What Tuesday's Results May Mean For 2012

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Guests

Ken Rudin, Political Junkie columnist, NPR
Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research
Alex Vogel, partner at Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti
Julie Rovner, health policy correspondent, NPR

In Ohio, voters overturned a controversial bill limiting union rights. With one race still too close to call in Virginia, Republicans in that state can still seize the senate. Mississippians elected a new governor and voted down an amendment on "personhood."

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NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. New allegations and blanket denials from Herman Cain. He and his seven rivals return to the GOP debate stage in Michigan tonight. And Democrats celebrate in Ohio. It's Wednesday and time for a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The people have spoken.

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.

GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics, and there's so much to dissect this week. It's a supersized edition. Issue 2 dies in the Buckeye State, personhood goes down in Mississippi, same-day registration survives in Maine, a recall in Arizona, two governors elected, a flock of big-city mayors.

In a few minutes, Alex Vogel and Anna Greenberg on who's got the momentum and what we can expect from an unhappy electorate a year from now. And we'll talk with NPR's Julie Rovner on the politics of personhood. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Happy day after.

CONAN: Happy day after.

RUDIN: Okay, well since nobody got last week's trivia question and nobody got a T-shirt, we're going to have two winners today, and thus two T-shirts.

CONAN: Woo-hoo.

RUDIN: Okay. So, okay, Joe Paterno announced his retirement today, which comes as Penn State is embroiled in this ugly scandal. Paterno is a long-time Republican, but he's never - Republicans have always wanted him to run for office, but he never has.

But, name the last major college football coach who ran for governor and the last one who ran for the Senate. So that's two different people, two different answers, and of course...

CONAN: Two T-shirts.

RUDIN: Of course.

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last major college football coach to run for governor of a state and the last one to run for United States Senate, two different persons, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. The winner, of course, gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. And so Ken, in the meantime, we begin, when we can, with actual votes. Some actual votes yesterday.

RUDIN: What happened?

CONAN: There was something going in Ohio, Issue 2.

RUDIN: Well, that is the big story, and that's the one where, of course, after the Republicans took control of everything in Ohio - as they did in many states around the country in 2010 - John Kasich and the Republican legislature put this bill, passed this bill, basically, called Senate Bill 5, in which they severely curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Now, the labor unions, which have been considered pretty dormant, they were certainly not much of a factor in 2010. They kind of sprung to life. They raised some $30 million to defeat this measure, and the surprise is not that the measure went down to defeat, because most people thought it would. But it went down 61-39, and that's a big - that was a big thing.

And everybody's trying to say what this means for 2012. I don't know what it means for 2012. I don't know if it means anything for Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who's up on a recall vote, in a recall effort in Wisconsin. But certainly, it's good news for the organized labor and the Democrats.

CONAN: In the meantime, we'll have more about the personhood issue in Mississippi that also went down to defeat by a surprising margin. More on that later in the program.

RUDIN: That's defining a human being. Once you turn off the light in the bedroom, that's when life begins, right.

CONAN: So speaking of recalls, though, there was an interesting election yesterday in the state of Arizona.

RUDIN: Yes, and Russell Pearce is the State Senate majority leader, and he's the guy who basically put Arizona on the map with this pretty strict anti-illegal immigration measure. He's been the force behind it. That's basically the reputation that Arizona has, is in part because of Russell Pearce.

Well, he was defeated pretty handily, I think, 53 to 47 by Jerry Lewis - who is very popular in France, by the way. They love him in France. But Jerry Lewis is also a Republican. So it's not that he was beaten by the left, but maybe perhaps by Republicans who said we may have gone a little bit too far, here.

CONAN: And let's continue. Republicans hope to take control of the State Senate in Virginia. If they did that in elections yesterday, they would have effective control of the House, the Senate and, of course, the governor's office.

RUDIN: And perhaps putting Bob McDonnell on the 2012 ticket. What they did is Republicans basically - some are very close, but it looks like Republicans needed two State Senate pick-ups, and they got two State Senate pick-ups. So it looks like in Virginia, in the State Senate, it is now 20 to 20. Now, of course, there's a lieutenant governor in Virginia who's a Republican, Bill Bolling. So the Republicans, they think, do have the tie-breaking vote.

But again, the Democrats drew these lines. So, in a sense, it is a victory for the Republican Party.

CONAN: So speaking of redistricting, It now appears that the courts are going to be drawing the new congressional lines in the state of Texas because, well, there's no way that the trial over the lines drawn by Republicans there is going to end in time for, well, next year's elections.

RUDIN: Yeah, and Republicans are not happy with that result, because of course they would rather have a Republican legislature and Governor Rick Perry pass this redistricting bill. And basically, Texas gets four new seats, but the way the Republicans drew it, only one was guaranteed for Democratic pick-up, and obviously a heavily Hispanic seat. So I think the Democrats were happy that the courts are going to draw these lines.

CONAN: Gubernatorial races yesterday in Mississippi and Kentucky went the way everybody expected.

RUDIN: Not a surprise at all. In Kentucky, Steve Beshear, the Democratic incumbent, was re-elected to a second term, despite high unemployment. But only once has the Republican Party won the governorship in Kentucky since 1967, even though Republicans seem to win everything else - certainly the Senate seats and the presidential race, for the most part. But Beshear won pretty handily.

And in Mississippi, you know, everybody was talking about Johnny DuPree and the history-making opportunity he had, the first African-American to head a major party for candidate for governor in Mississippi history. But Phil Bryant - who is Haley Barbour's heir apparent, he's the lieutenant governor - won with 61 percent. That's the largest number - largest percentage that a Republican has ever gotten in the state.

