Santorum's Wins Shake Up GOP Leader Board

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Ken Rudin, writes Political Junkie column for NPR
Curtis Ellis, press secretary, Campaign for Primary Accountability

Rick Santorum swept the Mississippi and Alabama primaries on Tuesday, leaving Mitt Romney a distant third. Newt Gingrich maintains he'll carry on, and third-place finisher Mitt Romney faces renewed doubts about his ability to win over conservative Republicans, though he's leading the delegate race.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A Santorum slam in the South, the economy's up but the president's down, and Newt reviles the establishment. It's Wednesday and time for a...

NEWT GINGRICH: Elite media...

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. Rick Santorum sows more doubt about Mitt Romney in Mississippi and Alabama and knocks Newt into second. Romney added Hawaii to Saturday's Wyoming caucuses and came away with the most delegates yesterday.

Good jobs numbers last week, but higher gas prices drive the president down in a round of new polls. Washington state Democrat Jay Inslee will leave Congress to concentrate on the state house, and the main question: Would a Senator Angus King caucus with who exactly?

In a few moments, Curtis Ellis of the Campaign for Primary Accountability explains why that group is targeting long-term House incumbents. Later in the program, doctor writers Atul Gawande and Sherwin Nuland on the day they learned where they'd spend their residency.

Email us your match-day story to talk@npr.org. But first, NPR political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Aloha, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal, welcome home. I should let the listeners know that Neal's been gone for two weeks, and all I got was a lousy political junkie T-shirt.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: OK, Bob Turner, he's the New York Republican who's been in Congress for less than a year, he's a guy who won Anthony Weiner's congressional seat in an upset, he announced yesterday he's going to challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her seat this year because his district in Queens was completely carved up. So he had no place to run.

And another freshman House member, Rick Berg of North Dakota, is also running for the Senate. So the question is: Who was the last House freshman elected to the Senate?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last House freshman to be elected to the United States Senate, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt.

And Ken, when we can, we begin with actual votes. American Samoa.

RUDIN: Right, American - and actually we giggle about that, or at least I giggle about that, but the point is that the headlines of yesterday were that Rick Santorum - deserved headlines - that he won Alabama and Mississippi, and yet when the day was done yesterday, it was Mitt Romney who had the most delegates because he also won the Hawaii caucuses, the American Samoa caucuses, and at the end of the day yesterday, there's some discrepancy about the actual numbers, but Mitt Romney, 42 delegates coming out of yesterday, Rick Santorum 38, Newt Gingrich 24.

So you could say that the headlines were not good for Romney, and they weren't, because it just shows continued weakness in the South, as we've seen in every other Southern state so far. But I'm - I suspect that the real headline is maybe Newt Gingrich's failure to win either state.

The only two states he's won so far out of 25 contests were South Carolina and his home state of Georgia, and if he couldn't win in Alabama and Mississippi, where can he win? And has Rick Santorum gotten - does he now deserve to go one-on-one with Mitt Romney?

CONAN: Well, we'll get to all of that in a minute, but...

RUDIN: I want to know the answer now.

CONAN: No, no, arithmetic. Boy, isn't that, you know, an inspiring message to take to the political convention there in Tampa?

RUDIN: Well, exactly. It's hard for that to be a great message, but the message ultimately is 1,144 delegates, and Mitt Romney still has twice as many delegates as, you know, as - more delegates than his other rivals combined.

CONAN: And in the meantime, it is the frontrunner, still Mitt Romney, who characterized his leading opponent, former Senator Santorum, as on the ropes.

MITT ROMNEY: Senator Santorum is at the desperate end of his campaign and is trying in some way to boost his prospects, and frankly, misrepresenting the truth is not a good way of doing that.

CONAN: Desperate end of his campaign, that just before, on CNN just before Santorum wins two races.

RUDIN: Well, again, you're talking about numbers and arithmetic, and again, it seems like Santorum may need 65 percent of the remaining delegates, to win the remaining delegates, to get the nomination, but again, momentum has a very strange way of changing, and for all the talk about Mitt Romney's inevitability, and I still think everybody thinks that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, it's not good to limp into a convention with serious losses, and he's clearly losing in the South.

CONAN: And in the meantime, it is Santorum on the ascendant, and this is what he had to say - well, a PAC, superPAC that supports him has to say - of course no connection whatsoever with the campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNDENTIFIED MAN: Mitt created Romneycare, the blueprint for Obamacare, and just like Obama, Romney left Massachusetts $1 billion in debt. Who can win? Rick Santorum.

