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Politics
1:11 pm
Wed June 26, 2013

A Look Ahead And A Farewell To The Political Junkie

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. It's Markey in Massachusetts, the court nixes DOMA and Prop 8, and the president bows to the summer heat and discards his jacket to take on climate change. It's Wednesday, and time for a...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's not that sexy.

CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: And for one more Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. The Supreme Court strikes down the Voting Rights Act yesterday, DOMA today and clears the way for gay marriage in California. In Austin, Democrats run out the clock on the Texas abortion law. Weiner edges ahead in polls on New York's mayoral race. The immigration bill looks set to pass the Senate this week - the House, who knows?

Later, we look ahead on politics with Political Junkie regulars Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber. But first, the man himself: Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 42. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: This is the final show?

CONAN: It's the last one.

RUDIN: Wow.

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: What are they thinking? OK, anyway, yesterday, Congressman Ed Markey, who's been in the House for more than 36 years, was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts to exceed - to succeed the very famous Mo Cowan - of course, one of the Three Stooges.

CONAN: It could be Less Cowan now.

RUDIN: Less TALK OF THE NATION. The temporary - Mo Cowen, of course, was a temporary replacement for John Kerry. No one ever elected to the Senate has served longer in the House than Markey. The question is: Which member of the current Senate served the longest in the House before coming to the Senate?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the current senator who served the longest in the House of Representatives before going to the other side of the Capitol, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. In fact, your very last opportunity to win a free Political Junkie T-shirt. It better be small or medium or - and one of those fabulous no-prize buttons. So, Ken, when we can, we start with actual votes. And the votes getting all the buzz this week are five-four, five-four and five-four.

RUDIN: Right, five-four, 54-40 or fight, exactly. Those are Supreme Court decisions. Today, of course, was the five-four decision that basically eliminated, called unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 act that was signed by President Clinton, passed...

CONAN: Overwhelmingly passed.

RUDIN: ...overwhelmingly by Congress. Of course, in the last couple years, we did see President Obama, Attorney General Holder talk about, well, I don't think we're defending this law any longer. But the Supreme Court ruled today that it is indeed unconstitutional. And this basically will give federal protection and federal rights to same-sex couples in those states that recognize same-sex marriage.

CONAN: And there's going to be one more of those states, California, because Proposition 8, the referendum by which the voters in California voted for - to define marriage as one man, one woman, that was struck down by a - the Ninth Circuit, and today, the Supreme Court said, hey, we're sending it back to the Ninth Circuit. That opinion holds.

RUDIN: Right. And, of course, not only has the federal courts, but also the district courts have called Proposition 8 unconstitutional. So California will join, I think, at least I think three more states, two or three more states by August 1st. So a total or 12 or 13 states...

CONAN: Delaware's law takes effect next week, on July 1st.

RUDIN: OK, and, of course, District of Columbia. So you have that. And, of course, then you...

CONAN: About a third of the American population now, with California.

RUDIN: We do. We actually do. We do. And, of course, we have the news about the Voting Rights Act. This is the 1965 act that was passed by Congress in response to what we saw was happening to civil rights, people trying to get the vote in the South. We saw dogs. We saw fire houses aimed at people just trying to get the right to vote.

Anyway, the Supreme Court said that those nine states, mostly in the South, that have had federal protection - federal oversight of their election laws no longer have that oversight. So, in other words, these nine states - mostly in the South - can decide how they want to implement their own election laws. If they want to have voter IDs...

CONAN: Well, they don't have to submit their plans in advance to the Justice Department anymore.

RUDIN: Exactly, exactly. And the Republicans' argument and the court's argument is that the country has changed. The South is no different than the rest of the country. But Democrats are making the point that states are still passing voter ID laws. They're still redrawing district lines that will hurt, that can hurt, blacks, the poor. So...

CONAN: And Hispanics, we saw the Texas redistricting plan thrown out just last year on the basis that it discriminated against Hispanics.

RUDIN: Exactly. And with the five-four decision now about the Voting Rights Act, Texas now can implement that law. So both sides have different views and the way they saw it differently.

CONAN: And, all right, actual votes, Massachusetts, low turnout in Massachusetts on what turned out to - what people thought was, in fact, a pretty dull election, and it turned out pretty much the way people expected.

RUDIN: It was. I mean, there was a lot of - well, first we're talking about Ed Markey, the congressman who was elected, beat Gabriel Gomez, the Republican, by about 10 points, not a surprise. This is typical Massachusetts voting patterns. Of course, everybody remembers 2010, when Scott Brown surprised everybody, won Ted Kennedy's - the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. And so people were wondering, well, whether this could be repeated.

CONAN: And they had a very attractive-seeming candidate, a former Navy SEAL, a Hispanic in Massachusetts, a fresh voice running against, as we suggested, somebody who'd been in Washington a very long time.

RUDIN: But - and I think that the Democrats were aware of that. They also were aware of complacency. And so they poured in a lot of money, a lot of manpower. President Obama, Bill Clinton, Vice President Biden, the whole shebang went into the state, likened it with - blanketed the airwaves with commercials. And as it turned out, it wasn't that close.