CONAN: And Haley Barbour term-limited, so he could not run for re-election. We had in Oregon - excuse me - a primary to replace David Wu, who's resigned from Congress.

RUDIN: Because of a sexual impropriety. I mean, you know, if you look at the front page of the newspapers today, I mean, all you're seeing is stories about sexual improprieties, a very disheartening day of news. But anyway, David Wu, the Republicans, this is the first congressional district in Oregon. Republicans haven't won that seat since 1972. But the race has been pretty close.

So the two parties named their candidates yesterday. The general election is January 31st.

CONAN: In Maine, let's - skipping across to the other corner of the country.

RUDIN: I remember the Maine.

CONAN: You remember the Maine. That's - there was an issue on the ballot there to overturn a law that banned same-day voter registration.

RUDIN: Right. This is again - it seems like it's a pushback. I don't know what it means, but it's a pushback against what - part of the Republican gains of 2010. And you had the governor in Maine getting rid of same-day voting registration, and the voters yesterday put it back on.

CONAN: And that's seen as a victory for Democrats.

RUDIN: That's correct.

CONAN: And there were a flock of cities that elected mayors yesterday. And I guess the big news is in San Francisco.

RUDIN: Yes, because if you look at all the other cities - we're talking about Philadelphia, Houston, Baltimore, Indianapolis, the incumbents, or the incumbent party, were re-elected. But in San Francisco, it's interesting. Edwin Lee, the city's first Asian-American mayor, he became mayor when Gavin Newsom left to become lieutenant governor. He finished first, but you need 50 percent to win in San Francisco.

But they have this instant runoff system there where voters rank the top three candidates, first, second and third choice, and then by eliminating the lowest candidate, you'll see who the winner is. It looks like it will be Edwin Lee, but we won't - may not know for a day or two.

CONAN: Those of us who ever covered European politics know the terrors and nightmares caused by the single transferable vote, which is what the system there is in San Francisco. In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last big-time football coach to run for governor and the last one to run for United States Senate - two different people, two T-shirts. Let's go first...

RUDIN: I could give a hint. They're both men.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Marcus on the line, calling us from Iowa.

MARCUS: Yes, for governor, Tom Osborne of Nebraska.

RUDIN: That is correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: He was the - he was governor - University of Nebraska, great football coach. He was elected to Congress in 2000, left to run for governor, lost the primary to Dave Heineman. But he ran for governor, 2006. Tom Osborne is the correct answer for governor.

CONAN: All right, Marc. Stay on the line. We'll collect your particulars and send you out a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing it to be posted on our wall of shame.

MARCUS: Thanks very much.

CONAN: And congratulations.

RUDIN: First call, first call.

CONAN: Here's an email. This is from Robert in Winston-Salem. He says Jack Kemp.

RUDIN: Well, Jack Kemp, of course, was a football player with San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills, but he was never the - a college football coach, head coach.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Ryan, Ryan with us from Norman, Oklahoma.

RYAN: Hi, Bud Wilkinson for senator in Oklahoma?

RUDIN: And that is correct, also.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Bud Wilkinson, the University of Oklahoma great head coach in the '50s and '60s. He ran for the Senate in 1964, lost to Fred Harris.

CONAN: Ryan, again hang on the line. We'll collect your particulars and send you out that no-prize T-shirt. Congratulations.

RYAN: All right, great.

CONAN: All right, two quick winners, there. In the meantime, there seems to be, still, a presidential contest going on for the nomination in the Republican Party. And the big news this week, another accuser came out to say that Herman Cain was engaged in sexual improprieties, verged on sexual assault, a lot of people did. This is a woman named Sharon Bialek, who held a news conference at the Friars Club in New York on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SHARON BIALEK: I want you, Mr. Cain, to come clean. Just admit what you did. Admit you were inappropriate to people.

CONAN: And Gloria Allred, her attorney, was also there. And Cain's campaign came back and said, wait a minute. We don't know who this person is.

RUDIN: Yes. And then, of course, he said he absolutely - he denied all the allegations. It's absolutely not true. He never harassed anybody. And this is his word. But all we've been hearing is his word for the last couple of weeks. Now we've seen people come forward.

Look, as we've argued on this show, there are many reasons to dismiss the Herman Cain candidacy. His numbers on the tax plan didn't add up. His views on abortion have over the - running around over the map, with seemingly pro-choice positions.

But this is something - you know, as the Republican Party is less than two months from Iowa, the fact that they are coming closer and closer to naming their nominee, the voters are going to the polls, it's the last thing the Republican Party wants to be the focus. And, of course, the Republicans are debating tonight, CNBC, 8 p.m. Eastern Time at the University of - it's the Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

And, you know, it's going to be about economic questions, but obviously, you'd think that questions about impropriety and Herman Cain will have to come up.

CONAN: Well, they came up yesterday at a news conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Herman Cain was asked, as undignified as it might be, would he take a lie detector test.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

HERMAN CAIN: I absolutely would. But I'm not going to do that unless I have a good reason to do that. I - that was one of the first comments that I made in watching this, to my staff. I've also shared that with my attorney. Of course I would be willing to do a lie detector test.

Secondly, I believe that the character and integrity of a candidate running for president should come under a microscope.