CONAN: Well, maybe he can if Newt would get out of the race, but he shows no sign of that.

RUDIN: No, and he says he won't. And again, you know, losing Mississippi and Alabama, where do you win? Newt Gingrich has already taken off for Illinois. He's going to be campaigning there in advance of next Tuesday's critical primary. You know, there was a headline in the Washington Post today that says: For Romney, Illinois could be a pivotal test.

If I see that in one more state...

CONAN: Illinois is the new...

RUDIN: The new Ohio, Florida...

CONAN: New Michigan. Yeah, exactly.

RUDIN: Your name here.

CONAN: Yeah. Of course, news out of Illinois today, as Rod Blagojevich comes out of the shadows to hold a news conference.

RUDIN: Yes, and he's going to prison tomorrow. He's not going to be in lovely Springfield, Illinois, but even more lovely Denver, Colorado, where he's going to spend 14 years in prison for corruption. And actually, at some point we should also pay attention to next week's primaries in Illinois because one of the people who were allegedly involved in this corruption was Jesse Jackson, Jr., and he is among several members of Congress who has a tough primary next Tuesday.

CONAN: Oh, and there is also news of another member of the House, this Jay Inslee in Washington State, who's saying I'd rather be in Olympia.

RUDIN: Right, we're not talking about Olympia Snowe. We're talking about Olympia, Washington, and he would rather be in that Washington than the East Coast Washington. And that makes sense. He's running for governor. You know, to travel 3,000 miles between congressional duties and campaigning for governor is difficult. So he announced that as of March 20, he will resign his House seat that he's held for a while, and he'll campaign full-time.

And speaking of Washington State, Dennis Kucinich, who lost his congressional primary in Ohio a couple of weeks ago, basically said that he is not going to seek an open seat in Washington. So for now, Dennis Kucinich's political career is over.

CONAN: You mentioned Olympia Snowe, who of course is retiring from her job as the United States senator from Maine. It looks like Angus King, the former independent governor in Maine, could be the leading candidate to replace her, but still no answer as to who Angus King would caucus with, Republicans or Democrats.

RUDIN: Yeah, he's frustrating both sides. It looks like the Republicans will certainly - all but certain to name - get a candidate in the race. We're not sure if the Democrats will. John Baldacci, the former governor, is considering it, but when he was asked who he would support for president, Angus King said I'm endorsing President Obama. But when he was asked what party would he caucus with, he says I really don't know, and I might not even caucus with a party. A true independent, but drives both parties nuts.

CONAN: An independent who might be holding his cards. He'd be better off caucusing with whoever has the majority.

RUDIN: Yes, but I kind of think that his politics are more suited to the left-of-center, pro-Democratic, as opposed to the Republican Party, although in fairness, in 2000 he did endorse George W. Bush for president.

CONAN: All right, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. It is the last freshman member of the House of Representatives to be elected to the United States Senate. If you think you know the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org. We'll start with Bob. Bob's on the line with us from Sacramento.

BOB: Yeah, I'll go with Olympia Snowe.

CONAN: Olympia Snowe, the aforementioned Olympia Snowe, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, Olympia Snowe is not the correct answer. She was first elected to the House in the '70s, but she wasn't elected to the Senate until 1996. So she's been in for several terms before she was elected to the Senate - in '94, I should say.

CONAN: All right Bob, thanks very much.

BOB: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we go next - this is Meredith(ph), Meredith with us from Baltimore.

MEREDITH: Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MEREDITH: Is it Bobby Jindal?

CONAN: Bobby Jindal, currently the governor of Louisiana?

RUDIN: Well, actually, Bobby Jindal was in Congress for two terms, in between losing for governor, and then he was elected governor. But anyway, this is - he was elected governor, he's not in the Senate. So that - we're looking for the senator, a House freshman who was elected to the Senate.

CONAN: Meredith, thanks.

MEREDITH: Thanks.

CONAN: Let's go to - this is Joel(ph), Joel with us from San Carlos, California.

JOEL: I believe that would be John Thune from South Dakota.

CONAN: Is John Thune the most recent or Thunist candidate?

RUDIN: That was the Lovin' Spoonful song, "Darling Be Home Thune." Well, actually, he was a member of the House. He gave it up, and he lost to Tim Johnson. So he was a former member of Congress when he beat Tom Daschle. So he was not even in Congress when he won the Senate race.

