How Candidates Can Survive The Long Primary Season

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The race for the GOP presidential nomination continues. How do candidates plan for such a long primary with multiple straw polls, debates, caucuses and votes? NPR's Ken Rudin and former Mike Huckabee campaign manager Chip Saltsman discuss how candidates can best weather the grueling races.

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Governor Perry stumbles in Florida; Governor Christie is flattered, just not ready; and President Obama embraces class warfare. It's Wednesday and time for a...

President BARACK OBAMA: It's about time...

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

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 BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

President GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Herman Cain takes the Florida straw poll, but just as interesting, who loses. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still not in but not exactly out either. Republicans debate immigration, another government shutdown showdown, and congressional maps in Utah and Ohio make life lots tougher for Democrats.

In a few minutes we'll speak with Mike Huckabee's former campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, about straw polls, debates, the war of expectations and how the primary calendar affect your tactics. And later in the program we'll speak with Henry Cisneros about immigration and integration. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as always, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. I think when President Obama said it's about time, I think he was talking about the trivia question.

CONAN: He was? Yeah, maybe.

RUDIN: But maybe not this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Okay, here's another one that you're going to roll your eyes at. 2004 was a great year for Republicans, right? George W. Bush was re-elected president. Republicans retained control of the House and Senate, and several future presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, also won that year. But one future presidential candidate was defeated in 2004 as well. Who was it?

CONAN: This was - it's only been - there was 2008 and this time.

RUDIN: So basically it's every four years we have a presidential race.

CONAN: How about that?

RUDIN: I think people turn on this radio show to learn that.

CONAN: They probably know that. If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the future presidential candidate who lost an election in 19-- in 2004, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. The winner, of course, gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt.

RUDIN: By the way, listeners, Neal is making that face again. Just wanted to let you know that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: And was there a ScuttleButton winner this week?

RUDIN: There was, as a matter of fact. The winner was Michelle Halls(ph) of Minneapolis, Minnesota, that Minneapolis. And the three buttons were - there was a button of Congressman Bill Green, there was a button of Senator Jim Exon of Nebraska, and there was a Hamilton Fish button. So when you add Bill Green, Senator Jim Exon and Hamilton Fish, you get Green Exon Ham.

CONAN: Okay, yeah, you get green eggs and ham. Anyway, there will be a ScuttleButton puzzle up this week too.

RUDIN: Today.

CONAN: Anyway, I hear Godfather's Pizza is delicious in Florida.

RUDIN: Well, yes. That was a big, big surprise. The fact is that Rick Perry, the erstwhile frontrunner who expended a lot of time and effort into this straw poll, and we could always talk about - and we will talk about the importance of straw polls - but Rick Perry finished a disappointing second.

Herman Cain was the big winner, Herman Cain the former Godfather's Pizza executive, you know, with his nine-nine-nine plan. Some people think of it as six-six-six, but that's a different thing completely.

CONAN: That's a different story completely, yes.

RUDIN: But anyway, so, you know, he's crowd-pleasing. He gets the folks on their feet, and do I think he has a chance for the nomination? Absolutely not. Do I think he has a chance for anything? No, and yet he won overwhelmingly, which makes you wonder, either - maybe the voters know something that I don't know, or the straw polls are meaningless.

CONAN: There is also a - well, probably less significant straw poll in Michigan over the weekend too.

RUDIN: Right, and that was Mitt Romney, of course, coming from - born in Michigan. His father was George Romney, a multi-term governor of Michigan who also ran for president in 1968. Mitt Romney was a big winner in the straw poll there, not much of a surprise. The Herman Cain thing was a big surprise.

CONAN: But part of that also attributed to Rick Perry's performances in the recent debates, especially the one in Orlando just before this, and this is, well, Rick Perry having some difficulty.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

Governor RICK PERRY: Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of - against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it - was it before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for - standing up for Roe vs. Wade before he was against verse - Roe vs. Wade?

CONAN: That's painful.

RUDIN: Wait, was this the "Saturday Night Live" bit, or--? This was the actual debate.

CONAN: The real deal.

RUDIN: You have to see last week's "Saturday Night Live" and their spoof of the debate because it's so strange. You know, Rick Perry was going to be the Republican savior. There was clearly dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney. So they begged, they pleaded, they cajoled Rick Perry into the race, and you know that there's some things that a new candidate has to bone up on before he handles these debates, and yet this is the third debate in a row, and I think it's gotten successively worse for Rick Perry, unable to coherently answer a bunch of questions.