CONAN: And will, no matter whether he wants it to or not. In any case, the identity of another accuser was disclosed yesterday. She said maybe we should all have a news conference and talk about what happened. This is a story that, unfortunately for Mr. Cain, is not going to go away.

Ken Rudin, stay with us. When we come back, Anna Greenberg and Alex Vogel will help us look ahead 362 days, as we have an unhappy electorate. Then how come so many incumbents got re-elected yesterday? It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. The official Political Junkie countdown stands at 362 days, nine hours, 40 minutes until Election Day, give or take a time zone or two. Ken Rudin's still adding that up on his fingers. He's with us, as he is every Wednesday. His latest column is up, and you can take a shot at his devilish ScuttleButton puzzle. That's all at npr.org/junkie. And Ken, did anybody - was anybody a winner in the ScuttleButton contest?

RUDIN: It was a little easier last week, yes. I mean, there was picture button of Joe Louis. There were two buttons of Francis Cardinal Spellman. I'm not sure what he ran for. But anyway, the answer was the St. Louis Cardinals.

CONAN: Of course, the World Series champions.

RUDIN: And Eric Dodge(ph) of Middleport, New York, was the correct answer, one of them.

CONAN: All right, and congratulations.

RUDIN: I think.

CONAN: A year is a long time in a political campaign. Already, polls tell us the electorate is frustrated, angry with the politicians in Washington, D.C. Yesterday's results give us some indication of what we might see come November 2012. So looking ahead, what's the outlook for your candidates and your issues? Give us a call: 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 is Democratic political consultant Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research. Nice to have you back, Anna.

ANNA GREENBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: And Republican political consultant Alex Vogel, partner at Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti, a political consulting firm also in Washington, D.C. And nice to have you back.

ALEX VOGEL: Good to be here.

CONAN: They're both here in Studio 3A. And Anna, after yesterday, Democrats have to be feeling a little better.

GREENBERG: Absolutely. I just said to Alex before this started, this is the first time in about a year-and-a-half or two years that I've actually been excited about talking on one of these kinds of - one of these events.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: Yes, very good. And I think that there's a couple things to feel good about. One is I think the invigoration of labor around not just Ohio, but they were very involved in Maine and in special elections in Iowa, for example, and other places. So it wasn't just Ohio.

CONAN: And in Michigan, as well. There was a recall there.

GREENBERG: And in Michigan, the recall there. This is - you know, the labor movement did a lot to elect Barack Obama in 2008, and they've been pretty marginalized and certainly didn't play a huge role in 2010. And I think this really injects new life into the labor movement and shows that they can play a role outside of the Democratic Party, outside of working with a Democratic president.

The other is that I think it certainly shows that you can go too far. We saw this with Newt Gingrich in 1995. You know, once you sort of win all the marbles, it's very easy to go too far. And, you know, certainly at the state level in these different states, you've seen - you know, if you start in Wisconsin, there was a recall of two Republican senators there, even though they didn't take back the Senate.

You're seeing a kind of - a trend around pushback against a kind of extreme, you know, anti-worker, pro-corporate agenda at the state level. I don't know if that's going to translate to the national level in the presidential race. Obama did not associate himself with these campaigns. He didn't speak out on them.

CONAN: Nor did they associate themselves with him.

GREENBERG: No, no. But one would have thought, given the energy on the ground around these campaigns and the fact that the victories were so decisive, it suggests that independents broke the Democratic way, whatever the actual issue was, which has also not been true for the last two years.

So the fact that there was such a separation between the Democratic Party and the president and what happened, which was very positive in these states, I don't know what that portends for 2012, quite honestly.

CONAN: All right. Alex Vogel, the Republicans looking at yesterday, or are they looking at a year ago?

VOGEL: Well, I think in terms of yesterday, the good news for Republicans is what happened in Virginia. It's currently separated by what sounds like 86 votes, but Republicans appear to have actually taken control of the State Senate. It's really a key, because if you remember back four years ago, the Democrats flipped it the other way. That was the lead-in role to President Obama flipping the entire state.

So as you look ahead now to next year, a lot of this activity - Ohio is obviously the exception. But for the most part, a lot of this stuff is happening in non-battleground states. Virginia and Ohio are real battlegrounds coming up. So for Republicans to have done that - and, frankly, the winning seat was in Fredericksburg. You're starting - Republicans have now eaten into that northern Virginia impenetrability.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Senator Jill Vogel was also one of the candidates yesterday. So I am following these races rather closely, but...

CONAN: And we congratulate her.

VOGEL: Thank you. But I think Virginia was significant. And, again, not to be too cynical, I happen to be one who, generally speaking, when you see extremely volatile vote turnout in intensive ballot measures, I am one who tends to say: Was it a coincidence that this was the year that it was on the ballot, or is that a trial run to roll things out for next year?

So I think, to some degree, the question to me is: Did they do it too early in Ohio? Or was this really a vehicle designed to build the labor role to try and help the president? We'll see.

CONAN: We'll see. Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I agree.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: And I'm thinking - I'm listening to both Anna, and, you know, was listening to all these things and what Alex just said, and we don't know. I mean, we always talk about, like, for example, 2009, and the Republicans did so great in winning the governorship of Virginia, winning the governorship of New Jersey. And that's a great meaning for the Republicans in 2010. But then when the Democrats won that historic Upstate New York seat, everybody said, well, maybe the Democrats are on a role.

Ultimately, what happens in the year before a presidential race, there are so few things on the ballot, that it's hard to say that they will have a defining role, defining meaning for 2012. But again, both sides, you know, logistically and correctly, can take something from yesterday's results and go and run with it.