CONAN: Joel, thanks very much. Let's go to - this is Jim, Jim with us from Columbia, Maryland.

JIM: Hi, good afternoon. (Unintelligible) current political events, and I'll guess Rick Santorum.

RUDIN: That's a good guess but not correct. Rick Santorum was a two-term member of the House when he was elected to the Senate in 1994. He was elected in '90 and '92, so just two terms, not a freshman.

CONAN: Jim, thank you.

RUDIN: Good guess.

CONAN: And here's an email from Bob Sidenstein(ph) in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. He says Sam Brownback.

RUDIN: Sam Brownback is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Sam Brownback elected to the House from Kansas in 1994, elected to the Senate in 1996, and he's currently the governor.

CONAN: I was going to say, triple play. He went on to the state house. All right, so Bob, thanks very much for your email. We have your email address. So we will send you instructions. Of course, you'll be getting a fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt, but that comes in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself, which we can post on our wall of shame wearing said T-shirt. And...

RUDIN: The problem with an email, you can't tell how excited they are.

CONAN: I know, but they're thrilled, absolutely thrilled.

RUDIN: I would think so.

CONAN: And congratulations, Bob. Anyway, you'd think that the president's numbers might go up again, good jobs numbers last week, but in the same time, gas prices also up.

RUDIN: You know, it's funny. About a month ago, when Obama's numbers went to 50 percent, and of course the Republicans were in the middle there, you know, take-no-survivors, battle for the nomination, everybody said, OK, the race is over, President Obama has it locked up, he's doing really well, the economy's looking good.

And then lately, the last couple of polls, the New York Times, Wall Street - the New York Times/CBS News poll out this week, 41 percent approval, 47 percent disapproval of the president. It's the gas prices, it's the ongoing mess in Afghanistan. It's everything that's going on.

So I think we don't need to really predict day by day by day what's going to happen because of the polls, because they change so rapidly. But to say that this presidential race is over in March would be a big mistake.

CONAN: And that the Republicans suffer from what's going on in their extended primaries. One thing we learned yesterday, it's going to be more extended and that the president benefits from all this. That's unclear too.

RUDIN: Yes, but we also have to say that if - no matter who the nominee is, if they can unite behind the Republican nominee, this could be a very close race in the fall.

CONAN: We're talking with political junkie Ken Rudin. More in a minute, and in a few minutes, why the Campaign for Primary Accountability is targeting long-term House incumbents. 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, and Ken Rudin is with us, as usual. It's political junkie day, Wednesday, and Ken, there's no ScuttleButton or junkie column this week, you lazy...

RUDIN: I didn't feel like it, yeah.

CONAN: He was out sick. Anyway, we'll get our fix next week. Look for both of those at npr.org/junkie. In a few minutes, a new group targets long-term incumbents. How important is your representative's seniority? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ken, though, we have to continue. There's so much to cover this week. We forgot to mention that Orrin Hatch, the, well, venerable senator from Utah, announced that should he be re-elected, this will be his final term.

RUDIN: Yes, well, he's 77 years old now. He's seeking a seventh term. He was first elected in 1976, a lot of numbers here. But I guess the real number is that in 2018, when his term is up, he'll be 84 years old. But, you know, whenever a senator or a congressman, a member of Congress, is in a big battle for re-election, and Hatch really is, he's really distrusted by the right, when he says this will be my last term, he thinks he can push people off and say, look, let me have this one more term, and I'll go away quietly in six years.

But I think it shows even more vulnerability on his part to make that announcement.

CONAN: Richard Luger, another long-term incumbent Republican, is also facing a primary challenge in Indiana. Has he said anything like this?

RUDIN: No he hasn't, but both of them were elected in 1976. Both of them are the senior Republicans in the Senate.

CONAN: Meantime, Donald Payne, Jr. in New Jersey may try for his dad's seat.

RUDIN: Yeah, Donald Payne, the congressman, who has been in Congress since 1988, he replaced Peter Rodino in that Newark, New Jersey seat, he died of - he died last week. Donald Payne, Jr., who is the president of the Newark City Council, is hinting that he may succeed his father.

CONAN: Or try to.

RUDIN: Try to, yes, in Congress.

CONAN: And in the meantime, we were talking about the schedule a couple of weeks ago looking difficult for Mitt Romney as it went South, and indeed he ran into problems in away games, as he described them. That may have been his problems in Mississippi and Alabama. It looks a little more promising as the schedule turns.

