Christie's Out And States Move Primaries Up

Guests

Ken Rudin, political junkie, NPR
Mike Thompson, news director, WOSU

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced Tuesday that he will not run for the Republican nomination for president in the 2012 election. And South Carolina and Florida have moved up their primaries.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Opinion polls raise Cain, Perry mulls sending the Marines into Mexico's drug war, and Chris Christie not born to run. It's Wednesday and time for a...

Governor CHRIS CHRISTIE: Not my 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 W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

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CONAN: It's Wednesday, and political junkie Ken Rudin has followed us all the way to the Buckeye State. Perry's stock plummets as Cain jumps up, and Mitt holds on. New Jersey's governor will stay home in Trenton, West Virginia's governor wins a term of his own and the president and the majority leader exchange volleys on the jobs bill.

A bit later, we'll set up the primary calendar as South Carolina moves up, and politics here in Ohio, SB5, Kucinich redistricted and the upcoming Senate race. Later in the program, a new book of lost stories by Dr. Seuss, but first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in the studios of WOSU in Columbus. And as usual, we'll begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Hello, Columbus.

CONAN: Hello, Columbus.

RUDIN: Okay, well, you know, we have a new member station that's just picked up TALK OF THE NATION and of course the Political Junkie segment on Wednesday, which is most probably the reason they picked up the show. And that's KOCC, 89.7 in Eugene, Oregon. So here's an Oregon-related trivia question.

Oregon elected a Republican governor

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CONAN: ..of the presidential candidates. A lot of people think that the Republicans are not happy with the presidential field, that's why they keep looking for a Rick Perry to enter the race or a Chris Christie to enter the race or are waiting for Sarah Palin to enter the race.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour spoke yesterday in Washington and touched on the Republican economic agenda and predicted 2012 will be close, contentious and negative, and after all is said and done, he says, nothing will unite Republicans like wanting to get of President Obama.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR: Republicans are so single-minded, I think when we go to the convention in Tampa, it's going to be like conjugal visitation day at the state penitentiary.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BARBOUR: Everybody's going to have one thing on their mind, and that's getting rid of Obama.

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CONAN: And that's why he's such a great guest. And he reminds us that by the - it's going to be contentious, it's going to be a long primary fight, there will be a candidate, and everybody of the top Republican candidates polls pretty well against President Obama.

RUDIN: Well, one of the reasons it's going to be a longer fight than usual is that in the past, Republican delegates were chosen on a winner-take-all basis. Whoever won the state by one vote or a million votes gets all the delegates. Now it's done by proportional. So Romney, Perry, Ron Paul, you know, Huntsman, all; Newt Gingrich, all the candidates will basically have an opportunity to get some delegates, which will move it up.

And he does make a good point, Haley Barbour, that the Republicans desperately want to beat Barack Obama, and some Republicans are saying look, Mitt Romney is doing the best in the polls, and therefore we should side with him.

There was a big money guy for Chris Christie who went over to Romney just yesterday, but there are others that say, look, ideology is more important, and we're not going to compromise with a Romney candidate.

CONAN: In the meantime, more than a year out from the election, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, said yesterday that President Obama is in full campaign mode. I think he's speaking about the jobs bill that the president has been campaigning for. He was down in a Dallas suburb earlier this week, and the president called out not Boehner but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who said that this jobs bill the president's been pushing is not even going to get debated in the House of Representatives.

President BARACK OBAMA: I mean, what's the problem? Do they not have the time?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: They just had a week off. Is it inconvenient?

CONAN: Of course, Eric Cantor then replied by saying, you know, time is not the issue here.

Representative ERIC CANTOR: And the problem is the policies being promoted by this administration, they are sending the signal that we're not open for business in America. That's not what we need right now. We need to all pull together and to ensure that we can produce a better environment for growth and job creation.

CONAN: And of course, the president - it's a fair criticism. Of course he's in campaign mode.

RUDIN: Yes, he is. I hear music in the background.

