Momentum Shifts As Santorum Exits Race

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Guests

Ken Rudin, Political Junkie columnist, NPR
Vin Weber, advisor to Mitt Romney's campaign
Ed Rogers, chairman, BGR group

Rick Santorum ended his presidential campaign Tuesday. It clears the way for Mitt Romney to capture the nomination, though many conservatives have yet to rally around the former Massachusetts governor. The Romney campaign now shifts into the general campaign, with a focus on President Obama.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Santorum steps aside, the sitting president banks on the Buffett Rule, and a former president laments a labeling problem. It's Wednesday and time for a...

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I wish they weren't called the Bush tax cuts...

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.

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's Gettysburg address clears the way for Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich bounces out of the Utah primary. New jobs numbers give the president pause. Illinois Republican Tim Johnson wins his congressional primary, then decides to sit it out come November. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor supports a superPAC that opposes some of his own members, and jury selection begins tomorrow in the John Edwards trial.

In a few moments, the challenge of keeping a nominee's name in the news between now and the convention. Later in the program, Canada cans copper coins. Should we punt the penny? Email us, talk@npr.org. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, as usual. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. OK, here's a tough one: What two major stars of TALK OF THE NATION will be going to the Yankees-Orioles game tonight at Camden Yards?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, that's going to be a difficult one, Ken.

RUDIN: OK, that's Ken and Neal, just in case some autograph hounds are coming by. OK, the trivia question is: Rick Santorum, of course, pulls out of the race. He won 11 primaries and caucuses but lost 26. Which candidate lost the most primaries on his way to winning his party's presidential nomination that year?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - which major-party candidate lost the most primaries on the way to winning his party's presidential nomination - give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: You don't even need major party because there are no minor-party primaries.

CONAN: There are no minor...

RUDIN: Very few.

CONAN: Very few, but yeah, well, anyway, let's not quibble about - in the meantime, the withdrawal of Mr. Santorum, well, a couple of weeks to go before the Pennsylvania primary, he looked like he was trailing and might lose - well lose his home state.

RUDIN: Well, he kept saying that he is going to stay and fight for the nomination, said he would stay all the way to the convention. He said he'd stay until Mitt Romney got his 1,144 delegates. And certainly he said he would stay until the April 24 Pennsylvania primary, which of course is his home state. But of course he's been losing a lot lately. I think last week, when Romney won the trifecta in Wisconsin, Maryland and D.C., a lot of people started to look ahead towards the general election between Mitt Romney and President Obama, and...

CONAN: The arithmetic got pretty remorseless.

RUDIN: Absolutely, and he met with a - he, Santorum met with some conservative and evangelical leaders over the weekend, and basically I think he got the same bad news that he's gotten from most people, saying that there's just no way he can get the nomination.

CONAN: And there was also the occasion of his daughter, who's got a congenital illness, a genetic illness, going into the hospital again last weekend.

RUDIN: And she has pneumonia in her lungs and three years old, right, Bella.

CONAN: And you can also see that this was all beginning to wear on his family.

RUDIN: It did, but, you know, if you wonder whether he comes away stronger, remember when you think of the presidential field, the Republican presidential field last year at this time, he was the only one who was not a frontrunner. We had Rick Perry, we had Michele Bachmann, we had Herman Cain, we had Newt Gingrich. Everybody was overlooking Rick Santorum. And then...

CONAN: Don't forget Tim Pawlenty.

RUDIN: Well, I don't know if he was a frontrunner, but nobody ever talked about Santorum as the guy who's going to beat - or the alternative to Mitt Romney. And here he is, he wins Iowa, albeit several weeks after they went to the caucus sites there, and he became basically, with apologies to Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul, he became the last man standing. He was the conservative alternative.

CONAN: In the meantime, those other two guys are, I guess, still standing.

RUDIN: They are, and it's ironic because, you know, Santorum kept saying to Newt Gingrich get out of the race so I can run against Mitt Romney one on one. Now with Santorum gone, Newt Gingrich is trying to tell his supporters, well, now I am the conservative alternative, back me.

CONAN: Time for a new birth of Newtdom.

RUDIN: Exactly, and please send me money, at least enough to cover the check because his check, when he tried to file for the June 26 Utah primary, his $500 check bounced. Now of course he still has until April 20 to pay the fee, but a clear sign of some of the problems with the Gingrich candidacy.