RUDIN: Well, I'm not sure about that because Saturday, the caucuses in Missouri, and remember in the non-binding beauty contest primary back on February 7, Rick Santorum won overwhelmingly. Now, of course, that didn't matter, but this does matter, and it's kind of like a state like Kansas, which Santorum won big on Saturday, getting 51 percent.

I think Santorum is going to do very well in Missouri on Saturday. Sunday is the Puerto Rico primary, where Romney has the endorsements of everybody in the state. But of course we've seen endorsements don't mean everything.

CONAN: Don't mean a lot.

RUDIN: As Vice President Jeff Foxworthy will tell you. And then of course next Tuesday is Illinois, and there is a battle between the country club, suburban Chicago Republicans and the downstate conservative, real conservatives. And, you know, I mean, Santorum could do - except here's where money plays a big difference: Santorum did not file in four of the state's - of Illinois's 18 congressional districts.

In Illinois, you elect delegates directly, and so Santorum is going to be at a disadvantage because he didn't file in all 18 congressional districts.

CONAN: And one final question: How does Newt Gingrich stay in the conversation at this point?

RUDIN: Well, he - you know, as we heard in the beginning of the show, he's blaming the elite media for forcing him out. But look, Santorum...

CONAN: It's your fault, Ken?

RUDIN: I think it's the San Andreas Fault. No, but I think - but I mean, Rick Santorum's people are saying, look, I deserve this. You know, I am now, by winning Alabama and Mississippi, Newt Gingrich has ceded his opportunity, and it should be one-on-one with Santorum and Romney. Of course, Newt Gingrich disagrees completely.

CONAN: In Alabama yesterday, Republicans also cast ballots in a number of local races as well. In one of them, long-term Republican incumbent Spencer Bachus, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, won but faced the toughest opposition in a primary since he took office 20 years ago. He faced three primary challengers and a superPAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability that aired ads against him like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

MAN: Congressman Spencer Bachus is under investigation for profiting from his office. He has taken $3.7 million from the financial industry and passed a $700 billion bank bailout. So it's no surprise that Bachus spent campaign cash to buy a leadership position. Rock the boat.

CONAN: Well, Spencer Bachus steadied the boat and managed to survive in his primary. The Campaign for Primary Accountability is targeting Republicans and Democrats who it deems have served too long. The group scored a victory last week when Cincinnati Republican Congresswoman Jean Schmidt lost in her primary.

Call and tell us: Just how important is your representative's seniority? 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.

In our bureau in New York, Curtis Ellis, spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

CURTIS ELLIS: Nice to be here, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And how did you decide to target Spencer Bachus?

ELLIS: Well, we did some polling, and we determined that a very large percentage of the people in his district were willing to and ready to vote for someone else. That's what we - that's the criteria, one of the criteria we use. He's one of those members who's been elected a long time ago in one of these one-party-dominated districts.

The November election, in the Sixth District of Alabama, is a foregone conclusion. Whoever has the Republican nomination will win the election in November. Therefore the important election is the primary election, and that's where we need more people participating, and that's where we need more competition in order to have competitive elections.

CONAN: Well, you could target a lot of people on that basis. There are - easily two-thirds of the House seats are the important election is the primary election.

ELLIS: Absolutely, and that's the problem. See, we're not against long-term incumbency in itself. Long-term incumbency is a symptom of the deeper problem we're addressing, which is the lack of competitive elections. As you say, more than two-thirds, I believe it's almost 90 percent, of House districts have been created and engineered to be dominated by one party or another.

So the November election isn't competitive, yet most people don't know that they need to be voting in the primary election if they want to change the face of the person who goes to Washington. So the Campaign for Primary Accountability is encouraging more people to vote in the primary election.

And the other problem is that challengers in primaries are often starved of resources. When you have these long-term incumbents like Mr. Bachus, a perfect example, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, he raises millions of dollars. He had $1.6 million that he spent last night in this election.

He had $1 million going into the primary. He gets all the money from all of the people who are doing business before the Financial Services Committee. They're not going to give a plug nickel to somebody challenging him in a primary because when they go and sit down with Spencer Bachus to talk about the legislation they want, they don't want to hear the conversation start: Why did you give money to my challenger?

So we're there as the equalizer, to provide some of the resources to make these elections more competitive.