CONAN: That tells us we have to be quiet. We'll have more with the political junkie Ken Rudin when we come back from a short break. Stay with us. We'll be talking about politics in Ohio. What's changed here since the last election? Ohio callers, 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.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan broadcasting today from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio. Political junkie Ken Rudin made the trip with us but not before he finished his latest column and devised another one of those devious ScuttleButton puzzles. You can find all that at npr.org/junkie.

In a few minutes, Mike Thompson, the news director here at WOSU, will join us. Ohioans, how have politics changed here since the last election? A big Republican sweep last time around. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Ken, mentioned the ScuttleButton. Is there a winner from last week?

RUDIN: There was. The answer was Dallas Cowboys, my least-favorite football team. But Leah Ruben of Wildwood, Missouri, was the winner. She says: I won the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition 2008, but they didn't send me a T-shirt.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: She'll be getting a T-shirt, and of course if you win the ScuttleButton puzzle, you will get a Political Junkie T-shirt. In the meantime, last week it was Florida moving up its primary date. This week it is South Carolina saying no, no, no, no, we are going to be first in the south.

RUDIN: Well, that's - according to - both parties agree that in order, it's Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. When Florida moved up to January 31st, South Carolina said uh-uh, we're doing January 21st, and of course Iowa, which was scheduled for February 6th, it looks like now Iowa could very well be February 2nd, as early as February 2nd. Last year, it was - last year it was February 3rd.

CONAN: January.

RUDIN: January, I'm sorry, January 2nd. And New Hampshire may be eight days later, January 10th. So one of the reasons Chris Christie was not going to run was because he only had three months to assemble this whole staff and raise all this money.

CONAN: One of the reasons he had to make a decision, so Christmas in Des Moines again.

RUDIN: Exactly.

CONAN: Exactly. In the meantime, that puts a lot of pressure on these - and there's no Super Tuesday this year. There's no date in the middle of the primary campaign where everything is up for grabs.

RUDIN: That's true, but among the Super Tuesday states is Texas, and so for those people who say are counting out Rick Perry, you still have South Carolina, you still have Florida at the end of January. You still have Texas and other smaller Super Tuesday states, which could give him, you know, a boost.

He's the only true Southerner, Newt Gingrich nominally a Southerner but Rick Perry the only Southerner in the contest.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to this...

RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry, Herman Cain...

CONAN: And Herman Cain from Georgia, as well, yes. Godfather's Pizza, of course famous Godfather's of Georgia. And as we look ahead to this, a lot of people are saying this could stretch out for a long time before they get to the convention.

RUDIN: Well, it could, again ostensibly because it's proportional. So everybody has a reason to stay in the race. But of course if it's Romney and Perry who are the only ones who are raising all this money, and they're raising a ton of money, other candidates are left behind. Michele Bachmann's staff seemed to be falling apart at the end, and we don't know what the other campaign numbers are.

It could last a long time, or it could be a one-on-one contest.

CONAN: And as we remember from other years, long races tend to make better candidates.

RUDIN: Well, you could make that case, and it certainly was the case with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. The more Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigned, the better candidates both became, and obviously it helped Obama win in November. But sometimes the anger, the divisiveness between the two candidates, like Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980, the longer that went on, the more the party was split, and that certainly hurt the Democrats that year in November.

CONAN: All right, now we want to switch and focus on Ohio politics, as we're here in the capital of Columbus. Mike Thompson is with us here in the studio, at WOSU. He's the news director here. And we want to hear from those of you in the Buckeye State. What has changed here since the last election? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

And just going around and looking at everyone's popularity ratings, LeBron James is looking pretty good.

MIKE THOMPSON: Yes, he might give John Kasich a run for his money at this point. Yeah, John Kasich, he - the good news is his approval ratings are up. They're up to 40 percent from 35 this summer. So he has ticked up a bit. But pretty much across the board - President Obama, John Kasich, Rob Portman - all at about...

CONAN: He's the freshman Republican senator.

THOMPSON: Yes, senator from Ohio. All about 40 percent. Sherrod Brown, the senator who faces re-election next year, is the only one about 50 percent. He's at 52 percent, which is kind of surprising given the mood of the voter right now.

