Boehner would dare bring this bill to the floor without majority Republican support, he should be ousted as speaker. So there's ton of pressure on Boehner on this issue.
CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last appointed U.S. senator to later run for president of the United States. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's see if we can get Dave(ph) on the line, Dave with us from San Antonio.
DAVE: Well, I'm going to guess Teddy Kennedy. I'm not sure, but I'm going to guess it anyway.
RUDIN: Teddy Kennedy did run for president, but when Teddy Kennedy came to the Senate in 1962, it was not by appointment. It was by election.
DAVE: OK, I thought I'd give it a shot. And I'm going to miss you guys. Thanks a lot.
CONAN: We're going to miss you, too, Dave, thank you. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Larry(ph), Larry with us from St. Paul.
CONAN: Yes, you're on the air, Larry, go ahead.
LARRY: Yeah, hi. I'd say Nelson Rockefeller.
CONAN: Nelson Rockefeller.
RUDIN: Well, Nelson Rockefeller was never appointed to the Senate. Of course, he was governor of New York for four terms.
CONAN: Well, he was appointed vice president and then served as president of the Senate.
RUDIN: Yeah, but never - he was never a senator.
CONAN: Never a senator, longtime governor of New York. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jeff(ph), Jeff with us from Harrisburg.
JEFF: Yeah, I want to say Rick Santorum.
CONAN: The senator from Pennsylvania.
RUDIN: Rick Santorum was elected to the Senate in 1994. He defeated Harris Wofford in the process, never appointed to the Senate.
CONAN: Thank you, let's go to - this is Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Houston.
ANDREW: Hi, is it possible it's Gerald Ford?
RUDIN: Well, Gerald Ford was the House Minority Leader for a long time, became...
CONAN: He was also appointed to be vice president.
RUDIN: He was appointed vice president, and he tried to get elected president, but he was never appointed to the Senate.
CONAN: He succeeded to the presidency, but anyway, he did run, but he was never in the United States Senate in any case. And let's see if we can go to Bob(ph) and Bob with us from Bettendorf, Iowa.
BOB: Yes, Walter Mondale.
RUDIN: Walter Mondale is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: In December 1964, after Hubert Humphrey was elected president, Walter Mondale, I believe he was the state attorney general in Minnesota. He was appointed to the Senate. And of course he ran for president...
CONAN: And this bulletin just handed me, Dave from Alameda, California, in by email with the Walter Mondale call. So he gets a free T-shirt, too.
RUDIN: So now we're only down to 6,000 T-shirts in (unintelligible). But of course Walter Mondale swept Minnesota in 1984 in his presidential campaign.
CONAN: All right, stay on the line, Bob, and we'll take your particulars and send you a free Political Junkie T-shirt and of course that fabulous no-prize button in exchange for a promise of yours for a digital picture of yourself wearing self same objects to be posted on our wall of shame.
CONAN: Finally, congratulations. In the meantime, some Clinton news this week. First, Hillary Clinton gets a supporter, whether she wants her or not, Claire McCaskill, the senator from Missouri.
RUDIN: Well, of course, Claire McCaskill said several months that she is in - hoping Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. But what makes this very interesting, at least to some people - like me - is that: One, Claire McCaskill was a huge Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2006.
CONAN: An early and ardent supporter.
RUDIN: Early and ardent yes. In 2006, when she first ran for the Senate, she said she would not let her daughter be alone with Bill Clinton, which, of course, put her in bad graces, shall we say, with the Clintons. So Claire McCaskill is a big Hillary Clinton 2016 supporter. By the way, right now - as of now - Hillary Clinton has tweeted four times. She has 530,209 followers.
CONAN: One of them, William Jefferson Clinton, also made the news this week. Of course he campaigned heavily for Barack Obama, made that great speech at the Democratic convention in support of Barack Obama. At an appearance at the Clinton Initiative in Chicago, onstage with John McCain, and he called the president both a wuss and a fool for his policy on Syria.
RUDIN: Well, for not intervening, and Bill Clinton talked about how - what he did, compared it to his decision to intervene in Kosovo, that was the right thing. And President Obama should be intervening in Syria for the same humanitarian reasons. But, of course, it's kind of an amazing choice because the people opposed to the Assad regime are al-Qaida...
CONAN: Include al-Qaida. They're not entirely...
RUDIN: But I'm just saying it's...
CONAN: It's a very difficult decision, and of course President Clinton declined to intervene in Rwanda, where he later deeply regretted it.
RUDIN: And we know that the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan went so well, why not do Syria?
