Countdown To Iowa And New Hampshire Primaries

Guests

Ken Rudin, political junkie columnist, NPR
Kathie Obradovich, political columnist, The Des Moines Register
Josh Rogers, political reporter, New Hampshire Public Radio

The top Republican presidential candidates wrapped up another debate Tuesday night and now turn to the nation's first two primary states: Iowa and New Hampshire. With the Iowa caucus just six weeks away, guests explain how each candidate is courting voters, and how the campaign is playing out.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Iowa conservatives meet to pick the anti-Mitt. The president hits the road in New Hampshire. And the GOP candidates debate Iran, immigration and the uncertain alliance with Pakistan. It's Wednesday and time for a...

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: Too nuclear to fail...

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 BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE 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. Mitt misconstrues candidate Obama in a new TV ad. A court reseats the chair of Arizona's redistricting commission. Newt brushes off Freddie Mac but then invites heat on immigration. And conservatives in Iowa whittle their choices down to four and meet again Monday to decide which to back against Mitt Romney.

In a few minutes, we'll get the latest from Iowa - worth repeating, six weeks away now - and in New Hampshire. Later in the program, excerpts from a speech on Iran from national security advisor Tom Donilon. But first Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Happy Thanksgiving in advance.

CONAN: Happy Thanksgiving.

RUDIN: And let's see if we can pardon this turkey coming up. OK, ready?

CONAN: I'm afraid.

RUDIN: You're afraid of this. We all are. Okay, some big - some baseball news this week. Justin Verlander, a pitcher...

CONAN: A starting pitcher.

RUDIN: A pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was selected as the American League most valuable player. He led the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average, right. So we're looking for a threesome here - well, I'm always looking for a threesome.

Moving on to politics and thus this week's question. Name the only - name the only current senator who also served as governor and House member, and also name the only current governor who also served as senator and House member. So two answers, two winners.

CONAN: Two winners, two fabulous no-prize T-shirts. If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the only current governor to serve as a senator and a member of the House of Representatives and the only current senator to also serve as a governor and House member, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And the winner gets, of course, that fabulous previously mentioned Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.

And Ken, at the GOP debate last night, Newt Gingrich hit, well, what has been the sort of third rail of Republican presidential politics, and that's the case for immigration. Rick Perry tripped up before, this a slightly different phrasing of a different policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

NEWT GINGRICH: I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century, and I'm prepared to take the heat for saying let's be humane in enforcing the law.

CONAN: And immediately the heat arrived. Amnesty, his opponents cried.

RUDIN: Right, Michele Bachmann was leading the charge, as was Mitt Romney. And you know something? It doesn't look like - I don't know how much this is going to hurt Newt Gingrich. I think one of the reasons - one of the reasons it hurt Rick Perry as much, and he was, of course, he was talking about in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants as governor of Texas, that's what he would do.

But I think the thing that Perry has had a series of just disastrous debates, where he just couldn't remember the third, you know, program he would cut, the department he would cut. And that was the - the Department of Energy, right. Oops.

And so - but the thing is, but Gingrich has been giving very effective debate performances, you know, whether you think he's obnoxious or not, whether he's condescending or not, but he's still very in control of the facts. And again, I thought he gave a very good debate performance last night. And so maybe it may not hurt him as much.

One thing I also thought of is that when he talked about, you know, kind of a middle-ground position on immigration, it almost sounded like for the first time he was thinking of a general-election campaign rather than just trying to get the Republican nomination.

CONAN: And as opposed to Governor Perry, who said if you can't support the DREAM Act you don't have a heart, Speaker Gingrich said these are American values, family values.

RUDIN: And I think a lot of people have already made up their mind about Newt Gingrich. He's been in the public eye since at least the late 1980s. And so perhaps, you know, the fact that he fell so dramatically in June, when his whole campaign staff seemed to fall apart, and now he's back on top of the field, at least among the top leaders in the field, you just wonder if nothing - Freddie Mac, Tiffany's, which I thought was ridiculous - but all these things, the flip-flop on Libya, maybe nothing hurts him, and maybe he is the alternative to Mitt Romney that conservatives have been talking about for the past six or seven months.

