In Wisconsin, Kohl's Exit Shakes Up Senate Race

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Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl's surprise retirement leaves a huge hole for Democrats in a contentious state. Many expected Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to jump into the race, but Ryan says he plans to stay in his current post — and has many predicting he'll one day run for higher office.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Newt reneges on health care, Herb Kohl folds his senatorial hand, and the Donald passes on president. It's Wednesday and time for a no-more-Trump edition of the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, Im reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You dont have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. This week, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul make it official. Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee say no. Mitt plays PowerPoint on Romneycare, Rick Santorum says John McCain doesn't understand torture. Actual votes in Kentucky and California, and the Gang of Six is now the Gang of Five.

In a few minutes, we'll speak with Craig Gilbert from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Senator Herb Kohl's retirement and the political shuffle in the Badger State.

Later in the program, warnings of the arrival of the Apocalypse. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal, well, a lot to talk about this week, and I can't wait. Okay, well, in honor - by the way, the news, the TALK OF THE NATION news of the week is that KUHF Houston, the member station, it has joined the TALK OF THE NATION team. Congratulations to them and to us. Good news for us. So here's a Texas-related trivia question.

CONAN: They may change their mind after today.

RUDIN: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: The Texas-related trivia question is: Who was the last person from Texas to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate and governor? One caveat: At least one of the races had to be successful.

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, it's a Texas question: Who was the last person from Texas to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, the United States senator and governor of Texas - had to win at least one of those, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And I guess you can join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Ken, the news of the week, I guess, is changes in the Republican presidential lineup.

RUDIN: Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not running - no, no, no, not that because he's constitutionally ineligible and other reasons. But in the presidential race for 2012, now we talked about Haley Barbour a few weeks ago, but everybody thought it was a surprise, and I expected it.

This time, with Mike Huckabee, everybody expected him not to run, but I thought he would run. He still had, you know, good support, good feelings from his effort in 2008, when he won the Iowa caucuses. He still did very well in the polls nationally. But he announced on his Fox show that he would not do it.

You know, we heard the tape that he didn't have the fire in the belly basically is what it was.

CONAN: Right, and then Newt Gingrich got a cheer from I gather his most loyal audience, the advertisers of NBC, that he was not going to be running.

RUDIN: That Newt Gingrich was not...

CONAN: No, no, I'm sorry, Donald Trump. What was I thinking? I'm just blanking there.

RUDIN: And Donald Trump, I mean, look. You know, we should've known better. I mean, we should've probably had this Skyped, our show Skyped, because nobody -if you saw our faces, nobody ever thought that Donald Trump was a serious candidate, although I told you two weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas. Somebody wrote in big block letters the name Trump on his hotel.

CONAN: Really?

RUDIN: Yeah, so I mean, obviously, this Trump, draft Trump thing was getting out of hand. But it was just so - if you think this show is ridiculous, the Trump-for-president movement just made absolutely no sense at all.

CONAN: And, well, then speaking of Newt Gingrich, stumbling out of the gate when he went on "Meet the Press" and said he was actually surprised by a question about health care.

RUDIN: I never know when you're leading to a...

CONAN: I wasn't.

RUDIN: I mean, here it is, Newt Gingrich, just out of the box and saying that basically that Paul Ryan's plan for changing the way we deal with Medicare and things like that is just, you know, is right-wing social engineering.

CONAN: Right-wing social engineering? Let's go to the videotape.

RUDIN: Okay.

Former Representative NEWT GINGRICH (Republican, Georgia): I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate.

CONAN: And that, of course, criticism of Paul Ryan's plan, as you mentioned, the member of the House from Wisconsin.

RUDIN: Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

CONAN: More on that later. But in any case, Paul Ryan then responded.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): With allies like that, who needs the left?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Cut off at the knees, a lot of people said. And now Republicans are having some problems with that welfare plan, but they don't need to provide Democrats with a soundbite that they can put in every ad for every Republican who ever voted for Paul Ryan's welfare plan, health care plan.