CONAN: Anna?

GREENBERG: I agree with that. I think you should be very careful about trying to make predictions based on what happens in an off-year. And I would note that Democrats picked up two seats in the Assembly in New Jersey. So there were opposite results in Virginia and New Jersey, you know, relative to what happened in 2009.

But one thing, as a Democrat, that is very encouraging about it is that for a while, we've had a very significant intensity gap, whether it's interest in the election or interest in voting. Republicans have had a much more significant advantage over the Democrats.

The fact that you see the kind of enthusiasm and turnout in these different places on somewhat disparate issues, but all very Democratic-leaning, I think is helpful in thinking about how you get people more invested in what's going to happen. I think we don't win in 2012 if Democrats are as dispirited as they have been over the last two years.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. As we look ahead to 2012, how are things for your candidate and your issue? Give us a call. And we'll begin with Eric, Eric with us from Birmingham in - Burlington, excuse me, in Iowa.

ERIC: Yes, sir. Thanks for taking my call. My candidate is Obama, President Obama, and the issue is health care. And I couldn't be happier the Supreme Court likely - addition to some recent decisions by very conservative judges, including Judge Sutton, out of I think the Sixth District, upholding Obamacare. Now the Supreme Court likely will not only be taking it up, but some of these Supreme Court decision-makers on the lower level have heart(ph) for several of the more conservative justices.

So this is going to diffuse the issue and kind of allow Obama to cover if, in June, they decide that Obamacare's constitutional, it certainly is going to be a huge wind to the sails of President Obama. And I've got to believe that's how they're going to decide it.

CONAN: The Supreme Court will meet on Monday to decide whether to hear that case this term. They have to select which of the cases they would pick. And there was a decision yesterday in the D.C. District Court. And that is seen as a conservative judge writing an opinion in favor of the constitutionality of the individual mandate. But Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I was just going to say, for all the talk about the anti-collective bargaining bill in Ohio, there was also a measure on the Ohio ballot that basically would - was a referendum on the Obama health care plan. It was a symbolic vote. It doesn't have any real effect. But voters, by an overwhelming margin, removed the mandate from health care. So you can make the case that Obama's plan suffered a tremendous defeat yesterday in Ohio.

CONAN: Alex?

GREENBERG: But the independent mandate's always been an unpopular part of the plan, if you poll it separately. So it doesn't surprise me at all. I don't know that it's an indicator of something bigger.

VOGEL: Yeah. I mean, the interesting things is, look, I have no doubt that the White House would certainly like to have the health care bill writ large upheld when it gets to the Supreme Court. But I'm not sure it's something they want to be messaging off of in the election year. When you've seen it actually broken out in its component pieces, the mandate's usually the one that winds up being asked about. And as you saw in Ohio, every county in Ohio, actually, went against the mandate.

So if we are in a messaging battle about health care next year, I'm not sure that's where the White House wants to be.

CONAN: And thus far, I think every Republican presidential candidate has been running against the federal courts as being activist, anyway. If the Supreme Court upholds the president's health care law, I don't think that's going to change the dialogue.

VOGEL: Yes. That is the one thing that all the candidates agree on in the Republican primary right now.

CONAN: And Anna?

GREENBERG: Well, I wanted to mention - because the caller was from Iowa - that there was a special in Iowa, which actually was effectively about control of the Senate, which is actually effectively about gay marriage, because the only way to overturn same-sex marriage in Iowa is to have two consecutive legislative sessions that pass a constitutional amendment.

So it was actually a very - you know, it's one state Senate race in the state, but it's a very big deal. I would also note that it is a battleground state, and there were also good results in Michigan, which is a battleground state. So I wouldn't say that none of these, you know, elections outside of Ohio don't have implications for 2012.

CONAN: Ralph in Tempe, Arizona, emailed with clarification, this about the recall election there of the state senator who was the sponsor of the anti-immigration bill. Mr. Pearce, he wrote, lost in an election of the entire electorate of his Mesa, Arizona, legislative district, including Dems and independents. Thus, he could be back next year by defeating Mr. Lewis in the Republican preliminary race, the primary. He may also replace the aging Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. So, nobody writing a political obituary for Russell Pearce, at least not yet.

But that does bring us around - there is going to be somebody nominated by the Republican Party to run against Barack Obama. And at this point, it seems like you look at eight nominees, eight candidates, and the support for all them seems to be soft.

VOGEL: Yeah. I mean, you've seen - for a long time, you've had this Romney and the not-Romney dynamic, and Romney has now had to endure a series of folks coming up, breaking through his numbers, and then whatever the reason, scandal or otherwise, imploding.

What's fascinating to me is as Cain improved and passed Romney, when Cain, when this current scandal broke and Cain's numbers started to fall, absolutely none of those voters went to Romney. So the reality is I think Romney is in relatively good shape.

The issue he's got is it's 70-something days until Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina are done, and he has to find some way - I mean, it's fine for him and smart, frankly, for him to stay quiet while this Cain stuff shakes out. At some point, he's going to need to connect with these folks. Otherwise, he will wind up with this very soft mushy base, which is not a good place to be.

CONAN: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman has a new ad out targeting Mitt Romney who, as you suggest, has been relatively MIA.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

NORAH O'DONNELL: ...with Governor Huntsman.

MITT ROMNEY: I just don't take questions unless we're doing a press avail.

O'DONNELL: But you're running for president.

ROMNEY: What I don't want to do is just stand on a sidewalk answering questions. I'm not speaking about the particular ballot issues.