CONAN: And we'll have more on that in a bit, but more on the debate. And this was, at least on the substance, this was the most, well, disagreeable - it was fun to watch - but disagreeable. For example, here is presidential contender Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich with an exchange on the Patriot Act.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL: You can still provide security without sacrificing our Bill of Rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

WOLF BLITZER: I want to bring others in, but do you want to respond, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Yeah, Timothy McVeigh succeeded. I don't want a law that says after we lose a major American city, we're sure going to come and find you. I want a law that says you try to take out an American city, we're going to stop you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CONAN: And of course Wolf Blitzer, or we just call him Blitz on this program, but that's his voice there in the middle. And another interesting exchange, disagreement on the subject of Afghanistan. This is former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman talking about, well, a drawdown and Mitt Romney coming back at him.

(SOUNDBITE OF REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

MITT ROMNEY: Are you suggesting, Governor, that we just take all our troops out next week? Or what's your proposal?

JON HUNTSMAN: Did you hear what I just said? I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don't need 100,000 troops.

CONAN: And when there's virtual unanimity on most of the domestic issues, this was fun to hear.

RUDIN: Well, first of all, the stuff about Ron Paul is not unusual. Of course, you know, four years ago he was the only Republican voice opposing the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq and certainly the Patriot Act. But, you know, I think - but his position is more popular in the party than it was four years ago, and of course he will always be the outlier.

The thing about Jon Huntsman, Jon Huntsman is desperately looking for traction if not in Iowa certainly in New Hampshire the following week. And by taking on Mitt Romney, the putative frontrunner in New Hampshire, Huntsman got in a few jabs, as he was hoping to do.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, that is the only current serving governor to have also served as a U.S. senator and a member of the House of Representatives and the only U.S. senator to have served as governor and a member of the House. So triple plays is what we're looking for here. And we'll begin, this is Sherry(ph), Sherry with us on the line from Portsmouth, Virginia.

SHERRY: Yeah, I'm hoping, actually, that I'm right, but I don't think I am: Senator Mark Warner was governor and was he in the House?

RUDIN: Well, he was senator - he is senator, he was governor, but he was not in the House, no.

CONAN: No, he sleeps out in a tent in the yard.

RUDIN: You got two out of the three.

SHERRY: I really wanted that T-shirt.

CONAN: Well, you've got to earn it, Sherry. We'll give you another shot next week. Let's see if we can go next to - this is David. David with us from Phoenix.

DAVID: Yes, the current governor who also served as a U.S. senator and a member of the House is Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey.

CONAN: Well, he's not a current governor.

RUDIN: Well, that's the problem. First of all, Jon Corzine was governor, and he was senator, but he's never served in the House.

CONAN: All right, nice try, David. He could be a current fugitive, but that's another...

RUDIN: That would be David Janzen(ph).

CONAN: Let's go Patrick(ph), Patrick with us from Wilmington in Delaware.

PATRICK: I'm going to guess Tom Carper, our senator.

RUDIN: Tom Carper is a correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: One of the two correct answers. He's of course current senator, former governor and former House member.

CONAN: Well, stay on the line, Patrick, we'll collect your particulars and send you a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to take a digital picture of yourself wearing it so we can post it on our Wall of Shame. Congratulations.

PATRICK: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Minneapolis.

ANDREW: Yes, the governor - our current governor, Mark Dayton.

RUDIN: Well, Mark Dayton, of course, was a former senator but never served in the House.

ANDREW: I wasn't sure about that one. Thanks.

CONAN: Thanks very much, and we'll go next to – this is Mark(ph) and Mark calling us from Kansas City.

MARK: Sam Brownback from Kansas.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer, too.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding. Congratulations, Mark.

RUDIN: Current governor, former senator and former House member.

CONAN: So we'll put you on hold, and again you'll be the delighted recipient of a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Have a happy Thanksgiving, Mark. So in the meantime, getting back to politics, let's see if we can get to another controversy that erupted this week. Governor Romney has opened up a television campaign, his first paid ad on TV. Again, you talked about Newt Gingrich going for the general election, well, Mitt Romney's ad addresses President Obama and uses this quote from candidate Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose – lose - lose.

CONAN: And, well, President Obama said that, but...

RUDIN: Well, he did say that, and of course the Democrats are going ballistic. They think it's misleading, and it is misleading because basically what - not basically. What president – what Barack Obama, candidate Obama said four years ago, or three years ago, whenever it was, was he was basically talking about the John McCain campaign. He quoted a John McCain campaign official saying if we going to...

CONAN: Advisor, I think.