CONAN: In the meantime, political junkie Ken Rudin is going to stay with us. When we come back, we're going to be focusing on next week's Senate election in the Bay State. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, and that means political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. ScuttleButton winner, Ken?
RUDIN: We absolutely do. It was kind of a complicated button puzzle last week.
CONAN: Really, one of yours?
RUDIN: We had Ould, O-U-L-D, Ould for U.S. Senator, he ran in Virginia 1966. We had Mick is sex, that was for Mick Jagger. We had a picture of Donald Trump, which the button is saying Barack, you're fired. We had Bela Abzug button wearing her famous hat. We had Sandman, Charlie Sandman, for governor of New Jersey, vote line F...
CONAN: Could have been just a picture of Mariano Rivera.
RUDIN: We could. Don't confuse the listeners. And then we also had a Sobnosky for Senate button, and it had a - he was wearing - it had a muscular arm. So if you add all those, you get Old McDonald Had a Farm.
RUDIN: E, I, and anyway, Bonnie Thosa(ph) of Stockton, California...
CONAN: Is not embarrassed to claim the prize.
RUDIN: Well, look, you know, now there's only 5,933 shirts left.
CONAN: She will get a free Political Junkie T-shirt and of course a no-prize button. And the last Scuttle Button is on the website.
RUDIN: Is up, right, and that winner will be announced, it is the last one in NPR history, and the winner will be announced on next week's show, which happens to be the last show.
CONAN: Yeah, last political junkie show, yeah. And there will be a column next week?
RUDIN: There will be a farewell column.
CONAN: And you can see all those fabulous things at npr.org/junkie. Last night, Democratic Congressman Ed Markey met Republican candidate Gabriel Gomez in the final debate of the Massachusetts Senate race. That will be decided next Tuesday. Jim O'Sullivan is a political reporter for the Boston Globe and covering this special election there. He joins us from the newspaper. Nice to have you on the program today.
JIM O'SULLIVAN: Good afternoon, gentlemen, how are you?
CONAN: Very well, thanks. And, well, was this - did anybody score any knockouts last night?
O'SULLIVAN: I don't think there were any knockouts. I think obviously the polls show that Gomez has a lot of ground to make up, and I'm not sure he covered that last night. At the same time, you see that neither one of these is a particularly distinguished debater. This has not been an election that's necessarily electrified the Massachusetts electorate.
It hasn't been Brown-Warren, it hasn't been Weld-Kerry in '96. The electorate seems fairly under-whelmed by both these gentlemen. I think you saw that in the poll that we published on Sunday, when 30 percent of Markey voters said they didn't know much about him. And Gomez has similar numbers.
CONAN: We're going to play some of these unremarkable clips from that unremarkable debate last night, and both of these gentlemen attacking their opponents for their previous record. This is Democrat Ed Markey questioning his opponent's life in the private sector.
REPRESENTATIVE ED MARKEY: Mr. Gomez keeps mentioning his private-sector experience. You've asked him: Who were his clients? How many jobs were created? He's running as a businessman, and you asked him the question, and he did not answer it. We need to know, Mr. Gomez, who you worked for.
CONAN: And what's this about?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, Gomez has a career as a private equity investor and has not been particularly forthcoming about his record there, and Markey's going after him on that. And in a similar vein, Gabriel Gomez is going after Markey about his 37 years in Congress. So they're really each attacking one another's resumes at this point in the late stages.
CONAN: And here is Mr. Gomez indeed making that very point about his opponent.
GABRIEL GOMEZ: We still don't have immigration reform done, and you've had 37 years to do that. We still don't have a comprehensive tax reform done, and you've had 37 years to do that. You could have reformed Social Security and Medicare, and you've had 37 years to do that. What makes you think that over the next 17 months, or over the next 37 years, you're going to be able to do something that you haven't done in 37 years?
CONAN: And a lot of people thought there was an obvious template for Mr. Gomez to follow: Just be Scott Brown.
O'SULLIVAN: Right, right, that's the - that is sort of the template carved out for the Republican in Massachusetts, not just in Massachusetts but in New England, generally, is to be moderate, to be independent, to be seen as a sort of maverick who owes no favors to the party leaders.
The problem is that the state is - the infrastructure disadvantages that Gomez has faced throughout the campaign are serious, and you really need to catch fire like Scott Brown did and face a weak candidate like Martha Coakley was. I'm not saying that Markey is the second coming, by any question, but you need a confluence of things as a Republican in a state like Massachusetts to go your way, and thus far we haven't seen Gomez be lucky enough to capitalize on that.
