GOP Race: Cain Out; Gingrich In Spotlight

Linda Wertheimer speaks with NPR's Cokie Roberts about the latest in politics, including a shakeup in the Republican presidential race.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Change in Washington is, of course, what Barack Obama ran on and now his Republican opponents are doing the same. There's been a big shakeup in the Republican field in the last few weeks, even though it is still four weeks before any votes will be cast.

Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, over weekend, Herman Cain suspended his campaign. At one point, he was on top of the polls in several states. And for the last couple of weeks, Newt Gingrich has been seeing his poll numbers go up and up. Several polls place him ahead of other Republicans, even in Iowa where he hasn't done much of anything in the way of organizing for caucuses.

ROBERTS: It's true, and that's highly unusual as you well know, but, you know, polls of Iowa caucuses are not worth much, because it all depends on who shows up on some freezing cold night in Iowa four weeks from tomorrow. But Republicans in Iowa, just like the rest of the country, have really been looking for someone other than Romney, so what they do will count. It will eliminate some people.

And, you know, in Iowa, a huge percentage of those Republican caucus goers are evangelical and they seem to be really very not keen on Romney. And it appears that the Cain withdrawal is helping Newt Gingrich even more with those voters. He is the second choice of Cain voters, and there's some reports that Cain might endorse Gingrich as soon as today, although the Cain campaign has pushed back against that.

But, you know, it must make Romney nuts, that here he is a man that has been married forever, he's devoted to church service, and he's considered less acceptable to religious conservatives than the thrice married, admitted to infidelity, Newt Gingrich. And, of course, those problems of Gingrich are part of the reasons that he is not getting the firm endorsement of a lot of Republican leaders who are very wary of him.

WERTHEIMER: Are you surprised about that kind of caution about the possibility that Newt Gingrich might be on top - have to be seriously considered as a candidate?

ROBERTS: I think that these Republicans who are in office who have served with him, don't trust him to get it straight. They've had experiences with him and they love jousting with his intellect, but they've also seen him go off on something that takes everyone by surprise.

Today is the anniversary of the day that he – his caucus elected him as the first Republican Speaker in more than 40 years. And he said, then, I'm going to say controversial things that will get me in trouble. Well, that's true and there's a lot of concern about how he gets through this campaign without imploding, especially against the very cool President Barack Obama. Now that could be a big plus with the Republican base, but the Republican leaders are just not willing to take that chance.

WERTHEIMER: Now we covered him in Congress...

ROBERTS: Right, um-hum.

WERTHEIMER: ...for many years and you have to hand it to him, that he did get the House back for the Republicans, something that hadn't happened in forever, but they don't give him any – he's not getting the credit for that.

ROBERTS: Well, he might even get some credit, but it comes with so much baggage, you know? As you say, Linda, we watched him come in to an institution where the Republicans expected to be in a permanent minority and they tried to get the best deal they could out of any piece of legislation. And he just turned that all upside down and said we're not going to accept this. And he ran against the Congress, he organized Republicans to run against the Congress, calling it a corrupt institution that was, you know, steeped in the ways of Washington.

And there was a whole sense of destroying the institution in order to save it,, to use a Vietnam reference. And so it makes people here, particularly people who served with him, very, very wary about him as the nominee. But right now, he's on top.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, good to talk to you as always.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Linda.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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