CONAN: In the meantime, Ron Paul continues to insist he's in the race.

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean, Piers Morgan, that great interviewer on CNN, said to him: Why don't you do the decent thing and drop out of the race?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Because, you know, Piers Morgan knows...

CONAN: What, did he hand him a loaded Luger?

RUDIN: Well, we'll talk about Indiana later. But as Ron Paul said, he said: Look, why don't you stop asking me some stupid question? That'll be decent of you to stop asking stupid questions.

CONAN: In the meantime, a lot of people are asking: Will those conservatives who lurched from one of those candidates to another, all this time trying to avoid the final determination of going from Mitt Romney, will they finally warm up to the nominee?

RUDIN: Well, those in the Republican Party started to. We saw yesterday, right after Santorum dropped out, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rick Scott the governor of Florida, other conservatives, other Republican conservatives, are drifting, are endorsing Mitt Romney. But some movement conservatives, like Gary Bauer, we're not sure. A lot of conservative, movement conservatives who said that I'm still waiting for Mitt Romney to take back some of the mean things he said about these conservatives, and they're not willing to go just yet.

CONAN: In the meantime, it does look like some conservatives are beginning to rally around.

HERMAN CAIN: And the mission is to get control of the Senate, maintain control of the House and defeat Barack Obama. That means get behind the nominee. So yes, I'm ready to get behind the nominee.

CONAN: The Herminator, not quite an endorsement but just about there.

RUDIN: Yes, but again, some of the - as I say, the movement conservatives, the people who still held out hope for Rick Santorum, they're not ready just yet to move over to Mitt Romney.

CONAN: 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...

RUDIN: Which two people from NPR, TALK OF THE NATION...

CONAN: Are going to be freezing at the ballgame tonight. Which presidential candidate lost the most primaries on his way to winning his party's presidential nomination that same year? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll begin with Scout(ph), Scout with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

SCOUT: Yes, hi, I think it's the two going to the baseball game are - is that the question?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: No, I'm afraid that's not the question.

SCOUT: The right answer: Bill Clinton in 1992.

CONAN: Bill Clinton?

RUDIN: Well, Bill Clinton is not a bad guess. I mean, he did - actually he didn't win until March with Georgia. But as it turned out, Bill Clinton only lost seven primaries. Bill Clinton is not the answer.

CONAN: Nice try, Scout. I think he would've gotten that first one, though. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Roberta(ph), Roberta with us from South Bend.

ROBERTA: OK, I guess it's Adlai Stevenson.

RUDIN: Well, Adlai Stevenson is not a bad guess. As a matter of fact, I believe in 1952 he - or in '56, as well, he lost most of the primaries. But then there were only about five or six primaries going between New Hampshire and California. So he may have lost a bunch of primaries, but that was only five or six.

CONAN: That was back in the days when smoke-filled rooms were still smoke-filled.

RUDIN: That's right, when you were allowed to smoke...

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Roberta. Let's see if we can go next to Ken(ph), and Ken's on the line with us from Lincoln, Delaware.

KEN: Yeah, first of all, go Orioles tonight, and...

RUDIN: Wait, wait, wait, take him off the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: OK. Go ahead, Ken.

KEN: I'm going to go with 1976 and Governor Jimmy Carter.

CONAN: Jimmy.

RUDIN: Well, Jimmy Carter also lost a bunch of primaries, but he lost nine primaries. But...

CONAN: To Ted Kennedy, yeah.

RUDIN: To Ted Kennedy - no, no.

CONAN: That was '80.

RUDIN: In '76...

KEN: Jerry Brown.

RUDIN: Right, most of them to Jerry Brown and Frank Church, the senator from Idaho who got in the race late. But he only lost nine primaries and of course won the nomination on the first ballot.

KEN: It was a shot in the dark, like the Orioles tonight.

CONAN: Well, no, they may have a better chance than that. It's going to be - well, I'm not going to go (unintelligible). Thanks very much for the call, Ken. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve(ph), Steve with us from Cleveland.

STEVE: Hey, guys.

CONAN: Go ahead, who do you think it is?

STEVE: I'm going to guess Mike Dukakis, 1988.

RUDIN: Well, that's a very good guess, although he did lose a bunch. He lost 14 primaries, mostly to Jesse Jackson and Al Gore, when Al Gore was a Southern conservative. But Michael Dukakis lost 14, still not the most primaries lost by the nominee.