CONAN: One of the things that Scott Brown did to help him catch fire was run a series of very, well, attractive ads driving around the state in his truck and portraying himself as just a regular guy. And here's an ad from the Gomez campaign where they - well, they tried a quiz show theme on using a quote from Ed Markey.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right, Ed, let's play. Thirty-one votes to raise the debt ceiling, math or arithmetic?
MARKEY: It's really not math.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Increasing the national debt from $600 billion to $17 trillion. Sound like math?
MARKEY: It's just arithmetic.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We're hearing up. How about your 271 votes for higher taxes?
MARKEY: It's very simple arithmetic.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: All right, Ed, what about your 92 bounced checks?
MARKEY: It's not as complicated as math.
CONAN: It might have worked better if the quote had been better.
O'SULLIVAN: Right, right. It - you know, they're going after Markey, who is not a particularly charismatic candidate, and he's been unable to really articulate any instances of when he's departed from party orthodoxy in terms of voting against higher taxes.
Another difference with the Brown-Coakley campaign, is that Brown was really in some ways a creation of the health care bill and all the excitement and the animosity toward the president's health care bill in late 2009, 2010. And Gomez hasn't been able to, sort of, find and harness any sort of issue down there. The president remains popular in Massachusetts. It's a tough way to run against a Democrat in an off year in a special election in the middle of the summer.
CONAN: Mr. Markey has been running an ad that features a long and passionate endorsement from the president of the United States. I don't think it has any words from Ed Markey whatsoever, otherwise - other than that he paid for this message.
O'SULLIVAN: That's correct.
CONAN: But there is a radio ad where he ties the views of his opponent, Mr. Martin(ph) Gomez, to the National Republican Party.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Gomez should be explaining why he sides with Washington, D.C., Republicans and the NRA. Gomez should be explaining why he said he'd consider ending the home mortgage deduction for middle-class families. And Gomez should be explaining why he said he'd support a Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. So in tonight's debate, maybe we should watch and see if Gomez finally stops complaining and starts explaining why he stands with national Republicans on issues that matter to Massachusetts families.
CONAN: And are there substantive differences on the issues?
O'SULLIVAN: Oh no question. There's absolutely no question that there are differences between the two. I think Gomez is a, sort of, a moderate Republican who would stray from the party in some cases, and Markey is a down-the-line Democrat. But that's - people in this state tend to lean more Democratic and that's a smart ad by Markey, to try to, sort of, lash Gomez to this national Republican Party.
You saw Elizabeth Warren did it last year. She waited and waited and waited, but finally in the closing weeks of the campaign, she said to Scott Brown if you were elected senator, you would potentially enable a majority that would have Jim Inhofe, the gentleman from Oklahoma, as chairman of the committee that oversees the EPA. And Inhofe, as Warren pointed out, had penned a book that was about how climate change was a hoax. Well, that doesn't play well in Massachusetts.
It might play better in Oklahoma, but if you can tie these independence-minded, sort of, moderate Republicans in Massachusetts to the more conservative - significantly more conservative, Republican Party nationally, that's a recipe for success here.
RUDIN: Jim, we keep talking about Brown and Coakley, and I guess we all agree that Markey and Gomez are not Brown and Coakley, but the Democrats learned a lesson, I guess, in 2010 when they were caught napping with that election, and of course not - they're not suffering from overconfidence this time with President Obama, Bill Clinton, all the big-gun Democrats coming in to campaign for Markey.
O'SULLIVAN: There's no question that that was a formative election for a lot of the Democrats here. These guys ended up with eggs on their faces. It was embarrassing; it was humiliating. They'll talk about it now. They're pretty candid about it. They'll say, look, that was - we lost that one. We fumbled it away. There's no excuse for us to have blown that like we did. And they're determined not to let it happen again.
That's why you're seeing what I think could be a historic GOTV, get out of the vote effort. I think that you're seeing President Clinton, President Obama, the first lady, Vice President Biden is here on Saturday I believe. They are just sort of grimly set on not blowing this one.
And I mean frankly, if you look at the numbers, there's no reason they shouldn't win. The registration is such, and special election turnout is such, that if you blow a special election as a Democrat in Massachusetts, it's really on you.
CONAN: Is there any national figure who would help Mr. Gomez? We saw Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, of course.
RUDIN: John McCain was there, too.