CONAN: In the meantime, there was an extraordinary scene in the Texas legislature in Austin. This is where Republicans - the governor called a special section to pass a very tough anti-abortion law. A Democratic Senator, Wendy Davis, filibustered for hours and hours and hours, as she hoped to talk out the clock until the special session elapsed last night at midnight. Then just about an hour before it was set to lapse, she was voted down on a rule of order, and this was the reaction of the demonstrators who were in the gallery there at the state capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

RUDIN: The protestors were saying let her speak. Wendy Davis, again, the Democrat from Fort Worth, decided to stand up to this bill, this Senate Bill 5, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and would also decide where abortions could take place. And, of course, a lot of pro-abortion-rights supporters said this was very restrictive and just, you know...

CONAN: Would virtually, would, in fact, force the closing down of almost all of the abortion clinics in the state of Texas - I think six.

RUDIN: It absolutely was. And, of course, now Wendy Davis is now this national hero. Everybody was watching this on Twitter. Apparently, there were some 400,000 tweets with the hashtag #standwithwendy. And as it turned out, she didn't - wasn't able to talk through - she stopped, the filibuster was stopped, but because of the demonstrators, the vote in the state Senate to pass the bill came after the 12 o'clock deadline.

CONAN: Three minutes after the deadline.

RUDIN: Exactly. So maybe it's a short-term victory, but Wendy Davis and the pro-choice folks got a maybe just, you know, just a symbolic victory, but a victory nonetheless in Texas.

CONAN: They are expected - the governor is expected to call another special session, and at that time, it's probably going to pass.

RUDIN: It may pass, as well. Right.

CONAN: 800-989-8255 if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question. And we do have some people on the line who think they know the identity of the current United States senator who served longest in the House of Representatives before moving to that side of the Capitol. And let's see if we can begin with George, and George on the line with us from Norman, Oklahoma.

GEORGE: Hi, Neal. I have a guess, and also a request. I won a puzzle back in - the quiz back in...

CONAN: Send us an email. We'll send it to the judges and adjudicate that, but give us your guess, because we don't want to run out of time here.

GEORGE: I'm saying Barbara Boxer, California.

RUDIN: Barbara Boxer is not a bad guess. She was in the House 10 years before she was elected to the Senate in 1992. But she is not the longest-serving.

CONAN: Let's go now to Eric, and Eric with us from Jackson, Wyoming.

ERIC: Hi. My guess is Charles Schumer.

CONAN: Chuck Schumer from New York.

RUDIN: That is an excellent guess, but still not correct. Chuck Schumer was elected - was in the House 18 years before he beat Al D'Amato in the 1998 Senate race. He was there 18 years. Somebody was there even longer.

CONAN: Let's go to Christopher, Christopher with us from Brooklyn.

CHRISTOPHER: Yeah, I'm definitely not right, but I just wanted to say I'm going to miss you guys so, so much. It's my favorite show.

RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

CHRISTOPHER: I said Gillibrand.

CONAN: Kirsten Gillibrand from Upstate New York.

RUDIN: No, no. Gillibrand was only in - yeah, she was only in the House, I think, two years before she was appointed to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is...

RUDIN: I liked his first answer a lot.

CONAN: ...Aaron, Aaron with us from Minneapolis.

AARON: Hi. Is it Bernie Sanders?

CONAN: Bernie Sanders from Vermont.

RUDIN: Bernie Sanders, not a bad guess, either: 16 years in the House as an independent, before he came to the Senate as an independent, but not long enough.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Charlie, Charlie with us from San Francisco.

CHARLIE: Yeah. It's Senator Leahy of Vermont.

CONAN: Pat Leahy of Vermont.

RUDIN: Pat Leahy of Vermont, never - Pat Leahy never served in the House.

CONAN: Thank you, Charlie. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Bob, Bob with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB: Yes, this is Bob Sixta(ph) from Rochester, and I, too, am going to miss you guys. I'm going to have to go out and get the T-shirts from some other source. But I think...

CONAN: Well, give us a guess, Bob.

BOB: OK, I think it's Carl Levin of Michigan.

RUDIN: Carl Levin of Michigan never served in the House.

CONAN: You're thinking of his brother, who did serve in the House.

BOB: His brother, Bernie. OK, thank you.

RUDIN: His brother was unleavened.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Sam, Sam with us from Durham in North Carolina.

SAM: Yeah, my guess is Ben Cardin of Maryland.

RUDIN: Ben Cardin is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: In 2006, he won Paul Sarbanes' Senate seat, beat Michael Steele, but he was in the House for 20 years, from 1987 to 2006, 20 years, and that's the record, or at least the current record now that - before Ed Markey comes in.

CONAN: Before Ed Markey comes in, and eclipses that treasured mark that I'm sure...

RUDIN: Ben Cardin is the correct answer.

CONAN: Sam, stay on the line. We'll collect your particulars, and we'll send you a free Political Junkie T-shirt, and congratulations...

SAM: Thank you so much.

CONAN: ...and a button suggesting that you won the Political Junkie trivia contest. In the meantime, Ken, we have to remember there was a senator from Maine, Senator Hathaway, who died this past week.

RUDIN: That's William Hathaway, and he's not a household name, but in 1972, he defeated one of the great legends in Senate history: Margaret Chase Smith.

CONAN: He had a great quote. He called his mother to say he'd won, and she said you should be ashamed of yourself.