CONAN: Steve, thanks for the call. And let's go to - this is Scott(ph), and Scott's with us from Auburn, Alabama.

SCOTT: Yeah, I'm going to guess Barack Obama in '08.

RUDIN: Barack Obama, well, he is the most recent - actually, that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Barack Obama lost 20 primaries, all to Hillary Clinton, and he lost some big ones, too: Ohio, California, New York. And yet he won the...

CONAN: Won a lot of those little caucuses.

RUDIN: Exactly, he did. He won - he lost 20 primaries, and if memory serves, he was elected president of the United States that year.

CONAN: So Scott, congratulations, and we'll put you on hold and collect your particulars. In exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing our fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt, we will mail one out to you.

SCOTT: Absolutely. I'll absolutely do it, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much, and Ken, I even pushed the right button. In the meantime, the president, we've been talking a lot about the GOP nominee, the president of the United States has been on the campaign trail this past week pushing the so-called Buffett Rule.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: A lot of the folks were peddling these same trickle-down theories, including members of Congress and some people who are running for a certain office right now who shall not be named.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: They're doubling down on these old, broken-down theories.

CONAN: Now, the Buffett Rule is going to get a vote in the Senate next week. It's not going to pass, and even if it did, it would never pass the House of Representatives. This is a campaign issue.

RUDIN: Absolutely. This has nothing to do with legislation in Congress. This is President Obama not only trying to talk about tax equality, which is an issue that's out there, but he also, when you talk about rich people, Warren Buffett who may not pay as much in taxes as his secretary, which is of course the Buffett Rule...

CONAN: Pay the same - as much rate.

RUDIN: Right, the rate, exactly, not the same amount of money but the rate. Then of course the mind switches to Mitt Romney, who paid like 14 percent of his income in taxes, and so that's obviously what President Obama and the Democrats are trying to do.

CONAN: So this is campaigning on raising taxes, even taxes on millionaires, that's got to be - that's dangerous, isn't it, tax-and-spend Democrats?

RUDIN: Well, it's one thing for Walter Mondale to stand up in the '84 convention and say Ronald Reagan will raise your taxes and so will I, and that's kind of a weird thing to campaign on, but I think Obama's talking more about tax fairness.

But ultimately, what he is talking about is raising the taxes on the wealthy. Now, we could also define what wealthy is. Is it a million dollars more in income? Is it $250,000 more in income? And both the Republicans and Democrats are fighting over that, as well.

CONAN: More with political junkie Ken Rudin in just a moment. Up next, the challenge of keeping a nominee's name in the news in the months leading up to the convention, after the nomination has been wrapped up, so stay with us for that. 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 here, as he is most weeks. And Ken, ScuttleButton winner this week?

RUDIN: I believe there is, yes. There was four buttons last week. There was a button with the letter A on it. There was a Margaret Chin for city council button, a Charlene Haar, she ran for the Senate in South Dakota, and a block captain for Ike. So when you add the four of them, you got H&R Block, which is taxing, by the way...

CONAN: I think that's...

RUDIN: Yeah, exactly. But anyway, Robert Marlowe(ph) of Annandale, New Jersey, was the lucky winner, or the unlucky winner.

CONAN: And will get a fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt. You can find the latest ScuttleButton puzzle and the political junkie column both at npr.org/junkie.

Now that Mitt Romney recaptured the mantle of inevitability, not just the mantle but the inevitability, too, Rick Santorum bowed out yesterday, of course. Romney can turn his focus to November and to President Obama. Yes, Newt Gingrich continues to campaign, even though he expects Romney to win. Ron Paul hopes to pick up a few delegates between now and the convention, which is not until late August.

So the Romney campaign faces several months between effectively sealing the deal and officially sealing the deal in Tampa at the nominating convention. So what does he need to do now? 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.

Joining us by phone from his office here in Washington is Vin Weber, managing partner of Clark & Weinstock, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney. Vin, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

VIN WEBER: Great to be with you. I'd like to get my political junkie T-shirt from Ken now.

CONAN: No, you've got to win something.

WEBER: Oh jeez.

CONAN: You've got to call in with the answer to one of those trivia questions.

RUDIN: But Vin, I can be bought, though, Vin. We'll talk about it later.

WEBER: I may have better luck trying to buy you off, Ken.