O'SULLIVAN: Senator McCain's been here. It's tough. It's difficult. It's like, you know, maybe Chris Christie is a Republican who could help. I'm not sure that there are any Republicans who would have a substantial impact. It's really about the persona, and you need a cult of personality to develop around this candidate if it's going to work. We haven't seen that with Gomez yet.
RUDIN: Jim, Boston Globe had like a 12-point spread the other day, and...
O'SULLIVAN: Thirteen, yeah.
RUDIN: Thirteen points, yeah, and we're hearing that Gomez has it maybe closer, six, seven. Do you have a guesstimate what's going to happen?
O'SULLIVAN: I don't. I mean if you're Gomez, you really want to be a lot tighter than that at this point just because of the infrastructure advantages that we've talked about that Democrats have. Their voter turnout operation is far superior. They're better organized in the state. They've had, like we've said, a succession of big-name figures. Gomez is absolutely not where he wants to be and hasn't been able to sort of illuminate the race in a way that would transcend something that's beyond just Republican versus Democrat special election.
CONAN: Has the national Republican Party come in on Mr. Gomez's behalf? This was seen as an opportunity, maybe, certainly given the Scott Brown example, and also a template maybe if the party is going to say we're a big 10 party, we're going to be - we like independent-minded people from New England that this would be an opportunity.
O'SULLIVAN: Right. And it's been somewhat of a mystery to people around Gomez why they haven't played more. I think they understand that it's a gamble. You don't want to spend big and lose. But certainly as the party goes through its sort of post-2012 ruminations, you would think that Gomez as a Latino candidate who's a little bit more moderate, a little bit more centrist, can talk - he has shied away from criticizing the president harshly. You would think that they want to take this for a test run. I think people around Gomez are a little bit surprise that they haven't played more here.
CONAN: There was also an effort to get a pledge from both camps that neither would solicit outside money. Well, the outside money that's come in has come in on Mr. Markey's behalf.
O'SULLIVAN: Oh, significantly. And that they - you're referring to the people, the so-called people's pledge, which both Brown and Warren took. And it's - I won't go into the details, but it frustrates and throws up disincentives to outside groups coming in and spending money. And Markey pushed for that. It was - sort of curiously, it was his opening attack right after the primary. He pushed Gomez to sign this pledge, and Gomez resisted. The result of that has been that Markey has been able to benefit from all this outside money while Gomez is getting heavily outspent.
CONAN: We're talking with Jim O'Sullivan, the political reporter for The Boston Globe. He's at the offices of the newspaper there. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And you've said that this - this is an affliction, the infrastructure problems, as you've described it for Republicans in Massachusetts. It's the same all over in New England. Is the party in any better shape anywhere else?
O'SULLIVAN: Well, Massachusetts is a little bit different than the rest of New England. It's, you know, the party is down in New England. There's no question. It's a - they're largely bereft of Republican figures up here, and it's a problem. It's a regional thing, and it's something that the party if they want to continue to play in New England. They've have success here in the past. In Massachusetts alone, we had 16 straight years of Republican governors from Governor Bill Weld for two terms to Governor Cellucci, and Jane Swift was not elected but was acting, and then Mitt Romney.
But the - at this point, they're so easily tied to the national party, and they are so far below the Democrats in terms of organizing. It's very difficult for Republicans statewide to get elected here. And even more concentrated, I think you saw last year, Richard Tisei, who is the former Senate minority leader here, he's pro-choice. He's a gay Republican. He was running against Congressman Tierney, John Tierney, who had significant personal problems with his wife, and his wife's family is - were in legal trouble.
And Tisei was unable to pull that off. People thought he was going to win that race by six, seven, eight points. And what you saw was people coming out for the president and for Elizabeth Warren and the coattails just sort of swept, to say, out to sea. So that race, I think, was seminal for a lot of Republicans up here who look and said, jeez, you know, he's running against the guy with real problems. He's a popular, likeable Republican. He's a moderate Republican, and he can't pull it off. So what chance do I have? So there are heavy sort of structural disadvantages for Republicans here.
RUDIN: The last time we heard from Scott Brown, there was a rumor that he was going to look at the Senate race in New Hampshire for 2014. Is Scott Brown part of this campaign at all? Has he done anything for Gomez?
O'SULLIVAN: In a very limited role, he has. He's been fundraising for Gomez. He talks favorably certainly of Gabriel Gomez, but then again, he went out today and said that he could, quote, "absolutely," unquote, beat Ed Markey, which is not particularly helpful, I don't think. I'm not sure how many politicians are out there that Senator Brown doesn't think he could beat. But he's not come out strongly for Gabriel Gomez. He hasn't been out on the trail for him in any significant fashion. He's really sort of relegated to the sidelines in this.