RUDIN: Well, here's the question: Is Newt Gingrich, did Newt Gingrich make a mistake? Next Tuesday, we have the special election in western New York, New York 26, where Paul Ryan's health care/Medicare proposal is basically the story that's driving this election.

If the Democrats do win it - now of course there's a third candidate that could upset the Republicans' plans, but if the Democrats do win it, Democrats nationally will say: Well, this is a referendum on Paul Ryan and Medicare, and obviously they were rejected.

So Newt Gingrich does have some ear to the ground, thinking this is maybe going too far, but if you're a Republican, if you're running for president in 2012, the litmus test is supporting the Paul Ryan plan.

Now, not every presidential candidate is so excited about it, but nobody has done what Newt Gingrich did. Now, Gingrich has since backtracked. He's apologized to Ryan. Ryan has accepted the apology. But it was not - it was a very inauspicious beginning to a presidential campaign.

CONAN: So he's against health care mandates. Before, he was for them. Or maybe it was the other way around. I forget which one. Anyway, there were real votes cast in - you mentioned the New York special election - votes cast yesterday in California and a bit of a surprise.

RUDIN: Well, that is a big surprise because every - this is a race for - in California 36, suburban Los Angeles, on the coast. Jane Harman gave up the seat to be - to join a think-tank, a Middle East think-tank. No, I'm sorry, a think-tank in Washington.

And the two candidates were supposed to be Janice Hahn, who is a long-time member of the city council in Los Angeles, her family a very famous family. Her brother was the mayor. Her father, Kenny Hahn, was a long-time city supervisor, county supervisor.

And Debra Bowen, the Democratic secretary of state - these are both Democrats. All the candidates in this new California system, they run on the same ballot regardless of party, and the top two finishers, regardless of party, if nobody gets 50 percent, goes to a runoff.

So (unintelligible) that Janice Hahn and Debra Bowen, this secretary of state, two Democrats, to go on to it. But there was a Republican candidate who actually - Craig Huey, who finished second place. Debra Bowen finished third.

Now, there are, like, 10,000 votes still to be counted, but this is pretty much of an upset. This could be a Democrat versus a Republican in the July 12 runoff. The Democrat is still favored to keep the seat.

CONAN: Yeah, I was going to say, I counted up the percentages that everybody got. Democrats on that ballot got 57, 58 percent, something like that, throw them all in together.

Just the same as in Upstate New York. If you count all the conservatives, there are three candidates, a Tea Party candidate and a Republican who between them will probably get something like 60 percent of the vote.

RUDIN: True, but that Tea Party candidate ran as a Democrat the last three times. So that's really confused everything. And there were also races - a primary yesterday, governor of Kentucky. David Williams, the state Senate president, will be the Republican nominee against Democratic Governor Steve Beshear.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, again the last person from Texas to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and the governor's office and to win at least one of those races, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: In honor of KUHF.

CONAN: And this is Margaret(ph) on the line, Margaret with us from Columbus, Ohio, which is the northern part of Texas.

MARGARET (Caller): That's right. Hello?

CONAN: Yeah, you're on the air, go ahead.

MARGARET: Okay, I think I'm wrong. I'm sorry I dialed so quick. My first instinct was Ann Richards.

CONAN: Ann Richards, well, a wonderful governor.

RUDIN: Yes, and she only ran for governor. She did not run for the Senate or the House.

CONAN: But nice try. Thanks very much for the call, Margaret. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mark(ph), and Mark's with us from Columbia in South Carolina.

MARK (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead.

MARK: Yes, George H.W. Bush.

RUDIN: George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush, George H.W. Bush did run for the Senate in 1964 and 1970 and lost. He also was a member of the House and won. But he never ran for governor.

CONAN: So two out of three there, Mark, nice try.

MARK: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next, this is John(ph), John with us from Boston.

JOHN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi.

JOHN: Hi. I'd like to guess John Connelly.

CONAN: John Connelly was...

RUDIN: Well, similar to Ann Richards, John Connelly was elected governor of Texas 1962 but never - and he also ran for president as a Republican but never ran for the House, never ran for the Senate.

JOHN: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: Email guess from Deanne(ph) in Lawrence, Kansas: Lyndon Johnson.