CONAN: First of all, congratulations.

WEBER: Thank you very much. I think congratulations go to Governor Romney. But since I'm surrogating for him today, I'll accept it.

CONAN: And what does he need to do now other than maybe get some sleep?

WEBER: Well, Mitt Romney is not a big sleeper. He's a worker. I do think that the pace of the campaign obviously changes. And, you know, anybody who's been on the road with a candidate, much less somebody who has been a candidate, will tell you that there is a sense of relief when you're not constantly up in competition with somebody, and that will shift now quite a bit for Governor Romney.

But I do think you have to emphasize that there's different things now that require the attention of the campaign. Yes, we've got a few months where there's a challenge in terms of visibility, but it also means you've got a few months when you have time to actually go out and raise the money, which is necessary; hone your message for the fall campaign in a thoughtful way, as opposed to kind of the instant reactions that you have to do when you're going from primary to primary to primary.

And the whole pace of the campaign changes quite a bit, but there's a lot to do.

CONAN: But is there a moment to sit back, meet with the campaign staff, meet with your advisers and say: What do we need to do now? Is there a moment to reflect before plunging on to the general?

WEBER: Yeah, kind of. I think yes, there are things that happen now that require a little more reflection, a little more conversation. But I want to emphasize that the pace of a campaign, a presidential campaign, in my experience, really doesn't slow down substantially. You're in a marathon all the way through until November, and there's just a lot of work to be done.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Vin, one quick thing about Rick Santorum: Did the challenge help or hurt Mitt Romney?

WEBER: Well, I think Governor Romney is an excellent candidate, and I think we're going to find that out as we go forward, that the time that he has put into this campaign has really served him well. You know, running for president is a unique experience in all of life, and somebody who hasn't done it before, and that includes me, can't know exactly what it's like. But I think Governor Romney is an experienced candidate.

The Santorum challenge probably, on balance, was helpful in terms of honing his rhetorical skills and getting him ready for the attacks that are bound to come from the other side. Obviously, we would have liked to have ended it a little sooner just so we could devote our attention to President Obama, put some money in the bank and things like that. But it was not harmful.

CONAN: Also with us from his office in Washington is Ed Rogers, chairman of the consulting firm BGR Group. He was a senior deputy to the Bush-Quayle campaign, so he's done this. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Ed Rogers.

ED ROGERS: Hey, it's good to be here.

CONAN: What's the most important thing Mitt Romney can do in this couple of months before he actually goes down to Tampa and makes his acceptance speech?

ROGERS: Well, during the next couple of months, he's got to get his organization in order. He's got to expand his campaign staff. He's got to expand his pool of advisors. He also has to refine his message more toward the filet or target area in the battleground states that are going to matter.

When it's all said and done, there's probably going to be 12, and then fewer than that, really competitive states with a competitive bloc of voters that are going to make the difference in this election. Obama can't count on the turnout that he had among African-Americans and the turnout and the overwhelming support he had among young voters. So he's got to win with independents.

And Romney has got to recognize that and sharpen his appeal to the independents, and the independent group that I am most concerned about is what I call the working worried: people that are just barely hanging on, that had a close call sometime over the course of the recession, and they're calculus is going to be am I going to stick with Obama even though it's fragile, my situation is very fragile and very tenuous, or am I going to take a chance with Romney, who Obama will try to label as a heartless financier, as a Wall Street cruel banker and as a laissez-faire eat-what-you-kill type of a politician.

Romney's not a good bad guy. He's got a good heart, and he has a history of a lot of compassion and a lot of reality in his policies, but nonetheless, he's got to appeal to this working worried that their situation is going to improve, and they're not going to be cut off and left adrift.

CONAN: He's also going to be painted as the conservative he campaigned as. Of course, he was attacked from the right in the Republican primaries as the Massachusetts but adopted a lot of conservative positions, and the Democrats are going to try to tie him to that.

ROGERS: That's not all bad, as long as it's not - Romney doesn't let it become identified as harsh, cruel and indifferent.

CONAN: Vin Weber, we heard a lot about the Etch-A-Sketch moment, but he does want to try to tack back a little bit towards those independent voters that Ed Rogers is talking about, in particular women.