CONAN: And, well, where's Mitt? But, Anna, this is usually, if you're in that position, a pretty good strategy.

GREENBERG: For Romney?

CONAN: Yeah.

GREENBERG: Romney should make no mistakes. He will not go down because he won't answer questions. There are plenty of people who refuse to debate in other kinds of races. It never seems to hurt them. It is absolutely smart for him to lay low, raise money, deal with his organization on the ground, win a couple of those early, you know, primaries and then be the inevitable candidate because it's hard to imagine Cain lasting much longer.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And I was - I just came back from a visit to Iowa Public Radio, and, boy, are my arms tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But it's interesting if you look at The Des Moines Register poll from last weekend, the leaders are Romney and Cain. And who are the two candidates who have not shown up in Iowa? Romney and Cain. So for all the talk about retail politics and how these guys have to connect with individual voters, Romney, you know, where's Mitt? But he's not been in Iowa, and yet, he's still up there. You know, his numbers haven't improved, but nobody is passing him.

CONAN: And are we getting to the point, Alex Vogel, where if you're not Mitt Romney and you're not Herman Cain, it's time to throw the Hail Mary?

VOGEL: Yeah. I think it's very hard for any of these folks to break through at this point. I mean, I - someone pointed out to me that Newt is now back in third. I don't think that's a real third. I think you have Romney and someone else. And the someone else has been this amorphous, well, we'd really like to have someone else, but when you actually get down to defining that person, no one has been able to sustain that. And given Cain's trajectory and - look, I mean, if you're having press conferences and the word lie detector is coming up and you're running for president, there's no good scenario, unless you're talking about how you invented the lie detector.

RUDIN: Alex, Mitt Romney keeps talking about Rick Perry, so it makes me think that he still thinks Rick Perry has a comeback possibility.

VOGEL: I mean, the reality is Perry's got organization, not as large as Romney's, but he has some. He's governor of a huge state with a big political operation, and he's going to have a lot of money. So if he lays low, the reality is they could slug it out for the last 60 days here.

GREENBERG: And Perry's vulnerabilities has been about sort of not seeming prepared, not seeming coherent. They haven't and, you know, some potential issues around immigration with the base, but generally, certainly it's not a scandal, and generally, there aren't – it's nothing he can't fix.

CONAN: We're talking politics as we do every Wednesday with political junkie Ken Rudin. With us this week: Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner; and also Alex Vogel, partner at Mehlman, Vogel, Castagnetti, a political consulting firm here in Washington, D.C. I'm saying Castagnetti better and better every week. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And, Alex, you mentioned the electoral map. Reminder, the presidential election is not one big national election. It is 51 separate elections.

And, Anna Greenberg, as a lot of people look at the states that Barack Obama carried three years ago, they're saying yes, Virginia is going to be a problem for him. Yes, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina. It's beginning to look more and more difficult for the president.

GREENBERG: Yes. There's no question that this re-elect looks difficult. It would be bizarre if it wasn't. If you look at the unemployment rate and a variety of other indicators, like the right track, wrong track numbers. But I tend to look - to start from the 2004 map where Kerry only needed to win, say, Ohio or Florida or New Mexico in order to have won that election. I actually think Obama starts out better positioned because I think he wins, you know, New Mexico pretty easily. So I think there's not a terrible electoral-vote scenario for Obama even if he loses Ohio, even if he loses Virginia, even if he loses Florida.

CONAN: Alex Vogel?

VOGEL: Yeah. I actually look at things differently which is rather than look at...

CONAN: I'm shocked.

VOGEL: ...the somewhat anomalous map that the president won with last time, with Virginia...

RUDIN: (Unintelligible).

VOGEL: ...that was not your normal map for a Democrat to win.

GREENBERG: Exactly.

VOGEL: If you go back to your normal map, if you look at states that voted for Democrats in '04 and '08, and you say OK, those are pretty solid blue states. He starts with 246 electoral votes out of 270 needed to win. If he wins those states plus Florida, he's re-elected. So if you look at it that way, you can say, well, it's actually not that big a hurdle, he'll be visiting the Sunshine State a lot.

CONAN: And maybe Mario - Marco Rubio's prospects for the vice presidential nomination just improved. But Florida, it's going to be the key in the Republican primary, and, as Alex just suggested, it could be a desperately important key in the presidential election.

GREENBERG: Florida will be very, very important. It's sort of unfortunate, given our history there. But Rick Scott is a very unpopular governor, and there have been some early elections in Florida, some municipal elections that suggest some pushback and reaction to Rick Scott as governor. So I have a feeling that the work of this governor has made that state look a little better for Obama than it might have been otherwise.

CONAN: Let's get Mary on the line. Mary is calling us from Leavenworth, Kansas.

MARY: Yes. And I think it's going to be Mitt Romney running for the Republican side, and I believe in my heart that he will be the next president. He has learnt being governor that what it is to run a state. Obama has never run a state. The only thing he's ever run was a community center.

CONAN: Well, he's run the United States for the last three years.

MARY: He has run - I'll put it this way. He has ruined the United States in the last three years. That's how I look at it. Look how many people who are suffering because of his mistakes.

CONAN: Mary, thanks very...

MARY: If they can't see it then there's something wrong with the American people.

CONAN: And, Mary, thanks very much for the call. And, Alex Vogel, there are some who say that Mitt Romney, should he be the nominee, will not get the excitement of the Tea Party. However, Mary's point, I think, is well taken. The Tea Party and a lot of people who might vote Republican are going to be excited to vote against Barack Obama.