RUDIN: Well, Margaret Chase Smith, when she was defeated in 1972, she was the only woman in the Senate. That's how far back that was. But she stood up to Joe McCarthy. She was a legend. But she took her '72 election for granted. Hathaway beat her. Six years later, he was beaten by Bill Cohen. But William Hathaway died this week.

CONAN: All right, Ken Rudin, stay with us. When we come back, we're going to be talking with, well, two of our regulars: Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and former Republican member of the House of Representatives Vin Weber about the futures of their parties and, well, the elections as we look forward to 2013, 2014 and 2016. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, the ultimate Political Junkie day. And Ken, I understand we have one last ScuttleButton winner.

RUDIN: We do, absolutely. The three-button set of last week, the buttons said: I don't give a damn. It was something to do with TALK OF THE NATION, I think. But the other button, second button was avoid the Noid: call Domino's Pizza. And the third button said: Chance for governor - Simon Chance, as you well remember, lost the Republican primary for governor of South Dakota in 1972.

CONAN: Emblazoned on my heart.

RUDIN: Exactly. So when you add them all together, you give - you get give pizza a chance.

CONAN: Give pizza a chance. OK.

RUDIN: Yes. And the Reverend John Pearson(ph) - who obviously had help from above - of Bordentown, Pennsylvania is this week's winner.

CONAN: Well, he will get a free Political Junkie T-shirt. I think only smalls are left. And, of course, that button that suggests he is a - a no-prize button.

RUDIN: We'll find him a shirt.

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 called Looking Ahead. This week, we have two longtime friends of our Political Junkie segment. They've helped us analyze, dissect and assess many campaigns and races throughout the years.

Joining us here in Studio 42, Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, now senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. Anna, welcome back.

ANNA GREENBERG: Thanks.

CONAN: Vin Weber...

GREENBERG: It's good to be here, a little sad.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Vin Weber joins us from Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines, former Republican congressman from Minnesota, now a Republican political strategist and partner at Mercury Public Affairs. Vin, good to have you back.

VIN WEBER: Well, it's great to be with you all, although like Anna, I feel sort of mixed feelings about it. This has been a great program, and it's great to be with you. It's great to be with Anna, and I'll listen to whatever NPR puts on next, I guess.

CONAN: I guess. Are you there in Des Moines, fronting for the Ken Rudin presidential campaign?

WEBER: I'm ready. It's never too early to start.

CONAN: Never too early to start. In the meantime, we have to begin with today's Supreme Court decisions. Anna Greenberg, what changes now?

GREENBERG: What changes now? Well, I think that you're still going to have a lot of fights for marriage equality in different states, because while about a third of the country is now in states where...

CONAN: A third of the population.

GREENBERG: ...a third of the population, right, not geography, is covered by the ruling, and also with DOMA being thrown out, there are people who can have their, you know, federal benefits in potentially even states that don't have marriage recognition. But I don't think that the marriage fight's going to end at the state level, for sure.

CONAN: And this extends, Vin Weber, an argument on some of the social issues on which Republicans have felt a little vulnerable, particularly in the last couple of years.

WEBER: Yeah, I think that dealing with today's Supreme Court rulings - then with the broader issue that we're talking about, gay marriage - is going to be tricky for the Republicans going forward. There has already developed a majority in the country, as we know, in favor of the proposition of gay marriage. And historically, when the Supreme Court rules on something, the public tends to at least move even further in that direction - not everybody, certainly, and there are exceptions, like the abortion ruling.

But I would think that, you know, this is going to help solidify a pretty solid majority in favor of gay marriage. And as I listen to candidates around the country, Republicans - most Republicans, really don't want to get into a battle on this issue. But there is still a substantial part of the Republican base that thinks that today's decision was wrong, and that opposes gay marriage.

CONAN: And Anna, this is going to be - if you're looking at state capitals, there are 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, if you count California, which now, gay marriage is legal. Where - what states - do you think Illinois, Hawaii? After that, it gets a little trickier.

GREENBERG: Well, there are certainly states like Illinois, like Hawaii. There are even some other Midwestern states, potentially Wisconsin down the line, that have the demographic...

CONAN: You mean after the next election, when the Republican governor and the Republican legislature are out of there?

GREENBERG: Right. I'm thinking demographically about these states and where they're going, and what their other attitudes look like. There is still fertile ground for either legislative or electoral sort of decisions in favor of marriage equality in these states. I think when you get to some of the Southern states, especially, you know, most of them, if not all of them, have constitutional amendments that you have to overturn, obviously, it gets much harder.

But I just - as Vin said, the tide has turned. It actually turned in 2012. I mean, you could see it pretty clearly, that it was actually a better issue for the Democrats than for the Republicans. And over time, I believe a case will make it to the Supreme Court that invalidates all of these constitutional, you know, provisions in other states.

So I think we'll still have more victories, potentially Illinois, Hawaii, longer term states like Wisconsin and other places where demographically, the states are poised to be in favor of it. They just don't have the right political environment yet. And then I think you probably need a Supreme Court decision, ultimately.

CONAN: Vin Weber, the other Supreme Court decision this week on the Voting Rights Act, that seems to have swung the pendulum in the other direction, at least politically, that the Republicans seem to stand to benefit from that.