WEBER: Well, I think Ed is exactly right, and I like that phrase, working worried. I think, Ed, that describes it really, really well. I don't think that Governor Romney has to do a whole lot of changing of positions, if that's what we're talking about. The main thing that needs to happen now is that you re-emphasize the economic message, which is what exactly those working worried voters that Ed described are concerned about, as opposed to some of the other issues that come up more often in the campaign.

But Governor Romney has really focused on the economic message for a long time now. Nobody is going to look at him talking about the economy and say gee, Mitt Romney's trying to reinvent himself. That has been the Romney message from the beginning of this campaign.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. What does Mitt Romney need to do now? Scott's(ph) on the line with us from Fort Myers in Florida.

SCOTT: Hi, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SCOTT: I think something that might be useful would be for Governor Romney to identify early vice presidential running mates. I think it would - if he identified the right person, it would energize his campaign, and it would get people like me, you know, excited about him and the Republican ticket. Right now, I'm lukewarm. I don't really identify with Governor Romney. I'm not sure I identify with his sort of views on wealth and personal wealth.

And I think if you can get the right person to energize the ticket and the party, that would really give him a lot of momentum going into the general election.

CONAN: And Scott, do you have any nominees for him?

SCOTT: I don't. I'm not smart enough for that.

CONAN: OK.

ROGERS: This is Ed Rogers. I just want to say that's a great idea. And we are stuck in this historical template of waiting until the convention that is now something of an archaic entity in its own right. But I would be for having a nominee sooner rather than later. It may not be for enthusiasm's sake, but a lot of it is - a lot of fundraising is a mathematical equation: You raise X number of dollars per event. You can have X number of events per week.

The only real substitute you have for the nominee is the vice presidential nominee. If we had that person sooner rather than later, out doing some of what Joe Biden is doing for the ticket - fundraising, party-building, et cetera - that would be a good thing. More time would mean more money. More time would mean more infrastructure, more organization.

So I hope, then, that you can use your influence in the campaign to get him to think outside the box and this notion that we have to wait until the convention I think is obsolete.

CONAN: Vin...

SCOTT: I think there's an accounting side to that, but I think there's also a human side to that. I think Governor Romney really needs to expand sort of his human outreach. And I think people - a lot of, maybe, Republicans, like myself, they just don't identify with Governor Romney. And I think if he can - if he can pick a vice presidential candidate that people can really develop a, sort of, relationship with intellectually, philosophically, politically, it would help his campaign tremendously.

CONAN: All right. Scott, thanks very much for the phone call. There is, of course, one other surrogate who is turning out to be very useful for the Romney campaign, and that is Mitt Romney's wife, Anne.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ANNE ROMNEY: That's the gang. Those are the five boys. I hate to say it, but often, I had more than five sons. I had six sons - and he would be as mischievous and as naughty as the other boys.

CONAN: And, Vin Weber, this is a real asset for the candidate, in particular, again, he's - polls showing running behind with women voters, this could help.

WEBER: Yeah. Well, I think his family is a huge asset. As frankly, President Obama's family is an asset to him, too. But Anne Romney has proven to be tremendous on the campaign trail. And I've gotten to know her quite a bit. The five Romney sons I've met. I don't know them well, but they're also tremendous. And they have no problem connecting with anybody at all, whether it's their dad or the average voter. So I think a lot of that on the campaign trail will be helpful. And then I'm taking in Ed's suggestion on the vice presidency, that you don't - the - I understand what you're saying, Ed. The other side of the coin is, you know, we've always wanted to go into the convention with the Republican base fired up as the convention opens. And that's why they've kind of done it later on. But, you know, whenever he picks, I think he's going to be pick a good person.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, the - expanding on that problem, naming the V.P. early. If they name like Dan Quayle or Gerladine Ferraro, or even Sarah Palin, in April of 2008 or April of the year, you know, other things would come out. I think you lose that excitement value if you name them now, you know, you're maybe basically stuck with that nominee through the convention. There's no excitement. And if you're looking for excitement, you did have it with Sarah Palin, but you only had it for a couple of weeks.

And so the question - back to Scott's original question. Do you want - or even what Ed just said - do you want to excite the rank and file, or do you want to get somebody who's very comfortable with Mitt Romney and could seen as an ultimate president one day?