CONAN: In the meantime, he's being hit by those on his right who say that he's not conservative enough, including Mitt Romney hitting him on his immigration policies, where he supported the DREAM Act, which allows the children of illegal aliens, who may be illegal themselves, the equivalent of in-state tuition at Texas universities, public universities.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

MITT ROMNEY: Do you know how much that is? It's $22,000 a year. Four years of college, you're almost $100,000 discount if you're an illegal alien to go to the University of Texas.

CONAN: And Rick Perry this time fired right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

PERRY: If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.

CONAN: So Rick Perry defending that position, which was not popular.

RUDIN: Yes, and you also cut out the boos that followed that, and that's unfortunate. I mean, you think of - whatever you think about Rick Perry, this is a popular position in Hispanic-heavy Texas. It may also be a popular position in the country, but it's not a popular position in the Republican Party that is the party of anti-illegal immigration. It's a hot-button issue that there's no, you know, no compromise on, and it's not going to do Perry good in a process that has Iowa, South Carolina, states that have a conservative electorate.

CONAN: And meantime, there is another candidate who's coming into the race, maybe, maybe not. This is, of course, the governor of New Jersey speaking last night at the Ronald Reagan Library, a high-profile venue, a high-profile event, and he again declined to enter the race, but he didn't rule it out completely. But if he does enter the race, this is a clip of tape that he may hear over and over and over again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE: First you have to - in your heart you've got to want it more than anything else, more than anything else. I don't want it that badly. Secondly, you've got to believe in your heart that you are ready to walk into the Oval Office and to lead the nation, and I don't feel like I'm ready.

CONAN: I don't feel like I'm ready. His opponents could make some hay with that.

RUDIN: Well, you know, who is ready or who are ready are the cable news shows. I was sitting at my desk this morning, and all three cable TV news programs had Chris Christie speculation all over the screen, and to me that was astounding.

First of all, he's not the conservative savior that conservatives think, and we can talk about all his issues...

CONAN: Immigration for one.

RUDIN: Immigration, gun control, the previous comments about, you know, different things. But also at the same time it just shows that, you know - look, they weren't happy with Mitt Romney, so they needed somebody to save them. Conservatives needed Rick Perry. Suddenly Rick Perry is not conservative enough because of the in-state tuition for the illegal...

CONAN: And the HPV virus vaccine.

RUDIN: Right, exactly. And so, you know, we keep wishing for these things, but look, Chris Christie has said 9,000 times - I think he even said like over my dead body or something like that - he said he's not running.

CONAN: A hundred percent, yeah.

RUDIN: Right, I take him at his word, and yet the speculation goes on because clearly there's a dissatisfaction with Rick Perry now.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, it is the future presidential candidate who lost an election in 2004, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Ana(ph), Ana with us from Fayetteville in Arkansas.

ANA: Hi, thank you for having me on.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ANA: Was it Joe Lieberman?

CONAN: Joe Lieberman, the independent, now, senator from Connecticut.

RUDIN: Joe Lieberman did lose a primary for the Senate, for re-election to the Senate, but that was in 2006. And actually, he ran for president in 2004. So he wasn't a future presidential candidate, he was a current presidential candidate.

CONAN: But Ana, very good guess.

ANA: Thank you, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, let's see if we can go next to Brent(ph) and Brent with us from Kansas City.

BRENT: Would it be Ron Paul?

RUDIN: No, Ron Paul, I mean, the only time he lost, of course, is when he ran as a Libertarian Party candidate in 1988. He was out of Congress by then. But in 2004, Ron Paul, along with Barack Obama, were elected that year of 2004.

BRENT: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Brent. Let's go to - this is Milner(ph), Milner with us from Lynchburg in Virginia.

MILNER: Was it Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania?

CONAN: Who was defeated for the United States Senate.

RUDIN: In 2006. So it wasn't Rick Santorum. He lost in 2006.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Milner, good guess. Here's an email answer from Mark(ph) in Evanston, Illinois: Herman Cain.

RUDIN: Herman Cain is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: People don't remember this - of course we do - but anyway...

CONAN: You do.

RUDIN: In 2004, in the Republican primary in Georgia for the U.S. Senate, he was defeated by Johnny Isakson in the Republican primary.

CONAN: So we have your particulars and your email address. We will get in touch with you and send you a political no-prize, Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise for a digital picture of yourself wearing it that we can put on our wall of shame.