RUDIN: Advisor, right. If we're going to talk about the economy, if we run on the economy, we're going to lose. And the Democrats are really saying that this is misleading, one more sign of Mitt Romney being dishonest. And of course it's interesting: The Republicans don't know who their nominee is going to be, but it seems like the DNC does because all they do is go ballistic on Mitt Romney.

It was misleading. He probably will pay some price for it. But Romney's...

CONAN: He got a lot of attention for it, too.

RUDIN: He certainly got a lot of attention, and it's only playing on one New Hampshire TV station, and he paid $134,000. He's got millions of dollars of, you know...

CONAN: Free publicity.

RUDIN: For this ad, exactly.

CONAN: On this program alone.

RUDIN: Right, that's another $1.50 from that. But anyway, so - but he says that look, the argument was if President Obama is going to castigate the Republicans four years ago for running on the economy and failing, then Obama should be held by the same standards in 2012.

CONAN: There's an interesting court case in Arizona. After the governor chucked out the head of the bipartisan redistricting committee, saying the lines she was working on were clearly partisan, well, a court said Governor, you overreached.

RUDIN: Yeah, she did, exactly right. And the court has reinstated the chairwoman of the nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission.

CONAN: And we often don't address the issue of appearances on late-night TV programs, unless somebody's actually funny. But here's something that turned out to be not very funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON")

JIMMY FALLON: Please welcome to the show Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LYIN' ASS BITCH")

CONAN: And what's not funny is that is the instrumental to a song called "Lyin' Ass Bitch."

RUDIN: Yes, you know something, it's a song by Fishbone. This was The Roots, which is the house band for Jimmy Kimmel, and, you know, to me it was...

CONAN: Jimmy Fallon.

RUDIN: Jimmy Fallon - no, no - you're right. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But it was way over the top, and I mean, it was way, way, way over the top. If it was Hillary Clinton, for example, they said that everybody would be up in arms. But now, there's a lot of stuff on the Internet that is talking about how amusing this is. This is just beyond...

CONAN: This is not snark.

RUDIN: No, this is just awful, and it's uncalled for.

CONAN: Jimmy Fallon sent a tweet to apologize and hoped that Michele Bachmann would return to the program at another time. We're talking with Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie. And up next the top GOP presidential hopefuls, and indeed the president of the United States, all turn their attention to New Hampshire this week. We'll too. We'll also talk about how the race is shaping up in Iowa with the caucus now just six weeks away. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. And Ken, this morning at the White House, President Obama gave the traditional Thanksgiving pardon to the national turkey. No mention, though, of a pardon for Ken Rudin for all those ScuttleButton puzzles.

RUDIN: Yes, I know.

CONAN: All right. Did we have a winner last week?

RUDIN: We did. The actual - the winner was Bill Landau(ph) of Potomac, Maryland. I kind of cheated on the rules. I used a ball-point pen that said McGovern for president on it, and that was part of we are Penn State.

CONAN: Ooh, I see, your pen, that was the Penn part. Okay, double-whammy there. Anyway, if you want to take a look at this week's ScuttleButton puzzle or Ken's column...

RUDIN: Or both.

CONAN: Or if you must, go to npr.org/junkie. Now just six weeks and counting until the caucuses in Iowa, and the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire follows a week after that. If you live in the Granite or Hawkeye State, have you met a candidate yet? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mitt Romney stopped in Des Moines for an event today, and Kathie Obradovich is a political - Obradovich, I think she takes the Irish pronunciation - is a political columnist for The Des Moines Register and joins us now from the studios at Iowa Public Radio. Thanks very much for being here.

KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And an interesting endorsement. Mitt Romney said, hey, here with me is Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

OBRADOVICH: Yeah. You know, John Thune is probably less recognizable in Iowa than Tom Brady is.

CONAN: And it was, in fact, John Thune. And as you noted in your piece that you posted on the Des Moines Register's website, probably it points out the fact that nobody in Des Moines might recognize John Thune.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah. I mean, he was obviously a short-list contender in the sort of pre-presidential sweepstakes as a candidate really likely to run. And he got a lot of Beltway mentions for that. He never set foot in Iowa during that whole time that he was actually mulling running for president.

And when the Des Moines Register polled back in June of 2010, his name ID was real low, like 30 percent. I doubt it's very much higher today. He would have really had better, I think, recognition if he had done that news conference in Sioux City in northwest Iowa, close to the Sioux Falls TV market, where people really do know who he is.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Kathie, as you said, a lot of people may not recognize John Thune in Iowa. I'm wondering if a lot of people might recognize Mitt Romney in Iowa, too, because he hasn't been there that much. Now, there seems to be an indication, though, that he is - you know, there was a lot of talk about whether he will go for broke, whether he would really want to run and win it. Now it looks like he's going all out to win it.