WEBER: I think so. That one's a little hard for me to exactly pin down in terms of my own feelings. When I first was elected to Congress, we had to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. And I did vote to reauthorize it, and I remember voting against every amendment that came forward to weaken it or water it down or anything like that, and I was quite happy that that was the right thing to do.

But that's over 30 years ago, and things have changed now, and I think that you can make arguments on both sides of this. I listened to the impassioned arguments of African-American leaders that this was a step back, but I thought the court also handled that pretty well in arguing that we've made a lot of progress, and maybe you need to sort of let - need to let these states prove that they're not stepping back.

If we see repeated signs of discrimination based on race in elections going forward, you'll see legislation that'll fill the gap again. But for now, I think that's not going to happen.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Vin, we saw two completely - as you say, two completely different court cases decided, one that seemingly moved to the - benefitted conservatives, one seemed to benefit - with the DOMA and the Proposition 8 - benefitted liberals. But I only heard from the Democrats and the left either upset about voting rights or exuberant about DOMA. Usually, when we hear - when we - in the past, when we had these kind of social issues, it was conservatives who spoke the loudest.

We saw that in 2000, 2004, during the Reagan years. But we haven't heard much from the Republicans at all, from the right, in these two cases. Why is that?

WEBER: Good question. I think part of it is because Republicans are eager - most Republicans are eager to get on to discussions of the economy and perhaps even foreign policy, although that's a little more complicated. They have not done well in the last couple elections with discussions of social issues. It's - one could even argue it's cost them the chance to take control of the United States Senate in the last election.

And I so think that they're much less likely to want to speak out on some of these issues. It doesn't mean they don't have opinions on them, just that the Republicans are eager to get on to a serious discussion about economic growth and the economy, and perhaps even foreign policy, although that's increasingly divisive within the Republican Party. But certainly, they don't want to be talking about the social issues, of which the Supreme Court has been sort of the touchstone.

CONAN: Anna?

GREENBERG: I have a slightly different perspective.

CONAN: No.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: Certainly on the marriage decisions, I think we already made the point that where the country is going, many in the Republican Party know they're on the wrong side of history on it. There's a core bunch of activists, mostly religious, who are in a different place. But, in general, I think that the establishment Republican Party knows it's not a good issue for them, and so there's actually no point in commenting on it. It doesn't do them any favors.

I think on voting rights, it's slightly different. I think that there is evidence that in 2012, that turnout in minority communities was in part driven by attacks on voting rights, whether that was in the form of voter ID laws or even the more nefarious kinds of voter fraud that, you know, ends up creating long lines at the polls and, you know, et cetera, et cetera, misinformation about where your precinct is.

And it's actually an incredibly energizing issue, not just for the minority community, but liberals. And I think that, you know, 2014, midterm elections generally have a whiter, older electorate. They tend to be more conservative. I think the last thing you want is a mobilized liberal minority electorate in midterm elections, and I believe that this decision has the potential to do that.

On the merits, you know, there actually are some real concerns, legitimate concerns around what it will do in the 14 elections, because already, the Texas attorney general has said we now can have our voter ID law. And there's no remedy until after the election. Now you have to sue. So I have concerns, obviously, about what it's going to - the impact's going to be in real terms.

But for a country that's increasingly diverse and a party that is not diverse, the Republican Party, I think it is a - from their perspective, I can see why they shied away from commenting on the Voting Rights Act decision.

CONAN: And Vin, let me move on to the immigration bill. It looks like it's set to pass the United States Senate this week with about 15, roughly, Republican votes. That is, as somebody pointed out, a minority of the minority, and it looks like it may very well fall on stony ground in the House of Representatives, where the speaker has said unless he has majority of the majority support, he will not even bring it up.

WEBER: Yeah, that may doom it. It's - I think that would be too bad, both for the country and for the Republican Party. But it looks as if that's where we're headed. They got a good, strong vote in the Senate, but not quite the overwhelming vote that they thought might propel them through the House of Representatives. But furthermore, I think that the opposition - the opposition on the right - to immigration, to comprehensive immigration reform, has accelerated, really just even just in the last few weeks at the grassroots level, in those states represented by conservative Republicans.

And they've made it very clear that they're not going to give anybody, quote, "a pass" on this issue. As I said, my views are quite different on that. I'm in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. I think it would be good for the Republicans ultimately to do it. But I think it's looking increasingly difficult to accomplish that in the House of Representatives.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, would Democrats, in their heart of hearts, rather have a bill or the issue?

GREENBERG: Oh, I think they'd rather have a bill for lots of reasons. I mean the kind of change in moral terms obviously would be incredible. But also in political terms, you know, it expands the electorate in fundamental - it changes the country in ways that, you know, I think continues at a path of being a more kind of progressive country. So I think Democrats would welcome it.

I do think, just linking this to the Voting Rights Act decision, if, you know, immigration fails in the House and if it fails because of conservative Republicans, which it probably will, it reinforces the lack of diversity and the homogeneity of the Republican Party. And I think also in terms of mobilizing Hispanic voters I think is - may be a problem in 2014 for Republicans.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Vin, we always talk about the lessons that the Republicans may have learned, should have learned after 2012, and one of them, of course, was you cannot ignore a growing demographic reality in this country, and that is the growing Latino vote. And yet - and we saw that, of course, watching the numbers that Mitt Romney did not get among Latinos in 2012. And so here we are back again. We know that if the House does not deal with immigration before the August break and the members go back, you know there's going to be town hall meetings where everybody is going to be screaming. This is amnesty. You can't do this. And so what lessons did the Republican Party learn - they learned after 2012 given the stalemate on immigration?