VOGEL: That's true. I mean, look, there's a long-running debate over whether or not, you actually can win an election because you don't want the other person or whether you're in love with your person. And I have always been one who argues you actually have to love your guy. If you go back to '96, Republicans really didn't like Bill Clinton. We liked Bob Dole. We respected Bob Dole, very few people loved Bob Dole. We couldn't do it. You flip it to George W. Bush. Democrats hated him with a similar white-hot intensity.

Most Democrats I know liked John Kerry. They respected John Kerry. They didn't love John Kerry. Is hating the other guy enough to win an election? Now, you have to say if you just look at the economic data, it's tough to be an incumbent right now, and the president's got some real challenge. He's going to have to win people over on.

CONAN: And will the unions love Barack Obama, and will the environmentalists love Barack Obama? They have to wait for the XL pipeline decision to see how that symbolic decision may go. More with Anna Greenberg and Alex Vogel, political junkie Ken Rudin returns as well. It's a super-sized edition of The Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: Right now, we're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin, a year from Election Day 2012. What's the outlook for the candidates and the issues where you live? Who has the momentum? Our guests are Anna Greenberg, Democratic political consultant and senior vice president and principal at Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, and Alex Vogel, Republican political consultant and partner at Mehlman, Vogel and Castagnetti. And we talked about the presidential race, but there is also the issue of control of the United States Senate, currently in the hands of Democrats but not by much. And given the numbers, Anna Greenberg, a lot of people say there's no way Democrats can hold on to the U.S. Senate.

GREENBERG: I wouldn't say there's no way, but it's definitely challenging. A number of the retirements on the Democratic side have been in red states, and it's pretty clear that there's no way that Democrats can hold those seats. So I wouldn't say that it's an absolute certainty Republicans are going to take it over, but it's certainly challenging. I think a lot of it also depends on what happens with the presidential race. There's a bunch of states where, you know, if Obama, you know, is doing well and energizing the base, we can win, you know, places like Montana, for example, you know, by a hair breadth and keep those seats. If he's not doing well, it will be much harder for some of those closer races for Democrats to keep those seats.

CONAN: One race a lot of Democrats are excited about is in Massachusetts. If that race does not turn blue, I don't think there's any way the Democrats can hold on.

GREENBERG: Massachusetts will be a good sort of canary in the coalmine. You know, Scott Brown is still pretty popular, but his support is a mile wide and inch deep. And if you do any kind of research on him, which I have done...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENBERG: ...for some of my clients, and you can see that he's got a lot of vulnerabilities. And Elizabeth Warren has a lot of strengths. So I actually think it's going to be a great race. It was one where I think a lot of Democrats where pretty dispirited by the field of people who were planning on running against Brown and now much more excited about it. And she's - part of what makes her strong is she is going to have no problem raising money, which is he's got, you know, 10 million in the bank.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, Republicans seem pretty confident about the Senate.

VOGEL: So there are nine tossup races based on the numbers today, two on the R side, which are the Massachusetts race and the Nevada race, seven on the D side. If we split the nine tossups, which is not likely to happen, you've got a 51-49 Republican Senate. And we're feeling cautiously optimistic about our chances. Someone mentioned Montana. Look, there's two states in the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Obama didn't visit - Alaska and Montana. So if you're Mr. Tester and Barack Obama is on the ballot, that's a challenging election for you. There's no way around it.

But, again, it's not some special sauce we've discovered. It's - they have 23 seats to defend. We have 10. And of those 10, only two were actually in blue or marginal states. So it's the luck of the draw, but I'll take that.

CONAN: All right. And the House of Representatives long, of course, famously to Republican control last time. But, Anna Greenberg, Democrats think they do have a shot at winning there.

GREENBERG: I think Democrats do have a shot. There are a few things working in their favor. One, there are a bunch of seats that Obama - a bunch of districts that Obama won that now have Republicans in them, so there's a lot of purple seats in states like Pennsylvania, a lot of those are in states where these Republican governors are increasingly unpopular. The second piece is that redistricting actually ends up in certain states favoring Democrats more than we would thought.

I certainly think Texas is going to be a place where Democrats actually net seats; potentially, Arizona, although that's now very much up in the air. But certainly, the map that the independent commission had drawn had three competitive Democratic seats in addition to the two seats that were solid Democratic seats. So, you know, if you look at sort of both where Obama won and you look at redistricting, there really - now, it's going to be close if it actually happens. Twenty-five seats is a big lift, but it certainly not outside of the realm of possibility.

The one other thing I would add is that Boehner and the Republicans in Congress have a terrible image, and they are - and it plummeted, and they are - it's very hard to see sort of what they run on around their sort of leadership in the House. They are very unpopular. They are less popular than the Democrats in Congress.

CONAN: Yes, Barack Obama's numbers are not great. The Republicans' numbers in the House are even worse, Alex Vogel.

VOGEL: Right. Congress's numbers are brutal. Look, Anna mentioned the 25-seat margin that Republicans currently enjoy in the House. In an average year, all congressional elections, the average swing in the House is 23 seats. Average presidential year, it's 16. Average presidential year with redistricting, it's closer to 14. So Democrats are going to need to substantially over-perform the norm here in order to pick it up.

Now, look, there are a lot of folks who are sitting in blue districts who just got elected, who are freshmen. This will be the time to get them. I know there's 14 who are freshmen and are sitting in an overwhelmingly blue districts. That's where Pelosi and her friends are going to go. I think they'll pick a few of them off, but to get to 25 is pretty hard.