CONAN: And Scott Brown benefited himself, A, we mentioned those very good ads that he ran, but he was also a well-spoken candidate who didn't commit gaffes and did well in the debates. Mr. Gomez apparently has, well, inexperience has shown.
O'SULLIVAN: No, I think that's right, and I think, like I said, both of these candidates have been underwhelming in the debates. I think you also can't overstate how much a man of the moment Scott Brown was where there was - remember, it was late 2009. There was a real sense of dissatisfaction with the Obama administration. There was - he was also running against a candidate who by her own admission ran a weak campaign. Some Democrats here would go farther and say she ran a terrible - Coakley ran a terrible campaign. So Brown sort of caught all this lightning in a bottle and was able to win with it. Gomez has appeared to catch very little lightning.
CONAN: And what will the parties learn from this effort coming up next Tuesday?
O'SULLIVAN: I think the Democrats, you know, sort of not to get too into the weeds for you here, but ever since 2006, the folks atop the party machinery here have been Deval Patrick people. The state Democratic Party chairman is John Walsh. One of the governor's chief political advisers is Doug Rubin. And they've just been getting better and better and more proficient. They did it in '06 with Patrick. They did it in '08 with Obama. They failed in '10 with Coakley. They did it in the fall of '10 with the governor again.
They did it with Obama in '12. I think the Democrats are just sort of honing their get-out-to-vote skills repeatedly, and I think Republicans are learning that, you know, you really have to distance yourself. In Massachusetts, you have to distance yourself from the national party, and you have to find a candidate who's is going to be able to quickly accrue voters' affections to him and - or her and overcome some of these - some of the numbers disadvantages that they have.
CONAN: Didn't Gabriel Gomez send a letter to the governor, seeking the appointment as the temporary...
O'SULLIVAN: He did, yes.
CONAN: ...senator, saying he would support Obama policies.
O'SULLIVAN: He did, yes, in - back in January, after...
CONAN: He's an independent-minded Republican.
O'SULLIVAN: Right, right. And, you know, that was something that was seen to have hurt him in the primary when he was running against Dan Winslow and Mike Sullivan; Sullivan being significantly more conservative. And in such a compressed time frame and you think about a primary electorate, that was seen to have been, you know, something of a backfire for Gomez, but he got through it. It was supposed to be an asset in the general election when in Massachusetts, the only way you win as a Republican is reaching out to these independents. He hasn't been able to capitalize on that.
CONAN: Jim O'Sullivan, thanks very much for your time today. Thank you.
O'SULLIVAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Jim O'Sullivan, a political reporter for the Boston Globe and Boston.com. He spoke with us from the offices of his newspaper there. When we come back, we'll be taking a look ahead with Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.
Over the past few weeks, we've taken the opportunity to check in with some of our favorite guests and colleagues in a series of conversations we call Looking Ahead. We could not miss around our friend Ron Elving, who's not only been a frequent guest on the program and sometime substitute junkie, but also Ken's co-host on the NPR podcast IT'S ALL POLITICS. He joins us here in Studio 42.
Ron, I have to ask, how do you put up talking to this guy every week?
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Oh, I never get to talk on the podcast. I just listen.
RUDIN: That's so not true. That's so not true.
ELVING: I think we can go back over the record and we can see that is the case.
CONAN: Do you laugh?
ELVING: I laugh, of course.
ELVING: Of course, I laugh. I laugh as I say this.
CONAN: As we talk about politics, you have to laugh. We're in such a strait at this moment where partisan issues between the parties seemed to have stratified and ossified might be a better word.
ELVING: Well, I think all those -ifieds are applicable. In this particular case, we have a wonderful statistic to sum it up. In the last election, the district that voted for Barack Obama to be president voted 95 percent Democratic for their House seats. In other words, the people who wanted a Democratic president, wanted a Democrat representing them in the House. And on the Republican side, same deal, 95 percent. So we have a House of Representatives in which the parties are almost totally, almost utterly partisanized. They're almost utterly at odds with each other, at the opposite extremes on almost every issue.
For example, last night, when the House voted on abortion, restricting abortion after 20 weeks, making it illegal after 20 weeks, almost every Republican voted for that, virtually every Democrat voted against it, just a tiny handful, half a dozen on either side of their party. That did not used to be the case not too long ago, and it's really affecting our politics going forward.