WEBER: Well, it's hard to learn the long-term lesson in politics when you run free election every two years. And the lesson - the clear lesson of the 2012 election is, long term, the Republican Party has to do something to be competitive in the Asian community, the Hispanic community and other minority communities. That's not necessarily the message about the 2014 election. Maybe Anna has a different view on that. But we have a lower turnout, a less diverse turnout in off-year elections, and the tendency of off-year elections to want to go against the party of the president in any event.

And so I think, you know, the lesson has been put off. I think it's unfortunate. You know, I think that the immigration - the passage of an immigration bill is not going to deliver Hispanic or Asian votes to the Republican Party. Let's be clear about that. But it does get rid of one of the big issues that prevents Republicans from being able to talk to those communities about other issues on which they have more common ground.

These are entrepreneurial communities. These are very patriotic communities as immigrants tend to be and these are often more socially conservative communities. But you can't get to any of those discussions as long as you have this immigration bill looming out there. It's a little like what happened with the Republican Party and the African-American vote after the 1964 election when Barry Goldwater, the standard bearer, upholds the 1964 Civil Rights Act and sort of emblazen in the minds of African-Americans or the Republicans, even if they agreed on other issues, considered them second-rate citizens.

I don't think that's a fair analysis of my party, but that is what people thought. Well, you've got sort of the same situation now. A lot of Hispanics are coming to the conclusion it doesn't matter if we agree with Republicans on social issues and taxes and spending and nationalism if they don't think we should be here in the first place. That's the risk for Republicans.

CONAN: We're talking with Vin Weber, the former Republican congressman, now a Republican campaign consultant. Also with us is Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And that's a perfect pivot into upcoming elections. We've got a couple this year, and then, of course, 2014 when Democrats have a tough road to hoe with all those seats to defend in the United States Senate.

But, Anna, I wanted to ask you, we've seen a couple of special elections recently. South Carolina where a weakened Republican candidate in a heavily Republican district managed to win pretty handily. We saw in Massachusetts a special election where a lackluster Democratic candidate won fairly handily in a solidly Democratic state. Does this argue that we're going to see a wave one way or the other come this fall and the fall after?

GREENBERG: Well, right now, and obviously it's early because there's a lot of things that can happen between now and next summer when things sort of get more sort of settled on what the actual mood of the election or the thing...

CONAN: We're going to be here next summer so...

GREENBERG: That's true.

CONAN: ...get out on that ledge.

GREENBERG: Oh, no, no. But right now, if you look at both those special elections and you look at, you know, where public opinion is, things seem very stable, very status quo. There isn't a lot of evidence. Even the Virginia governor's race right now, which, you know, in 2009 was...

CONAN: It should be very competitive.

GREENBERG: ...kind of one of the indicators. There's Coakley and then defeat in Massachusetts and then the governor. It was a, you know, sign of the wave. But you don't see that. Even in the Virginia governor's race, it's very, very close with two arguably flawed candidates. So I don't see a huge amount of evidence either way. It could obviously shift. We just released a congressional battleground poll through Democracy Corps and showed that the overall partisan environment looks pretty close to what it looked like in 2012.

So this notion that Vin raised, which is true, that often in midterms who want to go against the party of the president, there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence in that. In fact, there seems to be real erosion in the Republican brand around mostly obstruction and sort of preventing things from getting done in Washington. It's becoming a bigger and bigger problem, you know, driven by House Republicans. And, you know, if immigration reform fails, it will be another piece of evidence that that's sort of how they operate.

And so maybe that the Republican brand becoming so discredited sort of in some ways is a countervailing force against kind of the tendency to want to vote against, you know, the incumbent president. And I would also add that the economy is doing better. People are still really hurting, and we cannot - and that's important to remember. But it is, you know, possible the improvements in the economy also is a countervailing force against the tendency to want to, you know, vote against the incumbent president.

CONAN: And Vin...

WEBER: I think...

CONAN: Go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt.

WEBER: I think that Anna is right about those things. I read the Democracy Corps analysis, and it is a warning signal to Republicans. But there are some trends that reinforce the notion that we're going to have an election that votes against the party of the president. The president's approval rating is falling. Arguably, there are few correlating factors greater to an off-year vote than the president's approval rating.

And the implementation of the health care bill does not seem to be going well. It seems to be increasingly unpopular. It's going to be rolled out over the next year and be a bigger issue next year. And there's no evidence yet that it's anything other than negative. So, you know, I'm not saying what Anna said is not true, but there are other factors which say it probably will be a more normal off-year election which the Republicans will do reasonably well, not a wave election like we saw in 2010, but an election which the Republicans gain seats.

CONAN: And do you see any of the difficulties the president has been having these last few weeks - the IRS, the NSA and all those other things? Do you think any of those are going to have legs?

WEBER: Not individually. I don't think any one of those issues goes into the next election as an issue that people actually vote on. I think it has a general effect of weakening the president and weakening the arguments in favor of positive government the Democrats have to run on. So I think it helps the Republicans.