CONAN: All right. Ken?

RUDIN: I agree with both. I mean, I think the Republicans do have a good shot at winning the Senate. It seems like Scott Brown is the only vulnerable incumbent on the Republican side, maybe Dick Lugar. But again, I think the Republicans keep Indiana. And I kind of think they win in Nevada as well. I think there have been some stories about Shelley Berkley, the Democrat - likely Democratic candidate, some things about conflict of interest with her husband. So I think, you know, the Republicans are in good shape in there.

On the House side, you know, it's early. We still don't know who's running. We're still waiting for candidates. We're still waiting for lines to be drawn. But I still think the Republicans hold on to the House.

CONAN: Let's get Chad on the line. Chad is calling from Kalamazoo.

CHAD: Yes. There really is a Kalamazoo.

CONAN: There is.

CHAD: Well, good afternoon. I am a Republican, historically, and my question is, I don't hate Obama. But I also...

RUDIN: Then you're not a real Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Go on.

CHAD: Well, you and my father would probably get along very well then. But I neither hate Obama, nor am I overly enamored by any of the Republican candidates. And it goes to the point you made earlier of, you know, it takes more than just hating the incumbent to elect someone. And so my question is, what if I were to consider a third party candidate, whether it's a Green Party of libertarian or anyone in between, but someone who's running on a core set of beliefs, would I be wasting my vote? Or would a surge in a third party candidate actually begin a change of opening up a platform?

CONAN: Ken, this is something we hear every four years.

RUDIN: Well, we do, and we always talk about, you know, the 97,000 people who voted for Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000. And Ralph Nader totally, in the United States, I think got 1.5 percent of the vote, but with George W. Bush winning the state by 434 votes, obviously, I was thinking maybe a majority of the 97,000 may have got to Al Gore and sell those votes to make a difference.

CONAN: Interesting our caller is named Chad.

CHAD: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But also - and...

CHAD: That was a rough period to live through.

CONAN: I bet.

RUDIN: And talking about what Alex talked before, what if Mitt Romney is not sufficiently conservative by right-wing groups? And what if the conservatives put up a third party candidate, which is very, very possible?

VOGEL: And we all saw what happened with Ross Perot, right? And so the short answer is, we have seen those movements. Ross Perot, obviously, had money to back up his movement.

CONAN: Getting late, though. It's getting late.

RUDIN: Getting late.

GREENBERG: Well - but the research that we have done suggests that the electorate is ripe for a third party candidate, not to win, but to get, you know, a substantial chunk of the vote. You have a very similar kind of angry, white blue collar sector of the electorate that is mad at Democrats who run government, spending the economy, but is also mad at Republicans around kind of corporate special interests and serving the interests of the wealthy. And that is the group that voted for Ross Perot. It is getting - I guess, it's a little, but not really. It's a year. We don't have a Republican candidate yet. I don't really - you know.

CONAN: We're going to give – Laura(ph) in Charlotte, North Carolina, the last word. Stop, she writes. Please stop. I'm begging you, stop. This autopsy of yesterday's elections for a prophetic sight of the elections of 2012 is one of the reasons nothing is getting done in the country. The important time is now. There will be no movement in our government until elected officials stop looking over their shoulders to the next election. Furthermore, trying to discern a prediction of the future from a few percentages of the people who bothered to get out to vote is a bigger folly than predicting the daily fluctuations in the stock market.

GREENBERG: Hey, I thought, we all said we couldn't predict what was going to happen based on the results yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, thank you very much for putting up with us.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: And, of course, Alex Vogel, we appreciate your time as well.

VOGEL: Thank you.

CONAN: When we come back in just a minute, we're going to be talking the politics of personhood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: And we're joined now by Julie Rovner, NPR health policy correspondent, who has been following the debate in Mississippi over whether life begins at the moment of fertilization. That proposed constitutional amendment went down to defeat yesterday. Supporters promised to continue their efforts in other states. And Julie is with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back.

JULIE ROVNER: Nice to be here.

CONAN: And this amendment is back. It was previously offered a couple of times in the state of Colorado, where it also lost. It was thought to be a live issue in Mississippi. The polling indicated it was a toss-up.

ROVNER: That's right. Well, originally, it looked like it was going to pass easily, of course, Mississippi being a much more conservative, much more anti-abortion state than Colorado. So it was thought to be absolutely a slam dunk. Then the most recent polling, as you point out, was much tighter. And indeed, it went down by a much larger margin than anyone thought. I looked just before I came in - with 1,806 of 1876 precincts reporting, so about 90 percent. The margin is 58 percent no to 42 percent yes. So a pretty good thumping there.

CONAN: And both gubernatorial candidates supported the amendment. What happened?

ROVNER: Well, I think it's sort of a combination of things. You know, as you pointed out, this went down 2-1 twice in the state of Colorado. So it's a pretty far-reaching amendment. It would declare, as you said, a human being to be a person with full legal right at the moment of fertilization. That would mean that, you know, basically, an embryo in a test tube would have full right of a person. It would cause, as people pointed out, all manner of unintended consequences. It would not only end abortions - and that's, of course, its intended effect is as a mechanism to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. But it also might have the unintended effect of compromising in vitro fertilization and probably wouldn't end it as some people said. But if you wanted to implant multiple embryos, you would have problems with the leftovers.