RUDIN: Lyndon Johnson got two out of three. Lyndon Johnson was a House member before being elected to the Senate in I think '50 - 1948. But he never ran for governor.

CONAN: And this, another email guess from Brian(ph) in Utah: Ron Paul.

RUDIN: Ron Paul, two out of three. Ron Paul was a House member and is a House member. In 1984, he gave up his House seat to run for the Senate, lost the primary, never ran for governor.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get Tim(ph) on the line, Tim with us from Florence in Massachusetts.

TIM (Caller): I'm going to guess Kay Bailey Hutchison.

RUDIN: Kay Bailey Hutchison is the correct answer.

CONAN: You put an N in her name, but you're going to win anyway. Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Everybody remembers that she ran for governor in 2010 and lost the primary. It's still, you know, still a U.S. senator retiring next year. People did seem to forget in 1982 she ran for the House, lost a primary to Steve Bartlett. They were some pair, believe me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: And they lost the Republican primary. But she ran for all three.

CONAN: All right, Tim, stay on the line, and we're going to collect your particulars, and we will send you a political junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to send us a digital picture of yourself to post on our wall of shame.

TIM: I promise, thank you.

CONAN: All right, congratulations. And Ken, one big development in the presidential sweepstakes that I think we missed, and that is Mitt Romney collected $10 million in one day.

RUDIN: Yes, and I guess that's why people still consider him the Republican frontrunner. But he still has that problem with Romneycare, the health care bill that he instituted as governor of Massachusetts in 2006.

He gave a speech last week in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not so much apologizing for it but saying that his plan differs from President Obama's plan because Obama is one-size-fits-all and whereas he did a state problem - a state solution for a state problem.

But a lot of voters are not - a lot of Republicans are not buying that.

CONAN: And he addressed that, as well.

Former Governor MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): I also recognize that a lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that it was just a boneheaded idea, and I should just admit it, it was a mistake, and walk away from it.

And I presume that a lot of folks would conclude that if I did that, that would be good for me politically. But there's only one problem with that: It wouldn't be honest. I in fact did what I believed was right for the people of my state.

CONAN: So Mitt Romney getting criticized for sticking up for a position that he did as governor. Last time around, he got criticized for changing his position.

RUDIN: That's exactly why he can't - can't go back on his health care bill because he also went back on abortion language, on same-sex marriage and immigration, things like that. So the last thing he wants to do is return to his 2008 ways, where he switched positions.

CONAN: And we should note that there is also a new mayor in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff.

RUDIN: After 22 years of Richard M. Daley, right, the Rahm Emanuel for life, mayor for life regime begins, began on Monday.

CONAN: And John Ensign, the former now senator from the state of Nevada, well, he may face criminal charges. The ethics complaint from the House - from the Senate committee has been referred to the Department of Justice and a bit of an embarrassment for the Department of Justice. They're going to look into it. We're going to have to see about that.

Stay with us. NPR's political junkie, Ken Rudin, is with us. Up next, to the Badger State and Senator Herb Kohl's surprise announcement that he will retire Wisconsin voters. How does that shake things up? Republicans, is this an opportunity? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Stay with us, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is here, as usual. He also blogs and comes up with those devilish ScuttleButton puzzles. You can try those at our website. Go to npr.org/junkie.

But now to Wisconsin, where veteran Democratic Senator Herb Kohl announced his plans not to run again last Friday. That leaves an open seat in Wisconsin, one that would have been fairly safe for Democrats, not only fairly safe but fairly inexpensive. Herb Kohl could have financed his own campaign.

Earlier this year in Madison, the governor pushed through a contentious bill that curbed collective bargaining. That vote led to statewide campaigns to recall a number of people in that state. The first vote comes July the 12th.

Wisconsin voters, how does Herb Kohl's retirement shake things up? Republicans, is this an opportunity? Democrats, how do you keep the seat in your control? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And here with us in Studio 3A is Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. CRAIG GILBERT (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel): It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And were you surprised by the Herb Kohl decision?