OBRADOVICH: Mitt Romney has played a very cagey game in Iowa. He recognized going in that because he campaigned here heavily four years ago, that he would be the prohibitive favorite, probably, going into the Iowa caucuses. And the last thing you want to be going into the Iowa caucuses is the prohibitive favorite, because it makes it very easy for someone to take it away from you or to require you to spend a whole bunch of money in the state without getting any sort of credit because everyone expects you to win.

So he has very carefully meted out his appearances in Iowa, while, at the same time, he has built a real campaign organization here. So I do expect him to be in Iowa a lot more in the last few weeks. He gave an overt sort of pitch to employees at Nationwide Insurance today in Des Moines to please caucus. And he had a lot of supporters in that crowd.

So I do think that he is going to make a serious effort to try and make a run for the caucuses in just a few weeks from now.

CONAN: Well, despite the paucity of his previous appearances in Iowa, he's been among the leaders in the polls in Iowa, with the conservative vote split among his rivals. And that seemed to be the subject of a meeting of Iowa conservatives, I think, on Monday. And they were deciding maybe if we just pick one of these other conservatives, they might be able to beat Mitt Romney.

OBRADOVICH: Some of the conservatives in Iowa have - one thing that they agree on, they don't like Mitt Romney. But they can't decide who exactly they are going to choose to be their representative instead. And, in fact, this - you know, one group of conservatives is not going to make up the minds of everybody else. I think Iowa caucus-goers are fairly independent-minded in that way.

But the fact that there has not been one consensus conservative alternative to Romney actually gives him a lot better chance than I would have given him a month ago to actually win the caucuses.

CONAN: As I understand it, at least one group has named the four candidates who they say they've whittled their choice down to.

OBRADOVICH: And I think that had to do in part with the fact that Mitt Romney did not attend this group, The Family Leader, did not attend their Thanksgiving dinner forum that they had last Saturday. The fact that he did not show up, I think they took that as a snub and said that basically they didn't think Mitt Romney was serious about wanting their support.

And actually, the CEO of that group said that he didn't think that that showed Mitt Romney was smart enough to be president.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: That's interesting. Apparently, nobody's met a candidate, by the way, in either Iowa or New Hampshire. We've got nobody calling in. If you did, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. But retail politics, that's supposed to be the name of the game in Iowa, but it's been ads and debates.

OBRADOVICH: Well, I think that retail politics is - the impact of that is still to come, because you can get to the top of the polls in Iowa, perhaps, by doing well in debates, by being a leader in the national polls, by getting a lot of TV and radio attention. But you still have to get your supporters to turn out on January 3rd, on caucus night.

And this is still a heavy lift for campaigns. A candidate who is really flying high in the polls could seriously underperform in Iowa if they don't take seriously the goal of organization and actually getting their supporters out on caucus night.

CONAN: And that is what gives the supporters of candidates Ron Paul hope. They are very good at getting their supporters in straw polls, historically, and in caucuses. It is also, well, something that Mr. Romney might take heart in. But at the same time, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain - they're the other two among the top four in the polls in Iowa - they don't have that same kind of ground organization.

OBRADOVICH: Ron Paul, first of all, I'll just say: Do not count out Ron Paul at all. He came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses four years ago without having nearly the kind of organization that he has today. He has campaigned heavily in Iowa. He has a very strong organization here.

So if he - and he's, also in Iowa polls, within a point or two of the top of the ticket. So if he does actually really continue to push hard and get his supporters out, as we know that they do, he could very well come in ahead of everybody else on caucus night.

Herman Cain, I would say he is really working hard to get a volunteer network going across the state. They publicized that they had now 18 - or 800 precinct leaders, and that's not a bad number. And Newt Gingrich is actually reconstituting his Iowa campaign. He rehired some of the staffers who left him back when he was having his original troubles at the beginning of the campaign. So he is also taking seriously the idea that he's going to have to organize in Iowa.

CONAN: And is this going to be Waterloo - you should forgive the expression - for Michele Bachmann if she does not do first, second or third in Iowa?