CONAN: As we were just talking about the politics in Massachusetts where structural issues make it very difficult for a Republican to win statewide, and Jim O'Sullivan of the Boston Globe was telling us in a lot of congressional districts too. But that could easily be said of Democrats in a lot of Southern states.
ELVING: Absolutely. There - it's almost reached a point where in some states there's not much of a point in running in the party that doesn't have any kind of standing. State of Kansas, for example, it's become very difficult for a Democrat to get elected to office in Kansas at practically any level, but particularly, of course, at the statewide level. And this is true of many of the Western states. And, of course, because every state gets two senators, even the ones that have the smallest population, this winds up giving us an absolute base of Republican senators from, primarily, bigger states in terms of geography, smaller states in terms of population. And that hard base of Republicans represents a smaller and smaller percentage of the total number of people in the country but remains essentially a stalwart base for the Republicans in that chamber.
CONAN: Ken just looked over and sort of asked for a permission to ask a question. Does he do that on IT'S ALL POLITICS?
ELVING: No, never asked for a permission.
RUDIN: I never asked permission.
CONAN: Well, anyway, Ken?
RUDIN: I just want to say that, Ron, I'm a big fan of your work. Now, but - I was kidding about that. But what's real or true, a lot of people blame like redistricting for the kind of partisanship we have today. They talk about cable TV, that the MSNBCs and the FOXs of the world preach to the converted. But what about somebody who may be independent-minded, he or she always has the risk of being taken down in a primary by the more extreme left or right.
ELVING: That's right. And we have increasing numbers of landslides in November for House elections and Senate elections, but particularly House elections. It's lopsided in November. And so the fear factor - and all members of Congress have a huge fear factor - they're always afraid that their career is going to come to some abrupt end - has transferred itself from losing to the other party in November to losing in the primary in the spring or the summer or the early fall to a member of their own party who comes along and is more doctrinaire and orthodox and beats them. Most extraordinary example we've had recently of course was Richard Lugar in Indiana, long-time senator. Six-term senator?
ELVING: Six-term senator. He was knocked off by a guy most people in Indiana probably didn't know very much about before he got the nomination. He was defeated in his primary, and then the guy who beat him in the primary lost in November.
RUDIN: Yeah, but, of course, there were a lot of other reasons why Lugar lost. We talk about residency, the fact that he didn't show up a lot. But former Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina whom we used to have - we've had on Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION many times, he was a true, true dyed-in-the-wool conservative, and yet in the primary, he was not conservative enough.
ELVING: That's right. There were other people who could come along and say, well, Bob Inglis, you were there in Congress when bad things happened. I believe also they went after him for voting for CARP, the toxic gas relief program, the emergency bailout for the banks.
CONAN: After President Bush asked him to, yes.
ELVING: Well, and very specifically and personally asked him to as Bush did to get that through in the fall of 2008.
RUDIN: Like Inglis as a second language.
ELVING: As a second language one could almost say. This is why I play the straight man on the podcast.
CONAN: Yeah, me too.
ELVING: It's a well-worn role for all of Ken's partners. But at any rate, this is the kind of thing that produces real change in the way legislation gets done and real change in the way the country gets governed.
CONAN: There are experiments in redistricting to have it done by bipartisan or nonpartisan basis. Given the experience of Republicans though in Arizona and in California, are these going to get any traction?
ELVING: The Republicans object to the way it's been done in Arizona and California, which did not help the Republicans much, and they expected in both cases that it would. And the supposedly completely nonpartisan commission seemed in the end to more or less lean Democratic or help the Democrats win more seats. Pretty much the only state I've seen where it's been done and most everyone has been pleased with the result, more or less, was Iowa, a much smaller, much less complicated state than California. So it's a little hard to imagine how it's going to take over in a Florida or a Texas or places where it's always been on an extremely partisan basis.
CONAN: Do you see the idea that some Republicans are pushing now? There are places like Maine, for example, where you win the presidential votes on the number - on the basis of - per congressional district, not winner-takes-all in each state. Maine - I think Nebraska is the other place who does this.
ELVING: They already do it, and we did see in 2008 that the Omaha-based district of Nebraska split from the rest of the state of Nebraska, voted for Barack Obama, not by much but by a little, so Barack Obama got one vote out of Nebraska in the Electoral College. But that's pretty unusual. We really don't see that in presidential elections very often, but if you did the country that way...
CONAN: There was a proposal to do it in Pennsylvania.
ELVING: Yes, and if you did the entire country that way, you would wind up with something very much like the House of Representatives' margin for the Republicans and Mitt Romney would be the president today.