Mr. GILBERT: We were surprised a little bit by the timing, and also I was surprised by his decision. I thought he'd run again. He - you know, he would have been 83, I think, at the end of his next Senate term. So it's certainly understandable he made the decision he did.

But people in the political world were not quite prepared for this, and you could tell from their reactions.

CONAN: Because a lot of people didn't know whether to jump or stay where they were.

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, I mean, people were - there were no - nobody was ready to hit the ground running. And some people had to step back and figure out how this affected them and how to play it, and people are still trying to figure it out.

CONAN: Well, before we go on to who might replace Herb Kohl, what is Herb Kohl going to be remembered for?

Mr. GILBERT: Well, politically, I think he'll be remembered as a guy who, in an increasingly partisan age, kind of skated above the partisan fray and was kind of uniquely successful for a Democratic candidate in a swing state like Wisconsin at cross you know, at appealing to independents and conservatives.

We have this quintessential Republican county called Waukesha that routinely is carried by 30 or 40 points by Republicans, and he actually won Waukesha County in 2006.

CONAN: And these are more and more partisan times. People like that, especially in the state of Wisconsin, are going to be harder to find.

Mr. GILBERT: It's a very polarized moment nationally, but particularly in the state of Wisconsin. It's also a great place for political junkies right now.

CONAN: Well, speaking - Ken?

RUDIN: Well, let's go into talk about what - who may run and who may not run. Obviously, the Democratic side, a lot of people are talking about Russ Feingold making a comeback.

Mr. GILBERT: But Russ Feingold has not done anything to signal interest in this race. So it wouldn't be a surprise if he ran. It certainly wouldn't be a surprise if he doesn't run.

Tammy Baldwin, the congresswoman from Madison, has probably done more to send a strong signal of interest than anybody else. There's another congressman from western Wisconsin named Ron Kind, who's thought to be interested in running. That would be an interesting ideological contrast because Tammy Baldwin's one of the most liberal members of the House, and Ron Kind is kind of a centrist Democrat.

RUDIN: And we talk about Tommy Thompson as well. Now, Tommy Thompson, the former four-term governor now, he could have had the Republican nomination to run against Feingold two years ago in a great Republican year, but he backed off. What's happening this time?

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, he's been kind of a terrible flirt and a terrible tease when it comes to running for office, ever since he got out. But he's got a formidable election history, I mean really a unique history for a Republican, big landslide elections for governor in the 1990s.

It would be a feast, really, for people like me if he ran because in a way the party has kind of gone in his wake to the right, and he was really a very successful, somewhat - rather moderate Republican governor. So it would be a very interesting political dynamic.

RUDIN: Well, the man who defeated Russ Feingold, Ron Johnson, came into the race with no political experience, a businessman. Might there be somebody unexpected who wants to come into this race?

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, in fact, our two current senators are people that were first-time candidates who used their own money to get elected and had no political history. So that could happen.

We're hearing some names. These are names that wouldn't mean anything to anybody, but that's certainly a possibility.

CONAN: And one name everybody does know now is that of Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, who said not interested.

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, and it's interesting because I think just about every other would-be Republican candidate would have gotten out of the way for Paul Ryan. That's kind of his profile, his stature in the state.

That may not be true in Tommy Thompson's case, but Paul Ryan had everything to lose and not very much to gain by running for Senate.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation, 800-989-8255, Cheeseheads. Mike(ph) is on the line from Milwaukee.

MIKE (Caller): Cheesehead and Bucky Badger, I should say.

CONAN: Okay. Let me just say that even though Russ Feingold lost in 2010, I think he'll be drafted. I think he'll probably want to do it because the person who defeated him, really - Ron Johnson - really hasn't really done much in terms of creating jobs.

And he ran on creating jobs, creating jobs, creating jobs. And he really hasn't done anything. And now there's probably not a whole lot a U.S. senator can do. So I think someone running on that premise, you know, we have already seen that nothing will probably come of it.

CONAN: Again, what gives you the idea that Russ Feingold is interested, Mike?