GREENBERG: I don't know. I mean, I think that they're all different from each other. So while the NSA issue is a controversy, for example, on the left. If you look at the American public, majority favor - in essence, favor the program. I believe that there's a balance between privacy and security.

CONAN: Including probably a majority of Republicans.

GREENBERG: Right. So I think that you have to distinguish IRS from NSA. I don't think they're all the same. But, look, I think that the evidence is pretty clear that it hasn't really affect his ratings all that much. There hasn't been a direct impact that we've seen.

CONAN: When we come back, more with Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber and with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. If you'd like to ask Ken Rudin some questions about the elections of 2014 and the elections of, well, 2016, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: We are here on our last Political Junkie Wednesday with Ken Rudin, Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber, looking ahead to what's coming down the road for Republicans and Democrats in 2014 and 2016. And we're going to have questions for Ken too, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Vin Weber, Republicans thought they had a real shot to take control of the United States Senate last November. They have another clean shot at it in 2014. Do you think they'd get it done this time?

WEBER: I think they're going to come close. They, you know, we clearly gave away enough seats in the last election so that we should be much closer to having a majority now. There's potentially enough competitive seats for the Republicans to take control this time, but they'd have to pretty much win all of those competitive seats and that's not likely. I think that their - I think Republicans will gain, you know, maybe three seats, maybe four seats, something like that. That would be a pretty game. But control still is a little far away unless we actually see that wave election developing that we've been talking about, but which is not on the horizon right now.

CONAN: Anna?

GREENBERG: I think it'll be hard to take back the Senate. I think the map - if you just look at each state, it's hard to see a scenario where it happens. And then also, going back to the conversation we were just having, I think the issue environment is really tough for Republicans. The brand isn't serious, trouble for a lot of reasons. The...

CONAN: I heard what you said. But in these cases, don't individual candidates matter a huge amount?

GREENBERG: They do, for sure, but the national environment matters too. What the actual conversation is about matters too. So if you take health care, for example, I actually think it is not the case that - opinion about ACA is changing. In fact, it's incredibly stable. And you've got examples in states like California where you're starting to see the law work and actually have some good outcomes. I think it's very uncertain if Republicans will be able to run against Democrats on ACA, the government takeover deficit, IRS, et cetera, which what they want to do.

CONAN: Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare.

GREENBERG: Exactly. When it starts - actually they implemented and, you know, so far, it's actually looking, you know, pretty good. So, yes, you're right, individual candidates matter, but I also think the national environment matters. And it's not clear to me that it's an overwhelmingly favorable one towards Republicans.

CONAN: And, Ken - I'm sorry, Vin. You wanted to say something?

WEBER: Well, I just - we respect each other, but I don't agree with that. I think ACA continues to be a good voting issue for Republicans. And I think on a whole range of issues the public is lining up on the Republicans side. The public continues to support spending reduction as opposed to stimulus. And I think on a range of issues, the Republican position is going to be pretty good. I agree with Anna, the Republican brand is suffering right now, but it's not because - the most important position that the people care about on issues is really out of step with Republicans.

GREENBERG: Oh, Vin, but background checks, abortion, immigration, I mean, you just name the list of issues that both the state and the national level because, obviously, the - actually the biggest battleground is the governors' races, I think, more so than the Senate races. And, consistently, the Republicans are out of step with most people on those issues. And with the economy getting better, it's just hard to see how, you know, how you get traction around where this country going where the narrative is when it's on every single issue on the wrong side of where people are.

CONAN: Vin, you want to come back and then we'll move along?

WEBER: No. We - no, we just don't agree on that, but there's no point in dwelling on it much longer.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: OK.

WEBER: We'll find out next year.

GREENBERG: OK.

CONAN: And, Ken, as you look at the congressional map, the states have so carefully defined these districts to make them safe Democrat or safe Republican. It's hard to see a whole bunch swinging one way or the other.

RUDIN: Yeah. A lot of Democrats have been talking about that the longest time, saying that the way they redistricted after the 2010 elections or after the 2010 census that these Republicans, for the most part, these districts may be locked one way or the other Democrat or Republican through the next census, 2020. So it's hard to imagine, hard to foresee the Republicans losing the majority in the House before then.

CONAN: Now, we're going to ask you to step out in an even thinner and higher ledge, 2016. Anna Greenberg, the Democratic Party has a presumptive front-runner, of course, the same presumptive front-runner they had in 2008 who did not get the nomination - Hillary Clinton, of course.

GREENBERG: True. But if Hillary Clinton were to run, which I hope she does, she will completely clear the primary field. There might be a Dennis Kucinich or someone like that who decides or Ralph Nader who decides. Well, of course, he would be an independent candidate, but she'll clear the field. And actually, you know, and you'll have, I assume, a fairly contentious Republican primary field.

And so actually, you know, if she were to run the campaign right, she would have a lot of time to build the kind of campaign that she would want to run while the Republicans have a contentious primary. So I think that she's very well positioned. She'll obviously get the nomination, and she'll well positioned actually to win, I think, in 2016.

CONAN: And, Vin Weber, is there a Republican who is not running for president?