CONAN: Well, the mood of the voter a couple of years ago was throw the bums out, we're going to elect a bunch of Republicans.

THOMPSON: And they did. And the states has - the state politics, and the state policymakers have definitely turned the state sharply to the right. Because the unemployment is still above nine percent, they're still mad. They're just mad at different people now.

CONAN: Because they're mad at whoever's in office.

THOMPSON: Exactly.

CONAN: Ken, that's not unusual.

RUDIN: No it isn't, but it's especially unusual for Ohio because in 2006, after decades of Republican rule, voters here threw out every Republican, almost - except for Betty Montgomery, I guess. But almost every Republican in statewide office - the governorship, lieutenant governorship, a Senate seat, House seats - and they clearly were dissatisfied with Republicans, and four years later, in 2010, they threw - their ire was directed at Democrats. So it was a very topsy-turvy state.

THOMPSON: The difference in 2006 was it was fueled largely by scandal. There was improper investments involving rare coins, and the whole - there was allegations and some evidence of pay-to-play with the Republicans there in office, Bob Ney.

RUDIN: Bob Ney. Bob Taft, too.

THOMPSON: Yeah, former Governor Bob Taft was actually - pled no contest to a misdemeanor. Bob Ney, the kung fu congressman from eastern central Ohio, spent some time in prison. He was voted out or left at that time.

RUDIN: For the Jack Abramoff scandal.

THOMPSON: Yes, so there was a lot of anger, but it was scandal-based. Now it's economic-based, which is a longer and - longer-lasting and a deeper resentment, I believe, than just a scandal.

CONAN: And there is also some - well, I think there's some energy to try to get rid of SB5, that's the public employees bill, similar to the legislation that passed in Wisconsin that drew so much ire from public employees there.

THOMPSON: Yes, that is the big issue this fall. Usually an off-year election, there's not much to talk about, but that's on the ballot. It's Issue Number 2 on the Ohio ballot, and the unions have come out in full force to try to repeal Senate Bill 5.

Folks on the other side, mainly Republicans, are trying to uphold it. The polls show that race tightening a bit. It's still in double digits. The repeal folks have a 13-point lead, According to the last Quinnipiac poll last week.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. What has changed here in politics in Ohio? And we'll start with Marlene, Marlene with us from Cincinnati, where we're going to be tomorrow.

MARLENE: Yes, hi, thank you so much for taking my call. Long-time listener, first-time caller. I'm very thrilled to hear that Sherrod Brown is above the 50-percent mark. I can't say enough good things about him. But I would like to share and agree with some of the things that the last caller said and do say that a lot of what has changed is the economy, the reality, the lack of jobs.

And both the state and the governor's mansion has veered strongly to the right, and if we are going to talk about SB5, which is important to me now, excuse me, Issue 2 on the ballot, it is value. The values have changed, and I believe that the Republican Party in the state of Ohio, as well as in many factions of Congress, has now Tea Party and extremists who are controlling the agenda and moving the party, and it's all about tax-cutting and cutting out services and attacking.

And you have members of the GOP who want Obama to be a one-term president, which I have a huge problem with.

CONAN: Well, that was John Boehner, the majority - the speaker of the House, and that's - I understand that, too. But Marlene, John Kasich and the Republicans, this was not a secret campaign. Everybody knew this was coming.

MARLENE: It's one thing when people want to, quote, "throw the bums out." And like the previous caller said, in 2006, we did have scandals. We knew that the 2010 elections, for those of us who are blue thinkers and lean toward the Democratic Party, we had no idea it was going to be a GOP tsunami in any shape or form.

And I was concerned about what Governor Kasich was going to do before I saw him in office, and the first thing he said at a press conference at Cincinnati Technical State within a week of being elected was I'm the new governor around here, and either you join us, and you come on the bus, or we will run you over, which I didn't think is very genteel of a new public servant occupying the highest state office in our state. So...