OBRADOVICH: I think that she really has to do well in Iowa, and probably even has to win it. She has really put all of her cards in Iowa. She is campaigning here almost 24/7. She'll be back again this weekend. And, you know, the problem I think that she has is that even if she does win Iowa, you know, the question becomes, then, what other states is she really going to resonate in? And can she actually spin it forward and move heavily into some other key states?

CONAN: Rick Santorum isn't polling particularly well anywhere. Again, if he doesn't not do well in Iowa, is it curtains?

OBRADOVICH: And I think so, because again, Rick Santorum has put a heavy emphasis on Iowa. He - I don't think he has the money to go anywhere beyond Iowa if he doesn't have a good showing here. Conservatives in Iowa still like Rick Santorum, and they talk him up, and they - some of them still give him a chance, because nobody - he has not had a rise up to the top of the heap yet.

People still give him a chance to break out, but he has really - he's performed pretty well in the debates and really has not seen his numbers move at all in Iowa.

CONAN: Let's see if we can a caller in on the conversation. Have you met a candidate yet? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Ben's on the line calling from Carroll in Iowa.

BEN: Hi. How are you today?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

BEN: Good. I met Ron Paul as he came through Ames earlier this fall.

CONAN: And what kind of an event was it?

BEN: He was just doing a speaking engagement at a hotel there, a pretty informal gathering. He was laying out his platform for anyone interested.

CONAN: And so did you get a chance to shake his hand and say hi, or just listen to his speech?

BEN: I did. It was a very exciting point for me as a long-time supporter of his. And he was very at ease in the group of people there, and he spoke very well and was quite friendly with everyone afterwards.

CONAN: Well, Ben, are you going to go to the caucus? Are you going to vote for him?

BEN: Well, I'm going to try to attend the caucus, depending on travel. But I plan to vote for Ron Paul in the Iowa caucus.

CONAN: Well, Ben, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to another caller from Iowa. And let's go next to - this is Hui(ph) - am I pronouncing that correct - in Des Moines?

HUI: Yes, that is correct.

CONAN: Okay. Go ahead, please.

HUI: Yeah, I'm just commenting on how I actually met a presidential candidate. I'm a student at Drake University, and Michele Bachmann recently visited to speak about economic policy. And there are a lot of articles out there about it, and I just think that the students really schooled her on her policy views.

CONAN: Students, Kathie Obradovich, that's a huge resource we remember candidate Obama tapping into four years ago.

OBRADOVICH: Well, I think that students are an important resource. And Ron Paul, in particular, has spent a lot of time talking to campus crowds. However, the caucuses being so early in January 3rd is a little bit of a problem because a lot of the college students who may actually have been able to vote in the Iowa caucuses actually might have gone home to other states. So, you know, the campus organizations, you have to be able to work around the fact that dorms are closed, et cetera and people - four years ago, they actually had colleges open some dorms so that college students would have a place to stay.

CONAN: Hui, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

HUI: Thanks.

CONAN: And, Kathie Obradovich, thank you very much for your time today.

OBRADOVICH: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Kathie Obradovich joined us from Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines. She's the political columnist for The Des Moines Register. A week after Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire holds its Republican primary on January 10th. Josh Rogers joins us now from New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, where he's the political reporter. And nice to have you back.

JOSH ROGERS: Good afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: And are campaign buses all of a sudden rolling through town?

ROGERS: Roll - there have been a bunch of people here. The last week was pretty busy. You know, Jon Huntsman has been here pretty much permanently. Mitt Romney swung through. Newt Gingrich is getting more active. And, you know, the president was here also. So it's been quite busy.

CONAN: Well, we had mentioned several candidates there in Iowa where it might be really important from them to do well. Jon Huntsman, we did not mention because he's put all his cards in New Hampshire, correct?

ROGERS: He has. And the super PAC supporting him has put a lot of money down, you know, roughly 10 times the amount of money that's, you know, Mitt Romney spent on his controversial ad, the Our Destiny PAC, which is, you know, run by people affiliated with the Huntsman Corporation - have so far spent $1.25 million putting ads up, trying to up his name recognition, which has remained low, despite campaigning here a great deal. He's had over 100 events. And, you know, Huntsman would tell you that he's just, you know, he's peaking at the right time, and I guess, that remains to be seen.

CONAN: We have to see. In the meantime, there was, as you mentioned, a visit yesterday from the president of the United States. He told an audience there in New Hampshire they - what they need to do to stop congressional Republicans from ruining the holiday season.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: If your members of Congress aren't delivering, you've got to send them a message. Make sure they're listening. Tell them: Don't be a Grinch.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Don't vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays. Put the country before party.