MIKE: Well, he's a Bucky Badger too. He's a UW graduate. So he has Wisconsin all through his veins. He would probably be the number one candidate. I'm pretty certain he is. I actually saw him at a Wisconsin alumni event. And I spoke to him concerning that.

And, you know, he certainly didn't rule it out. And I think if there was - yes.

CONAN: Didn't rule it out. And Craig Gilbert, is that enough of an indication that he might be interested in ruling it in?

Mr. GILBERT: Well, I mean, Russ Feingold was the quintessential political animal. But since he's been out of office, he's been teaching law. He's been writing a book. And he sounded like a guy who's happy now that he's no longer a politician.

Now, he would be a formidable candidate, certainly on the Democratic side, certainly in a Democratic primary. Some Democrats didn't think he ran a very good campaign in 2010. But I think he can argue with some reason that he got just sort of swallowed up in a massive tide.

RUDIN: And we have no idea what the political landscape is going to look like in 2012. You have President Obama running for re-election in a state that has gone Democratic, I guess, since '88. So you - perhaps it could be better terrain for the Democrats than it was in 2010.

Mr. GILBERT: Well, it's hard to imagine it being worse terrain than it was in 2010. It was the best Republican year since 1938 in Wisconsin. But - and it's a presidential electorate. It's going to be a huge electorate. There'll be massive turnout. But you're right.

I mean, Wisconsin was won, I think, by 14 points by Barack Obama, but its history is that of much more of a 50-50 state. It was 50-50 in 2000 and 2004.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the phone call. Might we get some better idea of the shape of the political terrain come July 12?

Mr. GILBERT: Well, July 12 is the official date for a really unprecedented round of recall elections. There have been, I think, 20 recall elections of state legislators in American history, and we're going to have nine in Wisconsin this summer, and depending on certification of the petitions.

So six Republicans could be up for recall and three Democrats, and the Democrats need to make a net gain of three to take over the state Senate and really have a hand in policymaking in the state again.

CONAN: Well, that is in response to the one lightning rod in the turmoil that is Wisconsin politics these past couple of years. And that was the decision by the governor to push through the piece of legislation to take away collective bargaining rights or almost all collective bargaining rights from public employees. That's one issue.

The other issue is Congressman Ryan's plan on Medicare, and is there some indication that Republicans are beginning to see some problems with that plan?

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, I mean two guys who really turned politics upside-down, certainly in Wisconsin and to some degree nationally - one liberal activist I talked to the other day referred to it as shock and awe politics, I mean very audacious policies that have obviously inspired a backlash on the left.

But, you know, the Medicare stuff is a big wildcard. It would have been pretty - something to watch if Paul Ryan had gotten in the Senate race because that would have been a referendum on Medicare for the nation.

RUDIN: And speaking of referendum, a lot of people saw that state supreme court election a few weeks ago as a referendum on the Scott Walker plan, and we still don't have a declared winner in that yet, do we?

Mr. GILBERT: We have recalls. We have recounts. The recount isn't even completed in the April 5 race for state supreme court. It was a 50-50 race. I mean, everybody expects the conservative candidate, the incumbent, Justice David Prosser, to come out on top because he's got a lead of close to 7,000 votes - very, very close.

You have to be careful about reading the tea leaves in terms of what that means for a partisan election because it was a spring election, and it wasn't a partisan election. But it's another, you know, another signal that tells us how polarized and how closely a very partisan race for a non for a judicial race, I mean, if you look at the voting patterns.

RUDIN: It wasn't a partisan race, but the left and right poured in tons of money to affect that outcome.

Mr. GILBERT: And if you look at how people voted, they voted like they did for the most part in a partisan fall election.

CONAN: And as we look ahead, you mentioned if the ballots signatures - hold up, then we'll have these recall elections on July 12. I assume both sides are going to be challenging the other. Whoever's mounting the recall effort, whoever's in office is going to challenge the...

Mr. GILBERT: Yeah, and that could push the date back, actually, a little bit. The other thing that could push it back is if there are primaries and we could have a general election later in the year.

And this is only the first round, the current round of recall elections. I mean, under Wisconsin state law the rest of the state Senate and the governor next year could be eligible to be recalled.