CONAN: So that's why at least on a partisan basis, some Republicans would argue this might be fairer at least for them. Ken.
RUDIN: Well, I was going to say, I mean, actually, what happened is because so many of the Democratic base is concerted in smaller districts and more urban districts whereas the Republicans are fewer or less populated but spread out all over. So - but I mean, if you think of that - if you had that in Texas though, I mean, then the Democrats would obviously have a shot at getting electoral votes in Texas. If you had that in California, Republicans would have a shot of getting that in California. But everybody knows that the way it looks right now, this would be to the Republican advantage.
ELVING: I don't think there's any question. The Republicans, as you say, largely on the basis of the natural distribution of their vote, do better when you go by this particular system. That's why in, say, Pennsylvania, for example, the Democrats came out narrowly ahead in the statewide vote for the House of Representatives in last November's election, not by a lot but by some, and they wound up with only a third of the seats in Congress from Pennsylvania. The Republicans with a minority of the vote actually got two-thirds and the same thing happened in North Carolina.
No one thinks that's great. No one thinks that's a wonderful result, but it is partly gerrymandering done by highly partisan legislatures and governors, and it's also partly the fact that the Democratic vote is so concentrated in the urban areas.
CONAN: And we should, of course, note by - gerrymandering is a bipartisan game. Maryland is the outstanding example. Most recently, again, Republicans didn't lose the congressional vote that badly and they have, what, one of Maryland's six seats.
ELVING: They're hanging on by a thread in just one district. You can do this, either party can do it. Both parties love to do it. You can draw the map using highly sophisticated computers and computer software so that you perfectly distribute your own vote to beat the other guys in almost every district.
RUDIN: Ron, what lessons - and we always talk about the lessons of 2012 that the Republicans ignored or disparaged the Latino vote. They lost the Asian vote overwhelmingly. Female voters were against the Republican Party for an assortment of reasons. So we think that the argument was that the Republican Party learned something, but then you have a vote like the abortion vote in the House yesterday. What did they learn out of 2012?
ELVING: I believe they learned they don't want to run against Barack Obama again because they think that Barack Obama had a unique appeal to voters under 30 who were more numerous than voters over 65. That, too, is unusual. And they went 60 percent for Obama. They think he has an unusual appeal, obviously, to African-Americans but also to Hispanic and Asian-Americans and that that will not be replicated for another Democrat in 2016. They don't think that anyone else is out there who can do that. That's an open question.
And even if, let's say, Hillary Clinton, the odds-on favorite if she runs, should be the Democratic candidate in 2016, sure, she might not have the exact same appeal to some of those minority groups that Barack Obama had or to the young voters, but she will probably have a stronger appeal yet to women and a stronger appeal yet to many white voters. So there probably isn't a magic formula in all of this except that, and as I think you've said, most Republicans who have really thought about this very much think the answer is they have to broaden their appeal so that at least they don't get an overwhelming anti-Republican vote from Hispanics and Asians and African-Americans.
CONAN: You also spoke about the use of sophisticated computer demographics for redistricting more and more in get-out-the-vote efforts. And Republicans say they learned from Barack Obama who managed two brilliant get out the vote efforts.
ELVING: Yes, really something beyond what we'd ever seen in the Democratic Party before. So, yes, you can credit some of it to Obama's particular appeal to these groups. You also have to take your hat off to the people who were working for him. They work constantly pretty much straight through from 2006 - late 2006 all through '07 and '08 straight through his first term in the office so that they could be there to bring people to the polls for his re-election in 2012.
It was a well planned out, beautifully orchestrated effort by some people who are very talented and whether they can reproduce it for another candidate is kind of the holy grail for Democrats.
RUDIN: But that is one the lessons of 2012 also because the Republicans, even though had so much money and even though they had these out - so-called outside groups, they spent most of their money on TV, whereas - and not get out the, you know, building organizations within the states.
ELVING: That's right. And when you and I were growing up in this business, in so far as we ever did, we always thought television was the answer.
RUDIN: There was no television when we were growing up.
CONAN: Smoke signals.
ELVING: No. When we were growing up in this business. In other words, you know, within the last several years. We thought in the '80s and '90s, for example, that candidates lived, died on television, if they had the better ads, if they had more ads at every level. This was down to city council races, and certainly, when you got to presidential races, it was all about the TV. That was the Ronald Reagan assumption. And it was true before Reagan. It would seem even more true when he was here and after him as well.