ROGERS: That excitement factor, my experience has been, lasts the political equivalent of about three seconds. The V.P. nominee does not drive any votes. We had the worst possible comparison in 1988. Vin will remember. We even had the debacle of the debate with Dan Quayle against Bentsen. And at the end of day, the vice president doesn't drive any votes, maybe they drive votes in their home state. Edwards could not deliver North Carolina for Kerry. So, you know, maybe not.

But what they can do is they have convening authority. They could be good surrogates. They can do fundraisers. And at the end of day, they're not going to drive any votes. The Democrat convention has already got their V.P. nominee. They're going to have some sort of synthetic enthusiasm coming out of their convention that doesn't include a surprise V.P. presence. And so let's forget that. Let's go ahead and – you know, you got to do the vetting. You got to do it right. But let's go ahead and have that asset earlier, rather than later.

CONAN: You're ignoring one important constituency. Me and Ken want you to wait till the last minute so we've got plenty to talk about for the remainder of the summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: OK.

ROGERS: Good point.

CONAN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

WEBER: Great to be with you.

ROGERS: Thanks.

CONAN: Vin Weber, former Republican member of Congress from Minnesota, now managing partner of Clark & Weinstock here in Washington, a senior adviser to the Mitt Romney campaign. Ed Rogers is the chairman of the consulting firm BGR Group, former deputy assistant to President George H.W. Bush and senior deputy to the Bush-Quayle campaign. It's The Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And, Ken, a couple of items we didn't catch up with. A Republican Congressman in Illinois won - win a primary fight and then decides, well, maybe I should retire at the end of this term.

RUDIN: This is a big surprise. Timothy Johnson, who's been in Congress since 2001, he won his primary - his March 20th primary in Illinois - pretty convincingly. And then he announced, last week, that that he decided, because of family reasons - and he's actually seems like, you know, you always see I want to spend more time with my family. I think he really did want to spend more time with his family. He's running against a Democratic guy he's beaten three times in the past, overwhelmingly, but a big surprise.

And now, the Republicans have to come up with a new Republican nominee in a district that, because it's redrawn, went for Barack Obama with 55 percent of the vote in 2008. So it would be a tougher battle for the Republicans, but it makes it a little more difficult with a new nominee.

CONAN: And a couple of people have emerged as candidates, who say they're going to run.

RUDIN: Right. And we think we're going to get a nominee around April 20th when they finally certify the March 20th results.

CONAN: In the meantime, up in Maine, there's been a big question mark about whether independent candidate Angus King - ahead in the polls for the U.S. Senate race. The former independent governor would caucus, if elected, with the Republicans or the Democrats. He won't say, but he then held a news conference in which he said there wasn't a Republican he agreed with since Abraham Lincoln.

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, he keeps saying that he's truly an independent. He doesn't know what party. But the Republicans clearly see him as a Democrat, because they saw a lot of notable Democrats deciding not to run when Angus King got in the race. And King has already endorsed President Obama. He's already attacked the Paul Ryan budget plan. So the Republicans know that he's not one of them, shall we say, and they're going after him.

CONAN: And also this week, the majority leader of the House of Representatives sending a lot of money to a superPAC which supports, at least in part, some people who want to oust some of his members.

RUDIN: That was very, very surprising. We knew that he's supported Adam Kinzinger against a fellow incumbent, Don Manzullo, in the Illinois primary; but he also gave $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which was also supporting Kinzinger over Manzullo. But that superPAC also opposes a lot of Republican incumbents. And it's very strange that Cantor would give money to this superPAC.

CONAN: And finally, there is a major defection. Somebody has decided to abandon 49 states and, well, just work for one.

RUDIN: Yes. Peter Granitz, our indefatigable producer for TALK OF THE NATION the past...

CONAN: I thought you liked him.

RUDIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: I do. Very much. TALK OF THE NATION Political Junkie the last two years. He's leaving to become the Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Radio. And as you know, there's no place like Nome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: OK. Peter Granitz, thanks very much for your work these past couple of years. We're going to miss you and good luck up there. When are we getting Lisa Murkowski on the show? Come on. In the meantime, Peter Granitz is going off to Alaska Public Radio. Ken Rudin, however, will be back...

RUDIN: Sadly.

CONAN: ...in that chair again next week for another edition of The Political Junkie. In the meantime, his latest column and the ScuttleButton puzzle and, of course, in a little bit, we're going to be scurrying off up I-95 to Camden Yards. Coming up, though, it's an argument that it's time to kill the one-cent coin. How do you use the penny? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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