Ken, in the meantime, there has been sort of a revival of - the old Barack Obama seems to have come out from hiding, and this is one of his more feisty appearances in recent, well, years, as he told the Congressional Black Caucus to fall into place and quit complaining.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes, shake it off, stop complainin', stop grumblin', stop cryin'. We are gonna press on. We've got work to do, CBC.

RUDIN: That's the Congressional Black Caucus, of course, and you know, it's kind of interesting. I mean, for - the black community has been, from the beginning, President Obama's most loyal constituency. They provided an unbelievable amount of votes in 2008. But they have been hurt. I mean, we talk about 9.1 percent unemployment, but the African-American unemployment is like 17 percent. Forty percent of young blacks are living in poverty.

So to say stop complaining and, you know, just, you know, just brush it off, I mean, it's a little infuriating, I would think, to many in the African-American community, given the fact that there have been bailouts that help corporations, bailouts that help banks, and things like that.

CONAN: Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California pointed out on MSNBC that she was not exactly thrilled with the president's remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MSNBC BROADCAST)

Representative MAXINE WATERS: He has an office for Excellence in Hispanic Education right in the White House. They are still pushing him. He certainly didn't tell them to stop complaining. And he would never say that to the gay and lesbian community, who really pushed him on "don't ask, don't tell," or even in a speech to AIPAC, he would never say to the Jewish community, stop complaining about Israel.

CONAN: And the president, well, a lot of people appreciated his - on the left, appreciated his saying sign me up for class warfare. He may have gotten into some trouble here.

RUDIN: Well, he did, but you're right. There is a new tone coming from the president. We saw for the longest time he was busy trying to work out compromises with the Republicans. And most of the Republicans will never compromise with him anyway.

So, you know, remember, for years we always talked about the new Nixon. This is the new Obama, the more feisty Obama, but whether it's just a campaign mode or whether it's a real change of heart, we'll see.

CONAN: The '68 Nixon, he's different this year. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, and when we come back, Mike Huckabee's former campaign manager, Chip Saltsman, tells us how the long primary calendar affects a candidate's tactics. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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

ROGER MCGUINN: (Singing) ...And take over this beautiful land. And take over this beautiful land...

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, and political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. If you think he's funny on the radio, check out his column on our website. There's also a sinister side to Ken, which comes out in his devious ScuttleButton puzzle. You can find both of those at npr.org/junkie.

Any political junkie can tell you that candidates need to pace themselves for the long primary schedule. There are debates, straw polls, bus tours, fundraisers, and, finally for those who hang on, caucuses and votes. Last month, the Iowa straw poll forced former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty out of the GOP race for president and boosted the campaign of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann - at least temporarily.

This past weekend, businessman Herman Cain won the Florida straw poll, which most predicted was Rick Perry's to lose. Talking on NBC's "Today" show after his win, Cain said that in a primary campaign, the message is more important than the money.

HERMAN CAIN: I rented a bus and went all over the state talking to people, sharing my message. That's what made the difference.

CONAN: We're taking the long view on the primaries today and look at the tactics candidates need to win and the moments that can make or break a primary campaign. What sign do you look for that shows your candidate can win? Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now by phone from his office in Tennessee is Chip Saltsman, former campaign manager for Mike Huckabee's presidential bid, now chief of staff to Republican Congressman Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee. And Chip Saltsman, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

CHIP SALTSMAN: Good to be with you, as always.

CONAN: And Mitt Romney won the Iowa straw poll in 2008. You boss Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses. Do these straw polls matter?

SALTSMAN: Well, for us they did. As you may remember, we had a very surprising second-place finish that got most of the buzz and kind of gave us enough oxygen to keep going. You know, it's important - these campaigns are marathons, and it's important to stay in the game and keep it your race, your pace, no matter what it is, whether you're the frontrunner with all the money or somebody in third or fourth with just enough to survive.

And my favorite quote comes from Senator Lamar Alexander when he was running for president. He said presidential campaigns don't lose, they run out of money. So your number one job is don't run out of money, keep yourself in the game, and you're going to have some opportunities along the way, like a Herman Cain did this weekend down in Florida, like my guess is somebody else in Iowa is going to pop before we get to January.

You just keep it - there are ebbs and flows in every campaign, and your number one job is to stay in it and keep your pace.

CONAN: And when you say oxygen enough to keep going, oxygen in political terms is money.

SALTSMAN: Money and national media, as well. We got a little burst of national media from our straw poll second-place finish in the summer of 2007, and that really gave us oh, my God, Huckabee is real. And it gave people a chance to get a second look at us.