CONAN: We're talking politics with Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, who's with us every Wednesday - well, at least one more Wednesday after this - and with Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington and editor. Together, they co-host the podcast IT'S ALL POLITICS. Well, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
As we come up on the next election cycle, we always say - well, Ken always says the governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia, the odd year races coming one year after the presidential race, they're always bellwethers, except when they aren't. New Jersey, this time around, does not look too interesting. Chris Christie is expected to walk to re-election. Virginia could be interesting.
ELVING: Virginia is going to be interesting if not necessarily as a national bellwether as we've treated it in the past - and at times, we've even treated New York mayoral election as a bellwether for the whole country. I don't think that makes too much sense. But you're right. Chris Christie doesn't have any kind of realistic chance of losing in New Jersey. All attention turns to Virginia, where, really, the personalities and the quirks of these two candidates are probably going to drive most of the consideration here.
Voters are going to turn out either for or against Ken Cuccinelli, who's been the attorney general. There is a strong social conservative, very highly orthodox, aggressive social conservative. He's going to divide the electorate, to some degree and his supporters are going to be strong for him. On the other hand, the Democrats have Terry McAuliffe, a guy who's primarily associated with the world of raising money for candidates and supporting and organizing for candidates, the Clintons, in particular.
And he has not been elected to public office before. And his personality maybe is not going to drive quite so much of a Democratic loyal base. But on the other hand, maybe he can make himself acceptable enough so that people who don't like Ken Cuccinelli or who are repelled by the Republican lieutenant governor nominee, E.W. Jackson Jr., who is fiery conservative, fundamentalist preacher, those people will repair, perhaps, to the standard of Terry McAuliffe as an alternative.
CONAN: And as we look ahead to 2016, the off-year elections, the Democrats, again, have a difficulty with numbers in the Senate. The great number of Senate seats that are up are being defended by Democrats. They have an opportunity to lose their slender majority in the United States Senate.
ELVING: Thirty three seats, I believe, on the ballot, perhaps one or two more by 2014. The Democrats are defending 20, at least. Once again, the odds are stacked against them.
RUDIN: Twenty one. Actually, because of the special election, 21 Democrats, 14 Republicans.
ELVING: So there you have it. It's 3-2, and it's, you know, it's tough to win if you're always playing defense. On the other hand, the Democrats manage to defy even longer odds in the year 2012 when they were more or less expected to lose six or seven seats and wound up gaining two. The big question - the big asterisk on 2012 was they had a presidential election to drive turnout, as we've talked about. We can't expect that kind of Democratic turnout in 2014.
What you would expect in 2014 would be a return of the electorate that voted in 2010, the great, if you will, Tea Party revolution against Barack Obama. If we see another one of those in 2014, pretty hard to imagine that the Democrats don't lose control of the Senate. They will probably lose a couple of seats under the best of scenarios and they could certainly lose four, five, six, if it's another Tea Party-type turnout.
CONAN: And do they have any prospects of gaining the House?
ELVING: They have really only a mathematical one. They need 17 seats. There is a poll coming tomorrow from Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, well-known Democratic pollsters, in which they're going to contend that the playing field is much larger than anyone imagines that many more seats in 2014 in the House are going to be contestable. It's a tough sell. It's a tough sell. It's as easy to see the Republicans breaking even in 2014 as it is to see them losing enough seats to lose control of the House.
RUDIN: The difficulty, of course, for the Democrats in 2014 is that - well, I should say the difficulty for the Republicans to gain more seats as we expect them to do because it's the six-year itch...
RUDIN: ...is because, first of all, they picked up 63 seats in 2010 so there's not that many vulnerable Democrats left to be picked off.
ELVING: That's right. But on the other hand, because of the redistricting we've been talking about, there's a kind of a bastion here in which even if the country's sentiment is not violently anti-Obama as it is sometimes been anti the incumbent president in the six-year itch election, 2006, with George W. Bush, example. Even if there isn't that kind of anti-Obama mood, you're still going to have the dynamic and the drawn lines that make it very difficult for the Republicans to lose.
CONAN: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving with us as he has been so many times over the years. Ron had the misfortune to sit right outside of our offices in the old building. So whenever we ran completely dry, we'd haul in Ron Elving and say, what can we talk about?
ELVING: Best thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: Thank you, Ron Elving. Ken, we'll see you next week.
RUDIN: Yes. I didn't know - is the podcast that interesting, Ron? Because this is pretty interesting conversation.
ELVING: We should have it again some time.
CONAN: Every week. Why don't you? IT'S ALL POLITICS. Nah. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.