(LAUGHTER)

WEBER: We have a lot of candidates running, and I expect we'll have a pretty broad field. I don't know if Anna is right or wrong about Hillary Clinton clearing the field. She could, but it seems unlikely to me that an non-incumbent president can clear the field. Somebody is going to emerge. Somebody is going to make a challenge out of it. And the perception that she's, you know, heading forward toward a coronation, which is maybe not fair toward her, but that's what - that's not going to help her. It's going to attract people to an opponent. I'm not saying she'll lose the nomination. I just don't think it's going to quite be the clear field that Anna predicted.

On the Republican side, I think we're going to have a lot of candidates. The most interesting thing in my mind is what appears to be the emergence of Rand Paul as a serious presidential candidate. I know his father. We've all watched his father in presidential politics for many years, and he always had an impact. But there was never a possibility that he could win the Republican nomination. At least I didn't ever think there was. But Rand Paul is looking like a candidate who is going to be a serious candidate nationwide.

So we add - Jeb Bush looks as if he may be getting to the race. He would clearly be a serious candidate. Governor Christie's probably headed toward a huge re-election victory in the very blue state of New Jersey. That'll make him a serious candidate. And we'll see how Senator Rubio emerges from the immigration fight, but he still has a reservoir of appeal in the Republican Party. And other people that we haven't talked about a lot like Governor Mike Pence of Indiana who, I think, ultimately wants to look at running for president. A lot of potential candidates, all of them, in my view, have some strengths. And, of course, every candidate has a weakness too.

GREENBERG: But part of the problem with the Republican Party, which, again, is illustrated by what I said around being on the wrong side on marriage, abortion, immigration, you still have an incredibly conservative Republican base. Unless we saw in the last Republican primary where everyone was pushed very far right, I think you're still going to have that same dynamic this time around, which, again, in terms of Hillary Clinton, I think, positions her very, very well in contrast to the Republican field.

CONAN: Ken? Quickly.

RUDIN: Just quickly on this. Marco Rubio, who is a Tea Party favorite when he was elected in 2010, is now be - now seen as a Judas and a traitor for his role in the Gang of Eight on immigration. So that just shows how a once Tea Party hero has moved into the establishment, shows how much the party has moved to the right.

CONAN: Well, Washington corrupts. Everybody knows that. Ken, Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber, it has been great to have you on this program for - I don't remember how long it is - eight, nine, 10 years. But thank you so much. You've contributed so much to our understanding, and we really do appreciate it, and especially for taking, you know, keeping away that air time from Ken.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: Well, I can't even tell you what a privilege and honor it's been to be on this show and what I've learned from you and how much fun it's been. And I am really, truly, very, very sad. So thank you.

CONAN: Well, Anna Greenberg. And, Vin, thanks to you too.

WEBER: Well, I want to echo what Anna said, and I also want to say I'll miss being on with Anna even though we don't agree on a lot of politics.

GREENBERG: I'll miss you, too, Vin.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: She's about as good as they come, and it's been both an honor and a pleasure and a lot of fun.

CONAN: Vin Weber, a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, former Republican representative from Minnesota, with us today from Des Moines Public Radio. Anna Greenberg is senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Ken, you got time for a couple of questions from callers?

RUDIN: I do.

CONAN: Yeah. All right. Let's see. Let's go to Tally(ph), Tally with us from Marion, Iowa.

TALLY: Hi. Thank you both. I love the show. I wondered, in your opinion, whom in the Senate is - I don't want to be cynical, but who do you see as being imperiled by the 2014 election? Do you think anyone is really at risk and, if so, who?

CONAN: Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska, off the top of my head.

RUDIN: Well, yeah. I mean, it looks like if you're looking at the Republicans who are running, it doesn't mean like any Republican is really in danger. I mean, there's some question about whether Thad Cochran runs in Mississippi. Some questions about that. But it seems like the Democrats are most endangered. Right now, it looks like the Republicans take two open seats in South Dakota where Tim Johnson is retiring, in West Virginia where Jay Rockefeller is retiring. And then you have to worry about the Mark Begichs and the Mark - Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Prior of Arkansas, perhaps Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, maybe Kay Hagan of North Carolina. These are incumbent Democrats who have to look out for their re-election troubles.

CONAN: Tally, thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to Jason, Jason with us from Palo Alto.

JASON: Hey. I want to just ask Ken who should Hillary Clinton pick in 2016 should she decide to run for a running mate. And most importantly, I love your show. I'm sorry to see you both leave. You're the primary reason I donate to KQED Radio. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Well, Jason, thanks for that.

RUDIN: Well, thank you. They were talking about Wendy Lewis - Wendy Davis. There are already Hillary Clinton-Wendy Davis bumper stickers out for 2016. You know when...

CONAN: Justin(ph), by the way, just sent us a tweet. Clinton-Rudin 2016?

RUDIN: I'm not old enough to be a vice president, no. And besides I would have to be a Democrat. I am not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican. I am the people. Yes. Yes. But anyway, you know, we talked about - I remember when Howard Dean was discussing who his running mate would be in the fall of 2003. And, of course, he never survived Iowa-New Hampshire. It's premature. I agree with Anna that she is clear frontrunner. But, you know, right now, perhaps the Martin O'Malleys of the world - maybe they run for vice president to get a leg up on future elections.

CONAN: And one more quick one. This is from Mark(ph), Mark with us from Portland.