CONAN: You supported, in a Democratic primary, Dennis Kucinich against Marcy Kaptur. How did you decide over one long-term Democrat over another?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELLIS: Yeah, that's one of those black swan elections, happens every 10 years where you have this redistricting, and two incumbents are pitted against each other. We saw Dennis Kucinich as the more independent voice. We're interested in people that are representing their district, not interested in climbing the party leadership or answering to party leaders.

Dennis, of all the things you can say about him, he's never been accused of being a lackey of the party leaders. But we were happy with the outcome there too. Look, people had more information. There was more turnout. That was a competitive election. Marcy Kaptur will be a better congresswoman, a more responsive member of Congress, more responsive to her district, as a result of having faced a competitive election.

CONAN: You're writing off Joe the Plumber?

ELLIS: Well, that's a one-party-dominated district, absolutely. Marcy Kaptur is virtually guaranteed to win in November. Those are the only districts we're interested in.

CONAN: Let's see if we get a caller in on this, 800-989-8255. Jordan(ph) is on the line with us from Cincinnati.

JORDAN: Yes, greetings from Cincinnati, the queen city of the West. I wanted to call and tell you a little about Jean Schmidt. She's our congresswoman right now on the east side of Cincinnati, and she has just been defeated by Dr. Brad Wenstrup, who I believe your guest's organization has supported.

I voted for him. He was successful in getting a lot of the Tea Party people to vote for him. He's independent. And they really played up the fact that Jean Schmidt has been in Washington too long, and I think they had a wonderfully successful campaign because of it.

CONAN: So you voted in part because of the campaign?

JORDAN: Well, I know Jean Schmidt. She's a very nice lady. But because of some things that have happened, she hasn't voted with conservatives on a number of issues, and she's from a very conservative district. So we didn't feel like she was representing us very well. Dr. Brad Wenstrup, he's a wonderful gentleman. He came around and campaigned hard. He seems like he's bringing a lot of honesty and integrity to the position, and we're excited about him.

So that's why he won. It wasn't anything bad about Jean particularly. Jean Schmidt's a nice lady. But we needed a change and I think that this sort of an organization is really a first great step in taking back the country from the party leaderships and the elite.

CONAN: Jordan, thanks very much for the phone call. Ken?

RUDIN: Occurred - several things. First of all, Jean Schmidt has only been in Congress since since 2005, so it's not like she's one of these long-term incumbents that you've been talking about. But here's another point that I want to mention. You say that a lot of people - and I think this is true - that a lot of voters are upset about the big money - amount of money that incumbents have. But people are also angry at these superPACs that are out there that are funded by a few wealthy donors.

RUDIN: And according to what I read about Campaign for Primary Accountability, there are about four big donors, you know, billionaires who are funding this...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Well, I mean, Scott Beason - I mean, I'm sorry. There's a bunch of people - is it Joe Ricketts who's like one of the - has a billion dollars or something. I mean, these are big-money people. What's the difference between trying to represent the people and you have these superPACs funded by billionaires?

ELLIS: Oh, I guess you might say not all big-money is created equal. We're the only superPAC that is actually using this tool, which is perfectly legal, had been approved by the Supreme Court, using this tool to equalize campaigns. We're using this tool to reform the system. We're not spending our money to help the entrenched system. We're actually using it to counter the big money that's already there. Everybody bemoans the influence of money in politics. So far, all the money has gone towards incumbents or towards the party favorites. We're the only organization, the only superPAC that is putting money on the other side of the scale to help challengers.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Johnny. Johnny with us from Orlando.

JOHNNY: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

JOHNNY: OK. Well, you know, my congressman, he's a decent guy, but he's been in Congress a long time. And I think it's time for a change. I have to agree with the - your guest there. I don't like this revolving door of people staying in Congress forever and then passing it on to a successor through this party system. I want new blood. And I think we ought to have a constitutional convention where these congressmen, OK, make it four years, two terms, after eight years, you're out of there, just like the president of the United States. And I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: Johnny, who's your congressman?

JOHNNY: My congressman is John Mica.

CONAN: Oh, chairman of the transportation committee. So that raises a question, Curtis Ellis - thanks very much for the call, Johnny - and that is that in days gone by, the chairman of the transportation committee could funnel a lot of money into his district.