CONAN: Marlene, all right, we're going to give somebody else a chance. Thanks very much for the call, Marlene. Mike Thompson, well, a blue thinker, as she said, but again, what Kasich promised is what Kasich delivered.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. He said this is what I'm going to do. He said it during the campaign, and then he's done exactly what he said he was going to do. He was going to cut the state budget. He was not going to raise taxes. He was going to try to make the state government of Ohio run more like a business. And that's what he's doing.

He's pushing privatization, he's putting - pushing charter schools and vouchers and all these things, but he is living up to his promises. Whether you like them or not, that's for the voters to decide in a couple years, but he's fulfilling his promises.

CONAN: And hoping things get turned around, and if they do, he will get part of the credit. Of course, if they do turn around, so will President Obama. So it's a curious relationship. Let's see if we can go next to Mike, and Mike - another caller from Cincinnati.

MIKE: Oh, hi, Neal, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you.

MIKE: Good. Hey, down here in Cincinnati, things - you know, things have changed for the obvious reason. The economy's a little bit worse, but really, honestly, overall it hasn't been that terrible here. I mean, the company I'm with is doing real well. I've got - all my friends are well-employed. So maybe you'll find out when you get down here it's not as bad as it might be in, like, in the northeast part of the state.

But anyway, I'm going to vote Republican. I don't like any of the Republican potential candidates out there right now, quite honestly. But I don't like the batch that's - and I think you'll find this a pretty dominant thought down here. I don't like the - all the academics and guys running the show in Washington. We need some business people in there. And I - my guess is if the election was held tomorrow, Romney would get the nod, but I don't know. We're just - nobody is really happy here, but we're hanging on. The economy is not terrible. We'll wait for the other shoe to fall, but it hasn't quite fallen yet. So...

CONAN: And you're going to vote...

MIKE: ...not that bad.

CONAN: Are you going to turn out on the SB5 issue come November?

MIKE: Oh, sure. Absolutely.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, Mike. And maybe we'll see you down there in Cincinnati.

MIKE: Great. Thank you.

CONAN: And that caller suggesting that in Ohio, as we've learned many times, location, location, location. It's six different economies in the state.

THOMPSON: Yes. I mean, we were in a, you know, Ted Strickland often touted during the campaign, the former governor, that we had had several months, I think by the time he was - by the time election last year rolled around, it was like 13 or 14 straight months of declining unemployment, and that's ticked up a bit in the past few months. We're now growing again. The unemployment rate is creeping up. A lot of the job losses are in government because of government cuts that the Kasich administration has done and also lower tax revenues.

So there are pockets of the state. Manufacturing is a mixed bag. The auto industry seems to be recovering in some sections of the state. Manufacturing is boosting there, other places it's not. Government workers being trimmed there. So it depends on where you are. Health care is doing well. Some - professional services not doing so well. It depends on where you are.

CONAN: We're talking with Mike Thompson, of course he's the news director here at WOSU. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us here in Ohio. He joins us on the program every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Mike, if some things are going well in Ohio, some things are not, do you give the credit or blame - do you give it to John Kasich? Do you give it to Barack Obama? You say both politicians' numbers are not doing so well. Kasich may not win a re-election if the election were held today. Would Barack Obama carry Ohio again?

THOMPSON: The - his - Barack Obama's approval rating is around 40 percent. I think it's 41, 42 percent. And head to head against Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, he barely wins. It's within the margin of error. So it's basically a dead heat between the two frontrunners on the GOP side.

CONAN: Ohio a tossup. Go figure.

THOMPSON: I know. Imagine that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: You know, the Democrats will point to the auto companies' bailout that President Obama pushed, that Ted Strickland, the former governor, supported; that has helped manufacturing in some parts of Ohio. So you'll see that during the campaign going forward, that those policies are helping Ohio recover. Now, John Kasich has been in office nine months. It's hard to say what kind of impact he has had on the state's economy. Business leaders say that they like what's going on here.

National business leaders say they like the direction that Ohio is going. Kasich has claimed some successes. He's saved Bob Evans, the restaurant chain, from moving out of state, other companies as well. So for John Kasich, it's a little early. Barack Obama, obviously, the clock is ticking. And, you know, a 9 percent unemployment rate, he's got his work cut out for him.