We had enough money to survive the day after the Iowa straw poll if we didn't do well. So we put everything on the line there. But then we made sure we kept small enough that we were not going to run ourselves out of money before the caucus because we knew that if we could get to the caucus, we could make a case; there's 100,000 people that go vote in the caucus.

We'd been there for a year. We knew we'd made a case with enough people to get a pretty good showing no matter what, and if something happened, like it did, we knew we could win.

CONAN: So not only you won the battle of expectations in the Iowa straw poll, then you have to sort of reduce everybody's expectations for places where you're not going to invest that time and money.

SALTSMAN: There's no question. I spent as much of my time trying to do good things in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina as explaining to other people in the other 47 states why I couldn't afford anything.

And in the Huckabee campaign, we ran a pretty shoestring campaign, and that's where you get in trouble. When you pop early, like a Michele Bachmann did, all of a sudden everybody in the country wants you. They want you to start spending money, time, effort, energy in all these other states, and at the end of the day, it just matters in those early primary states what you're going to do in January.

It's pretty exciting to be the frontrunner in March and April; I'd much rather be the frontrunner in January and February because those are the folks that usually win the nomination.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Chip, in the old days, and I always refer to the old days, but back in 1984, Gary Hart finished a strong second or a surprising second in Iowa, and then tons of money came in, enough - and he actually wound up winning the New Hampshire over Walter Mondale in an upset. But that was weeks and weeks later.

Now with Florida about to announce their primary schedule, a primary date for January 31, it looks like Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be early January, if you don't have the money now, if you're just getting in the race or if you're somebody like, you know, Chris Christie with two months to go, how do you raise all that money to be competitive in the January caucuses and the primaries?

SALTSMAN: We spent $1.6 million total, total in Iowa over a year to win the Iowa caucuses. So you don't have to spend a crazy amount of money. I think Governor Romney probably spent 10. So it was at least 10 to one.

RUDIN: And when did you get that money? When did that money come in for you?

SALTSMAN: Well, we kept - we raised $300,000 our first quarter, but we saved a lot of it. We didn't spend as much as other people. We didn't have a big staff. We didn't have a big travel budget. I always used to joke, everybody says I was a genius for keeping Governor Huckabee in Iowa so long, and the truth of it was that we had enough money to fly him to Iowa, we just didn't have enough money to fly him back home. So we kept him there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SALTSMAN: And so you make those frugal decisions, and then about October happened, and he did very well in the voter value straw poll. He did - he got a little pop on TV. We had the Chuck Norris endorsement that we made a kind of a fun little ad that kind of got a lot of encouragement. Started getting a lot more $100, $50 checks and then, you know, started about December all of a sudden we were second in the polls. We were close to first, and that's when the money online came in. The Internet's changed the game. You can get money instantly now. You have a good debate performance, and boom, the - your - the online lights up, and you can bank $100,000 overnight for some of these guys like a Herman Cain.

My guess is he had a pretty good day online the day after he won the Florida straw poll. The key is don't spend that money now. Save it for when it matters, which is for Herman Cain, I assume that's going to be in Iowa or South Carolina or somewhere along those lines.

CONAN: We're talking with Chip Saltsman, who managed Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign four years ago, and we'd like to hear what signs you look for to see that your candidate can win amid this season of straw polls and debates as we head up towards caucuses and primaries. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with David, and David's on the line with us from Tucson.

DAVID: Yes, hi, thank you for taking my call. I'm a big fan.

CONAN: Thank you.

DAVID: Well, as, you know, you were mentioning earlier, one of the big important turnouts that we've noticed is that how big the Internet has become in these elections. And, you know, seeing the last presidential election, I think that it boosted the amount of reach that the candidates had. And for me that's a big sign.

If you're able to mobilize your base financially, I think that increases exponentially your reach toward the community.

CONAN: Chip Saltsman, he's making the same point you are, money. And it's interesting to see all the candidates scrambling at all these fundraisers in the past few days to try to get their figures up for the third-quarter number because we'll come out in a couple of weeks when those figures are given to us and say this is the money primary, this is how much these people have raised.

SALTSMAN: Absolutely, and that will be the story that dominates the day or two - October 15th when those numbers come out. The media loves to talk about process: who's raised the most money, who doesn't have much cash on hand, who spent too much money, how much did this person raise or spend? And that dominates the media for a couple of days.