MARK: Yes, hello. Thanks for taking my call. I love the show. My question is, given that the demographics in the nation appear to be heavily skewed in both directions - rural, conservative, urban, liberal - and given that the urban populations are increasing and given that the rural populations appear to be decreasing, doesn't that tell the Republican Party or bode - or, you know, send a clear message to the Republican Party that major change is needed. I've been a Republican my whole life, and I see the party at presidential level - Senate level, I think is dead. My prediction is we're not going to take another presidential race. The Senate's not going to change hands for a long time. And I'd like to hear your comments on that.

RUDIN: Well, basically, the strongest state that the Republicans have for the presidency has been Texas, and we're very aware, as you point out, and as Vin has pointed out, that the demographics are changing there. So if the Republican Party wants to have a hard line in immigration, that could just push Texas to be a blue state sooner than later. And I guess the question is, as the demographics are changing, how do the Republican Party deal with that with those changing numbers?

CONAN: Interesting, though. You thought of that, and interesting dynamic on the farm bill, which was defeated just last week because you had a revolt in the Republican Party, which was usually reliably agricultural in favor in subsidies to farmers. And, well, the Tea Party wing of the House Republicans said absolutely not. The Democrats opposed. They said we need a bigger cut for food stamps. Democrats voted no because they thought the cut was too big for food stamps.

RUDIN: Well, look what's going on in the immigration bill. I mean, there a lot of Republicans in the House who say it's not strong enough. So they have this Corker-Hoeven amendment that passed overwhelmingly today.

CONAN: The surge to the border.

RUDIN: Right. It doubles the U.S. Border Patrol to 40,000 agents. It's 700 miles of new border fencing. There were drone aircraft. There's infrared ground sensors. It going to cost $25 billion. And Republicans in the House say that's amnesty. So if that's not strong enough for Republicans in the House, how do they recognize that growing gap they have with Latino voters and other minorities?

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And, Ken, after all this time, it's time for us to say goodbye.

RUDIN: OK. See you, Neal. Bye.

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: Well, I want to - I wrote some things down because I didn't want to forget anything. But you know something, we've been together - thanks to DOMA - no - since 2006, the Political Junkie segment has been on TALK OF THE NATION. And we've touched a lot of people mostly within the law. But, look, we made politics fun. We made it entertaining and we made it, I think, a must-listen show on NPR. Sue Goodwin, our executive producer, talked from the beginning that - she always said that Junkie was opportunity listening of people - I'm sorry - appointment...

CONAN: Appointment listening.

RUDIN: ...appointment listening, and people basically planned their Wednesdays on a lot of what we did. So I want to thank - I mean, there's so many people to thank. I want to thank Sue Goodwin. She believed in Political Junkie segment from the beginning. I want to thank Laura Lee, our amazing Political Junkie producer. She is absolutely amazing. It's an amazing TALK OF THE NATION staff. I want to thank the thousands and thousands of people who write to me every day. I think you were great. I think you were terrible. This is what works. This is what doesn't work.

We talk about this being in a conversation. This is a conversation, and I really, really appreciate the opportunity. And, Neal, I'm going to miss you tremendous. I think - I just love our rapport back and forth - what we do and I think it works. And I just am grateful for these last seven years working with you.

CONAN: The Wednesday's first hour has been the highlight of my professional working week, every single week. And there is nothing more annoying that Ken Rudin on vacation. Well, maybe Ken Rudin not on vacation. But the fact is the Political Junkie segment, as you say, has really scored a hit with a lot of people in the audience. And there has been tremendous response, and I've been doing any number of exit interviews with member stations over the past week and people saying that's the thing they're going to miss. And, well, I say what, I'm chopped liver? Anyway, Ken, it's been really great, and we do have to thank Sue, who's been so great and gave us the opportunity, also, along with NPR management to take the show on the road to various places.

RUDIN: Those Political Junkie road shows in Orlando, in Saint Louis, and we went as far as D.C. (unintelligible).

CONAN: Absolutely. (Unintelligible), a couple of whole blocks away.

RUDIN: But everywhere I go, every time I talk to people, they say they love the Political Junkie. They love TALK OF THE NATION. And they - and it will be missed. And even I will miss it.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much. We also have to thank the many guests who suffered to come on the program and hear bad jokes with us. And - well, people like Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber, who had been here with us all along. And there's one more person we have to thank who's been a key member of this cast all along. I will say, I'm Neal Conan, and this TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And thanks to Roger McGuinn.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE A POLITICIAN")

ROGER MCGUINN: (Singing) I want to grow up to be a politician and take over this beautiful land. I want to grow up to be a politician and be the old U.S. of A.'s number one man. I'll always be tough, but I'll never be scary. I want to shoot guns or butter my bread. I'll work in the towns or conservate the prairies. And you can believe the future's ahead. I'll give the young the right to vote as soon as they mature. But spare the rod and spoil the child to help them feel secure.

(Singing) And if I win Election Day I might give you a job. I'll sign a bill to help the poor to show I'm not a snob. I'll open my door, I'm charging no admission. And you can be sure I'll give you my hand. I want to grow up to be a politician and take over this beautiful land. I'll make you glad you got me in with everything I do. And I'll defend until the end the old red white and blue. I want to grow up to be a politician and take over this beautiful land. And take over this beautiful land. And take over this beautiful land. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.