CONAN: So that may happen, but they can't be recalled until they've been in office for a year.

Mr. GILBERT: Exactly.

CONAN: So that's the way that law works. Thanks very much for coming in.

Mr. GILBERT: It's a pleasure.

CONAN: Craig Gilbert is the Washington bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and he joined us here in Studio 3A. Ken Rudin, that's going to be another open seat that the Democrats are going to be looking at, not just Democrats but around the country. There are any number of open Senate seats coming up in the November 2012 election. Let's go through some of the others. Of course one now is not going to be open. That's Nevada.

RUDIN: Right, because that was one of the Republican seats. John Ensign had already announced his retirement, and he resigned from the Senate. And now, of course, Dean Heller, the congressman, has been sworn in to replace Ensign. So the Republicans do have a little leg up on that. They never wanted to run with Ensign still as senator. It's no longer an open seat.

But the Democrats have six now - have six open seats to defend. Connecticut, where Joe Lieberman is leaving. Hawaii, where Daniel Akaka is leaving. New Mexico, Jeff Bingaman is retiring. North Dakota, Kent Conrad. Virginia, Jim Webb. And now Wisconsin with Herb Kohl.

CONAN: And the Republicans only need to pick up four seats. Overall, the Democrats are defending, what, 23 seats.

RUDIN: Out of 33, right. Now, of course, they only have to pick up three, the Republicans do, if they capture the White House, and then they have the vice president breaking the tie. There's also two open Republican seats in Arizona, where Jon Kyl is quitting, and Texas with Kay Bailey Hutchison, the winner of our trivia question.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I think that's why she's retiring.

CONAN: That's probably why. Yes. She got mentioned on the trivia question. Maybe the star attractions thus far, at least, seemed to be in the state of Virginia. Recent polls have two former stars of that state running neck and neck.

RUDIN: Right. Both former governors - yes, of course.

CONAN: George Allen.

RUDIN: George Allen, the former governor and senator, and Tim Kaine, the former governor and former Democratic national campaign chairman, so it's going to be a very, very close race, very expensive race in Virginia.

CONAN: That is if George Allen survives a challenge in the Republican primary.

RUDIN: From the Tea Party, exactly right.

CONAN: Then we can go to North Dakota. This is not a place that normally is the focus of national politics.

RUDIN: Well, no, but you know, for the longest time, for decades, the Democrats, even though the Republicans were winning North Dakota in the presidential race, Democrats have controlled the Senate with both Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan.

When Dorgan retired two years ago, the Republican, John Hoeven, won that seat, and now Rick Berg, the freshman congressman from North Dakota, had jumped in the race to succeed Kent Conrad.

CONAN: And that - if the Democrats lose that one, it's going to be a complete -almost complete transfer from Democratic control in the North Plains in the Senate to Republican hands.

RUDIN: Absolutely. And we saw - I mean, look, 2010 was just one of those dream-come-true Republican years. Everything fell into place for them. The question is whether they can hold onto that momentum for 2012. And obviously, Paul Ryan, Medicare, slash the debt(ph) kind of could be something that will be a referendum on the last two years of elections.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

Now, Connecticut, normally think of that as a blue state. What's going to happen for the Democrats in Connecticut...

RUDIN: Well, I guess...

CONAN: ...and the Republicans? That's an open seat.

RUDIN: Yeah. I guess you consider this - this will be - if the Democrats win it, it will be a Democratic pickup since Joe Lieberman left the Democratic Party officially to become an independent, even though he's still a registered Democrat.

And Congressman Chris Murphy of the Fifth Congressional District there seems to be the favorite for that seat. Susan Bysiewicz, who's the former secretary of state, is also running.

And on the Republican side, Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive, may run once again. She has tons of money, but you know, she couldn't win in 2010, when all the wind seemed to be on the Republicans' back. It'll be tougher for her to win in 2012.

CONAN: Then to Hawaii, another usually blue state.

RUDIN: Yeah. And the Republicans haven't won a Senate seat there since, as you well remember, Hiram Fong in 1970, and it seems like every Democrat is going to be mentioned - is mentioned for Daniel Akaka pickup. The Republicans would love to have Linda Lingle, the former governor, run for that seat. She said she's going to make an announcement perhaps as early as September.