ELLIS: Right. And that's one of the prerogatives of seniority and of committee chairmanships. The other prerogative is the ability to raise tremendous amounts of money which you don't need for your own reelection because you've got one of these one-party dominated cakewalk districts. So what you do is you pass that money around, give it to other colleagues on the hill who are in more marginal districts and thereby gain their votes when you want to run for a party leadership post or else turn over big buckets of money to the party leadership.

You see, the entire structure of politics in Washington is based on the premise of having noncompetitive elections. But that's not the way the system is supposed to work. All members of Congress are supposed to face the voters in competitive elections on a regular basis. That's all we want. That's what we're working for.

CONAN: The Constitution doesn't say anything about competitive elections.

ELLIS: Oh, my...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: It just says elections.

ELLIS: Oh, my Lord. Right. Well, you know, Spencer Bachus last night - we're very pleased with the results. He won his election with 59 percent of the vote. In 2010, he won the primary with 75 percent of the vote. Before that, 84 percent of the vote. He has won elections with 98 percent of the vote. Those are vote totals that you see with Joe Stalin and Saddam Hussein.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELLIS: That's not the American way. I'm sorry.

CONAN: Curtis Ellis is spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. There's another argument to be made for incumbency and long-term incumbency, and that is on issues like the defense budget, for example, and arcane issues of policy. You need to be there for a while to understand these issues, to read in deeply, to understand banking regulations and the like. If you're - not have incumbents who have been there for a while, the members of the House of Representatives are at the mercy of these bureaucrats and staffers who explain to them what these issues are.

ELLIS: I absolutely agree with you. You're absolutely right, Neal. I personally - I'm speaking for myself now - I've never been a proponent of term limits for that very reason. The unintended consequences that they become - the members then become dependent on staffers or actually on the lobbyists who are there a long time and are familiar with the ways of the world and the details and the arcana. The other unintended consequence is that people are immediately office shopping and looking for a job with one of these lobby shops because they know they're going to need a job in four years.

The problem, we're not against long-term incumbents. If the incumbents are serving the interest of the district and the people of the district like them, they should be and able - they should be able to re-elect them. We're not going to oppose them. Our criteria are the - really, the chief criteria are - is there a credible challenger, and does our polling show that people are ready to vote for that challenger in sufficient numbers to make it a real race? If so, we do our independent expenditures, so that it is a competitive election, Then the people could make up their mind. If they want to return that long-term incumbent to Washington after a competitive election, wonderful. We've accomplished our purpose.

CONAN: Let's go to Paul. Paul with us from Hibbing, Minnesota.

PAUL: Good day.

CONAN: Good day.

ELLIS: Good day.

CONAN: We're not making any Bob Dylan jokes. Go ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Very good. I am actually a - I believe that I'm probably on the opposite side of the discussion that just took place with respect to incumbency. And my opinion is that in fact long-term incumbency is a large part of the problem that we all associate as the problem in Washington - the brokenness of it, the inability to get effective legislation taking cared of. And I believe that term limits is in fact appropriate, in my view. I believe that one of your guests just rebutted himself a couple of times over - one, talking about the idea of somebody he...

CONAN: Well, let's leave the constitutional convention out of this for a minute. But what about your member of Congress, Paul?

PAUL: Well, I'm represented by Michele Bachmann in the district here for the House of Representatives and then by Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken as our senators. And I believe that Ms. Klobuchar is in for a second term, and Mr. Franken is in his first, while Ms. Bachmann, who I support from a policy standpoint, is long overdue to be removed from Congress, in my opinion.

CONAN: So you would vote against her if she face a credible opponent?

PAUL: Yes. If there was an opponent that - whose policy I could muster, yes, I would do that.

CONAN: All right, Paul. thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. Ken?

PAUL: Good day.

RUDIN: Well, several things. Curtis, what about - I know - I understand that you're talking about House only, but what about a Senate guy like a Orrin Hatch who's been around 36 years. Why are you doing the House and not the Senate?

ELLIS: Well, the House has these engineered districts. You may say gerrymandered districts that are created to be one-party dominated. We can't move the borders of the state, so, you know, that seems like a pretty fair shot there...

CONAN: Curtis Ellis...

ELLIS: ...you live in the state, you get to vote.

CONAN: Curtis Ellis, thanks very much for your time today.

ELLIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Curtis Ellis is spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability, with us from our bureau in New York. Ken Rudin will be back with another edition of The Political Junkie next Wednesday. Ken, as always, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And up next, the future of a new crop of doctors. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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