CONAN: Email question from Angel in Columbus. Ken, why do you think Democrats have such a hard time converting - turning lower middle class and rural Republicans in Ohio? It seems some Democratic economic initiatives would appeal to those voters. Of course, they don't exactly control the state legislature or the governor's mansion.

RUDIN: No. But that's question has been asked a lot. It's an interesting question. Some of the people who have been suffering the most economically in their futures and their businesses, and yet they seemed to be - still continue to be angry at the Democrats, angry at President Obama, and more supportive of Republican causes. And I don't have an answer to that. I think it's just dissatisfaction with - if you're going to blame somebody, you blame the party in power, and that seems to be the Democrats.

THOMPSON: There are also folks who tend to want less government, they're more skeptical of government. And with the expansion of the health care thing and the stimulus spending, I think that that turned a lot of folks who are - who want less government, folks in rural areas, turns them off.

CONAN: Let's go next to Don. Don with us from Piqua, Ohio.

DON: Hi. Thanks. Listen, all I wanted to say quickly was what's different these days is what I consider to be increased hypocrisy. I don't know if you folks have seen the governor's latest ad on TV in support of the issue two ballot. But it's interesting to me that he is making the appeal that people ought to vote for it so that regular folks, I guess the police and the teachers and everybody else, ought to just be paying their fair share. Well, it seems to me that when President Obama made that appeal, people called it class warfare.

CONAN: SB2 - SB5, again, is the issue two on the ballot. That's public employee bargaining rights. Mike Thompson?

THOMPSON: Yeah. That's the strategy that the supporters of the limits on the collective bargaining rights are using. They're basically making this a campaign of fairness. They say you're paying, you know, 20 percent, 30 percent of your paycheck for your health insurance cost. Shouldn't the public employ, taxpayer-funded public employee, shouldn't they be paying at least 15 percent of their health insurance costs? Of course it's the other side, the folks trying to repeal the Senate Bill 5, the limits on collective bargaining, are saying they're just attacking the middle class - the firefighters, the police officers, the teachers - who are just trying to make a living and serving their communities.

RUDIN: But as the caller says, when you talk about paying a fair share, he makes a very good point. When Barack Obama says it, everybody is saying it's class warfare, that if the rich paid their fair amount in taxes, that becomes a class-versus-class struggle.

CONAN: Another struggle - another issue before we leave Ohio, well, we're going to Cincinnati tomorrow. But anyway, before we leave Ohio politics, and that is redistricting. Every 10 years, of course, the legislature gets to redraw congressional lines. Republicans control the process here in Ohio this time around.

THOMPSON: And it's a very Republican-looking congressional map. I think there's only one, maybe two districts that are deemed competitive in the whole state of Ohio. The rest are - most of them are - favor the Republican candidates. A few favor the Democratic candidates. But there's been a lot of criticism of this map. There's been an extreme amount of gerrymandering of the map. Here in central Ohio, Steve Stivers, the congressman, he used to represented much of the city of Columbus, that's not the case anymore. The city of Columbus, largely Democratic, has been broken off to its own district. And they call Steve Stivers' district the Jheri curl, because it curls all the way around Columbus, all the Republican and rural areas around the city.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And so what the Republicans did, they created a new district in Columbus that maybe Mary Jo Kilroy will run for again.

THOMPSON: She's already said she wants it.

RUDIN: But at the same time, they predicted - protected all those vulnerable Republicans around Columbus, like Stivers, like Tye Berry(ph) and others...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

RUDIN: ...and they also put Marcy Kaptur in the same district as Dennis Kucinich.

THOMPSON: A thin snake along Lake Erie on - in the northern part of Ohio.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

CONAN: Mike Thompson, the news director here at WOSU. Ken Rudin, thanks for joining us here in the Buckeye State.

RUDIN: Goodbye, Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us on the program every Wednesday. And again, you can go to npr.org/junkie to take a look at his column and try to solve that ScuttleButton puzzle.

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