But a recent poll came out, I think for the Honolulu newspaper, had every prospective Democrat ahead in that race. But again, there's plenty of time for that race.

CONAN: Let's go down to the Southwest. And Arizona, where Jon Kyl, the Republican senator, is retiring.

RUDIN: Yeah. That was kind of a surprise too, and it looks like the Republicans are going to(ph) coalesce behind Jeff Flake, the conservative congressman. The Democratic dream candidate, of course, is Gabrielle Giffords, but my guess is that she's just not going to be in any condition to run statewide. Obviously our prayers are for her complete recovery, but a Senate seems to be out of the question. Democrats are going to be tough to pick tough to pick up that race, seat, for the Democrats.

CONAN: And in New Mexico?

RUDIN: Well, that's going to be a good race too. That's the one that Jeff Bingaman is retiring, and Martin Heinrich, who's a member of Congress from Albuquerque, seems to be the Democratic front-runner there. It looks like there's going be a very strong Republican primary.

Heather Wilson, who's a moderate, she'll face perhaps a member of Congress, Steve Pearce, perhaps the lieutenant governor. So the Republicans could very well beat each other up in a primary. Heinrich looks like he'll sail to the Democratic nomination.

CONAN: And let's return to where we started today with our trivia question, and that's to the state of Texas, where, again, Kay Bailey Hutchison is planning to retire.

RUDIN: Yeah. One of these days Texas will be, you know, as we say, the minority-majority state where the Hispanic population will take over and take over the political structure as well. But it still seems - as of now, still seems to be a Republican state. And even though there are a lot of Republicans running, perhaps the lieutenant governor, some statewide elected officials, Republicans look like they're going to keep that seat.

CONAN: And there are also, slightly off topic, likely to be four new congressional seats in Texas after the redistricting is done. We know there's going to be four. We just don't know exactly where they're going to be. Republicans probably stand to pick up, what, three of those?

RUDIN: Well, maybe, because you still have the Voting Rights Act. You still have to address the issues of race in states like Texas. And so while the Republicans would love to say since it's a Republican state, we'll pick up three. But there will be Hispanic majority districts, at least one of them, if not two of them. So the Democrats could do better than many people expect in Texas.

CONAN: And finally, to the stunning news of this political week, and that is from the state of California, where recently - recently former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger confirmed a report in the Los Angeles Times that, yes, he had indeed fathered a son with a woman who worked in his personal staff for 20 years. She had recently left that staff, but a son who's now believe to be, what, 12, 13 years old.

RUDIN: Well, what's - first of all, I don't know if you know this, but Arnold Schwarzenegger announced today that he's running to become president of the IMF. So that would be, you know, kind of a surprise(ph) thing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But here's the thing that bothers - one, this is the way I feel about John Edwards as well. He had this affair. He had this child before he announced for governor in 2003 in the special recall election to knock out Gray Davis. How do you jeopardize your party, your everything, with knowing about this yourself and yet putting yourself out as a candidate? And even further, how do you have this woman work in your household for 20 years? I think she just left last January. She's working in his household. How do you disrespect your wife to such a degree that you have this woman here with, you know, while you're serving as governor and thinking of yourself as a national leader on X, Y or Z issue. It's just remarkable.

CONAN: And a lot of people in the media are saying, and how did he keep it secret all this time?

RUDIN: Well, yes, and remember, when he first run in 2003, there were rumors that - you know, I think the L.A. Times had a story right before the election that he was accused of groping and fondling, and he said, well, you know, we did some...

CONAN: Maria Shriver, his wife, helped him out...

RUDIN: Exactly, exactly. And that's a very big point. That she basically saved his political career in 2003 by saying it's just not true.

CONAN: And she and this other woman were pregnant at just about the same time.

RUDIN: Terrible story.

CONAN: Thanks, Ken, very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin will be back with us next Wednesday for another edition of The Political Junkie. He joined us here in Studio 3-A.

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