It would outlaw certain forms of contraception that might have the impact of blocking the implantation of a fertilized egg into a woman's uterus. Because there would be - because it would stop all forms of abortion, there would be no exceptions for rape or incest, or a woman who, perhaps, developed cancer during her pregnancy. And as all these things came out, as they did in Colorado, as they came out in Mississippi, there were a lot of people who, as they - as Haley Barbour, the outgoing governor said, even though I am pro-life, I have some problems with some of the possible ramifications of this.

And, of course, the people who are for this personhood amendment said, well, there are lies, you know, that it wouldn't necessarily do this. But because it was an amendment to the Constitution, it was only a couple of sentences. It was unknown exactly what the ramifications of this would be. There were people saying, you know, calling into call-in shows, will I have to buy two tickets to go to the movies if I was pregnant? Would I be able to, you know, will this affect congressional redistricting? You know, all kinds of things that nobody really knows. So it's - it goes a really further than I think the people of Mississippi were prepared to go.

CONAN: NPR health policy correspondent, Julie Rovner. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And this amendment, as we mentioned, it's come up before. Supporters say, it'll come up again. It has divided those who oppose abortion rights.

ROVNER: Indeed it has. There are other members of the anti-abortion committee who support the concept of declaring personhood for the unborn, as they say, for - even fertilized eggs, as this would do. But they are worried that if this were to get to the Supreme Court in its current form, with the current Supreme Court, the Supreme Court might have to, not only strike it down, but would end up then reaffirming Roe v. Wade, the current Supreme Court holding that legalizes abortion, and that would be a setback for the anti-abortion movement.

So they - I spoke to one prominent anti-abortion lawyer who said, no, you have to overturn Roe v. Wade first and then establish personhood. You can't use this personhood as a mechanism to overturn Roe v. Wade. Then there are others, among them Phyllis Schlafly, the head of the Eagle Forum, very prominent anti-abortion group, who worries that what these types of campaigns do is they rile up the anti - excuse me - the pro-abortion rights groups, bring them out to the polls. And in the process, they vote for other candidates and then get - have the anti-abortion candidates lose, which she says is what happened in Colorado. So there are people who don't like it for strategy purposes, not necessarily because they disagree with the ends.

CONAN: And there's also those who might say, if this can't pass in Mississippi, where can it pass?

ROVNER: That is indeed a question. Now, I spoke to the people who are pushing this personhood movement. They say they're still at the beginning of this, that they'll come back and they will try it again in Mississippi. They'll do a better job of education, a better job with their campaign. They want to try it again in other states, and perhaps some swing states, some major swing states in next year's presidential campaign, states like Florida, states like Ohio. And that may give some heartburn to some people who are worried that, again, it could mobilize people on the other side and get them out to vote.

CONAN: The other side, were they mobilized in Mississippi? Were there a lot of ads against this amendment?

ROVNER: There were a lot of ads on both sides. So it's hard to tell whether, you know, whether it brought out, indeed, you know, as you mentioned, both candidates for governor endorsed it. So it didn't really have any impact on that. The Republican did win. The Republican was expected to win. So it was hard to tell in that sense, but - and Mississippi is such an anti-abortion state. But you could see that, you know, in a very tight race, if you're going to mobilize the pro-abortion rights forces, that might be not what you want to do if you're an anti-abortion.

CONAN: Julie Rovner, thanks very much.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

CONAN: NPR health policy correspondent, Julie Rovner. Ken Rudin still with us. And, Ken, we wanted to not leave this week without remembering somebody who was important in, well, not just the coverage of politics as we do it today, but in your career as well.

RUDIN: Well, that's Hal Bruno. He was ABC News' long-time political director. I guess, he was director for 18 years before that. He was political editor at Newsweek magazine. On election night in 1984, I was a researcher for ABC News, and he says, Ken, I want you as my deputy to come to Washington. So Hal Bruno was responsible, and you can all blame Hal Bruno.

But, you know, he was the kind of news guy and a political guy that really cared about people, cared about the issues, cared about - he didn't care about rumor. And he wasn't snarky. He was an old-fashioned, you know, letter on the - boots on the ground, campaign guy, always on the phone, always talking to sources, not the kind of guy who would just, you know, deal in innuendo and rumor and the way we cover politics today. He's a, you know, it's a terrible loss. You know, everybody thinks of Admiral Stockdale, when he says? Who am I? Remember the famous question?

CONAN: Sure.

RUDIN: He asked, who am I? What am I doing here? It was Hal Bruno who said, Admiral Stockdale, your opening statement. So we could blame Hal Bruno for that. But, I mean, he was, you know, he was a journalist's journalist and that kind of who is not going to be seen again.

CONAN: And Hal Bruno was, as you say, he worked at a couple of important organizations and really changed the national scope of the way we cover politics.

RUDIN: Absolutely. I mean, basically, the whole thing was not, you know, I mean, back in the old days, we didn't know until, you know, hours later, days later in many cases, who won the election. But he just knew the key sources. He knew every county chairman, the precinct chairs in all the states. He knew who talk to and what was happening. He knew, sometimes, things that would happen before they happened. And, you know, again, as I say, I don't know anybody who fills that role today.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin with us here in Studio 3A. You can read his blog and find his ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org/junkie. And, Ken, of course, we'll see you next week.

Tomorrow, after the latest nuclear watchdog report on Iran, what now? We end with the music that we use every week for the Political Junkie. It's maybe not appropriate, you would think, after we just mentioned the death of somebody like Hal Bruno. Hal Bruno would like this music. Let's bring it up. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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