CONAN: And, Josh Rogers, other than insertion of the word Grinch, that's pretty much boilerplate, except for where the president was speaking. What's he doing in New Hampshire?

ROGERS: Well, in New Hampshire, he's up there. I mean, part, you know, New Hampshire is a swing state, and there are four electoral votes here. The president hasn't been back since the inauguration. And he's, you know, he's certainly taking a lot of flak. And I mean, I think some of it is to buoy the spirit of Democrats, get a counter message out. You know, all day long, most days on the campaign trail, it's a, you know, the Republicans have been pretty unified in going after him.

There has been much, you know, intramural back and forth between them. It's all been, you know, we must make President Obama a one-term president, and that may be the most singularly popular line on the Republican campaign trail these days.

CONAN: Josh Rogers, political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can get Ryan on the line. Ryan with us from Manchester, New Hampshire.

RYAN: Yeah. Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Met any candidates?

RYAN: Yeah. I met a few, actually. I've had the opportunity to meet Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul.

CONAN: Well, two of those...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...we have barely mentioned - Buddy Roemer and - well, I can't remember the other one.

RUDIN: Gary Johnson.

CONAN: Gary Johnson, yeah. They hardly show up at all.

RUDIN: Well, they're not in the debates, and that's a big problem, too.

CONAN: Any impressions that come strongly across to you, Ryan?

RYAN: Well, obviously, you know, Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson being the smaller names, lesser known, so they're usually more prone to being more candid and easy going. And, you know, they don't mince words as much as some of the bigger names on the national stage. I find that Jon Huntsman seems like the most reasonable, definitely the more intelligent when it comes to foreign policy. Herman Cain, you know, as much as he's got his economic, you know, creds...

CONAN: Oh, the 9-9-9 plan, yeah.

RYAN: The 9-9-9 plan. And, you know, his background in the private sector, that does appeal to a lot of people.

CONAN: Have you made a choice yet on who you're going to vote for?

RYAN: I think I am - I'm a moderate, independent, but I think I'm still leaning towards Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Obama, OK. Well, thanks very much for the call, Ryan. Appreciate it. And, Ken, it's important to point out New Hampshire independents are allowed to vote in that primary.

RUDIN: Yes. But, of course, there is no challenge to President Obama's re-nomination. So, of course, the independents who were crucial to - for John McCain in both 2000 and 2008 will be probably relegated to a Republican primary. And the question is, you know, is it a Huntsman kind of guy? Is it a Romney kind of guy? Because those independents - we're talking about New Hampshire - they almost don't exist in Iowa. And once upon a time, Iowa used to be an anti-war state. Ronald Reagan did very poor - relatively poorly in Iowa because of strong anti-war...

CONAN: Anti-war...

RUDIN: ...sentiment, yes. So Iowa has certainly changed on that.

CONAN: And, Josh Rogers, before we go, Mitt Romney has been said to have had a prohibitive lead in New Hampshire all along. Any indication that's changed?

ROGERS: No indication that's changing quickly. I mean, most polls show him up, you know, double digits, if not up over 20 points. You know, there's been a lot of - he's to battle expectations, of course, and, you know, you catch him on the campaign trail. One line he's been using a lot lately, you know, speaking about the country, but, you know, it's also emblematic of his campaign. He says nothing is so vulnerable as entrenched success. And, you know, some of what he's trying to do is, you know, stoke enthusiasm.

And for most of his supporters, it's simply about beating Obama. The typical Romney supporter is not, you know, some sort of fire-breathing, passionate supporter, but, you know, he looks strong. He certainly racked up all the large endorsements - former Senator Judd Gregg, former Governor John Sununu, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Congressman Charlie Bass, you know, 50-odd members of our legislature. People are waiting to see if the non-Romney voters - and there a lot of people who don't like Romney, certainly a lot of conservatives - if they coalesce around one candidate or if they splinter.

CONAN: And that's, again, the situation we have in Iowa, too. And if Romney should win there and then in New Hampshire, well, it could be difficult to stop a Romney roll. In any case, Josh Rogers, thanks very much for your time.

ROGERS: You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: Josh Rogers, political reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio. Ken Rudin, we're going to miss you next week.

RUDIN: Yes, I will be working on a state impact project, a visit to Indianapolis, but I'll be back the following week.

CONAN: All right. There still will be a political junkie but without the political junkie.

RUDIN: I know how you feel.

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