So it's important to have - we never had any good fundraising figures, compared to John McCain or Mitt Romney or anybody else. But what we were able to make or do, say look, you're right, we didn't raise a third of the money that anybody else did, but we didn't spend as much, either. And we've got enough money to compete in Iowa. You need - we said we needed a million dollars to compete in Iowa. We had that cash on hand going into Iowa.

So you've got to make that case for each individual case. For instance, I think Rick Santorum could make a move in Iowa. He's going to have to prove in the third quarter he's got enough money to compete there. He doesn't need 10 million dollars, but he needs, you know, probably a million dollars, and if he's been able to save that, then he can be a real factor in Iowa.

So each candidate has their own path. All of them are different, but, you know, Mitt Romney needs to raise the most money by a big number. Rick Perry needs to put a big number on the board, let's say 10 million dollars, to prove that he is a national candidate that everybody's kind of getting behind. Everybody's got a story to tell.

CONAN: Thanks very much, David.

DAVID: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Chip, you make a very romantic case that anybody could win this thing, but if the media are fixated on let's say two candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry...

CONAN: Just to pick two names out of a hat.

RUDIN: Well, I'm just saying that.

SALTSMAN: Randomly pick two people, Ken, you junkie, you.

RUDIN: No, no, no, no. I'm just saying, look, this is reality, and the polls show the same thing. So how do the Herman Cains and the Michele Bachmanns and the Rick Santorums, the Newt Gingrich, how do they break out of the pack - Jon Huntsman - how do they break out of the pack given the fact that they have to raise this ton of money because not only is Iowa going to probably be January 3rd, but eight days later, it'll be New Hampshire, then a week later it'll be Nevada, then South Carolina?

The old days, you had time to raise money in between. Now it all comes at once.

SALTSMAN: Ken, there's no question you're right. But I still - I've got TB. I'm a true believer. And I don't run these campaigns because somebody pays me, I run them because I believe in the candidate and work for them.

I went to work for Mike Huckabee not because that was the smart thing to do, it's just that I went to Arkansas and fell in love with the guy and said this guy needs to be part of the conversation.

Nobody thought he could win, including most of the people in my family, but I knew that he needed to be a part of the conversation.

And I will say this: Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, no question, raised the most money. Those are the two folks probably will have the best chance to be nominee. I wouldn't bet against either one of them. But somebody else is going to pop along the way. It's the nature of the beast. I think Jon Huntsman will start to move in New Hampshire just because it's the nature of the beast, because Mitt Romney's going to be out in 49 other states trying to figure out if he's going to participate in Iowa, trying to raise money. And Huntsman's going to be in one: New Hampshire.

Somebody's going to pop in Iowa. We've seen Michele Bachmann go up and down. We've seen Rick Perry go up and down. I think a Rick Santorum could move up a little bit along the way. There's three or four people in Iowa that could win Iowa. It could really change the deal if Rick Perry doesn't participate. And you could see Mitt Romney come back to Iowa and play there. There was a poll today showing him winning Iowa.

CONAN: I just saw that on (unintelligible).

SALTSMAN: So, it is - this is the most wide-open primary that I've seen in a while. And you've got your two nominal frontrunners - and I'm a fan of both - on two separate tracks. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are on two completely set of tracks to win the nomination, one through New Hampshire, the other one through Iowa and South Carolina. They may or may not meet in Florida, I guess, if they move up on the 31st and put, you know, probably $6 million is the minimum investment it takes to play in Florida, but somebody else can come.

So, Ken, yes, I do believe anybody can win this nomination. I am a true believer, and I don't think everybody should just be with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry because they think they're the frontrunners and they're going to win. They should pick the candidates they believe in the most and do everything they can every day to elect that person.

CONAN: Let's go next to Wes, and Wes is on the line from Naples, in Florida.

WES: Yeah. My big question is, you know, this thing is fixed. If it were a prizefight, they would put the referee in jail. Every time we have a debate, you put two guys up there, Perry and Romney. The lighting's good. The rest of them get about six minutes on the debates. Those two get most of the media, and the same thing is true today. Ron Paul got - carried California on the straw poll. I haven't heard him mentioned by you guys. He's leading the nation in straw polls. I haven't heard you mention that. The military is behind him almost 100 percent. I haven't heard you mention that. Most military people are behind him. You just leave him out as if he weren't even there. Is someone from up in the top telling you guys to do that, or are you doing it on your own?

CONAN: Wes, we...

WES: I'm just curious.

CONAN: We have you on the radio telling us, so thanks very much for the phone call.

RUDIN: You know, but in fairness, we...

WES: I'm a big voice, aren't I?

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: No. But, Wes, in fairness, we did have Ron Paul on the show a few weeks ago, and we're writing about him. We're talking about him constantly. We did not have him in this conversation, though, thus far, but we've had him on this show several times, and we've always talked about how well he did in the Iowa straw poll, things like that.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Wes.

WES: Ah!

SALTSMAN: And I would add to that, guys, that in 2008, Governor Huckabee was in that position. Nobody talked about him. Nobody gave him a chance. We got about two and a half minutes of each debate. At least in these debates, they're letting Dr. Paul had the chance to make his case and asking him questions.

CONAN: We're talking with Chip Saltsman, who ran the Huckabee campaign four years ago. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And here's an email question from Amy in Tulsa: I listen and look for what people in the opposite party are saying, which candidate they see is the biggest threat, which candidate they could accept as president and the gold standard, if they could actually vote for somebody outside their party. Somebody who might be electable, I think, is what she's talking about, Chip Saltsman.

SALTSMAN: Yeah. I think that's right. And when you see - for instance, if you really go back to 2004, the Bush White House obviously thought Howard Dean was the candidate they wanted to run against, and they were saying nice things about him. I think, for the most part, though - and I think the White House has been saying - attacking Governor Romney a couple of times and Rick Perry, I think that has a lot less impact on our nominating process. I think it's kind of more political fun for the White House to kind of take a shot at our few candidates.

But they're also testing messages: Which messages, which attacks will stick to these people? They're going to float a couple of those out. They'll let the Democratic National Committee take a few shots at all these candidates along the way. They're just kind of testing messages along the way, and I don't think really affects, too much, our nomination process.

CONAN: So the line about we've got a climate denier whose state is on fire, that sort of thing.

SALTSMAN: Correct.

CONAN: Yeah. OK. Finally, when do you know to pull the plug? I mean, some of these people are running for different reasons, to send their messages or maybe to get ready for four years from now. But when do you decide to pull the plug?

SALTSMAN: It's a great question. Most people pull the plug when they can't make payroll.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SALTSMAN: That's usually a good reason not to. And, you know, you saw Governor Pawlenty pull out after the straw poll. He had put a pretty good flag in the ground, saying he must do well in Iowa - although I would have made a case. I think Pawlenty could have stayed in if he would have maybe had some more money, but it's a very personal decision. Governor Huckabee, the night we won - the night we lost Texas, Senator McCain mathematically had enough votes to be the nominee. That's what we had said publicly, the reason we were still in the race, until somebody's the nominee. John McCain became the nominee that night. Governor Huckabee walked up on stage, gave probably the best speech I'd ever give him - seen him give. It was an inspirational, passionate endorsement of John McCain that night. He knew in his heart once McCain had the delegates, he was going to endorse him and be 100 percent behind him.

Each one is different for each candidate. You're right. Some are out there talking about their issues. They want to stay in as long as they can. So for them, most of it is as long as they can afford it. If it's Mitt Romney, he's either going to be the nominee, or he's going to get out once that can't happen. Same with Governor Perry, and I think some of the other folks. It's very personal. You make that decision. I think each candidate knows in their heart when that is, and I hope they listen to their hearts, not their consultants, because they know when it's time to get out.

CONAN: Chip Saltsman, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

SALTSMAN: Always a pleasure.

CONAN: Chip Saltsman, chief of staff now for Tennessee Republican Chuck Fleischmann, and he joined us on the line from down there in Tennessee. Ken Rudin, before we go: Florida lost Claudius Maximus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Right. Claude Kirk, a very colorful, flamboyant figure, first Republican governor ever elected since Reconstruction in Florida, married, I think, three times, twice to the same woman. He was - he ran for president as a Democrat, a Republican. I think he ran for vice president. But he was a character. He died today at 85 years old.

CONAN: And actual votes next Tuesday in West Virginia.

RUDIN: That's right, a special election for governor, for the gubernatorial race, as I would like to say, the next gubernor(ph) will be either Earl Ray Tomblin, who is the current acting governor because Joe Manchin left to take Robert Byrd's Senate seat. And the Republican candidate is Bill Maloney. Unlike the other three governor races this year, West Virginia is thought to be pretty close, but the Democrats are favored.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much for your time, as always.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin will be back next week for another edition. In the meantime, his latest column is online, and you can try the hand - your hand at the ScuttleButton puzzle. That's all at npr.org/junkie. Coming up, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros has a new model for integrating Latinos into American society and culture. He'll tell us about his program Bridges and Pathways next. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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