Iowa's Open Senate Seat And Rumbles About 2016

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Iowa is home of the first electoral test for anyone seeking the White House. As 2016 contenders begin to test the waters, NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin talks with Iowa Democratic Party chair Tyler Olson and Iowa Republican Party chair A.J. Spiker about the election ahead.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In the end, it's not close in South Carolina. Polls show it could be in Massachusetts. And the president studies up on Korean culture. It's Wednesday and time for a...

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gangnam style...

CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.

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PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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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 BUSH: But I'm the decider.

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CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. In South Carolina, former Governor Mark Sanford rises from his political grave. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie becomes a smaller man. The Heritage Foundation tally on immigration reform draws fire from both sides of the aisle. House Republicans ask what Secretary Clinton knew and when she knew it. And new polls show Cuccinelli up on McAuliffe in Virginia.

In a few minutes, we focus on Iowa. Tom Harkin's seat is up in 2014. And it's never too early to be planning for the caucuses. Later in the program, a trial's role in healing the wounds from the Boston Marathon bombs. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 42, and we begin as usual with a trivia question. Hey Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, you know, if history is any guide, Ken Cuccinelli will be elected governor of Virginia in November, and the reason is because Virginia always seems to elect governors from the opposite party of the fellow who won the White House just a year earlier. For example in 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected president, Virginia voters elected Bob McDonnell, a Republican, as governor, OK. So...

CONAN: So what's the question?

RUDIN: Oh, there's more? Well, the question is: When was the last time this did not happen? Like give me the year and the name of the president.

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the year and the name of the president the last time the governor of Virginia and the - no, the newly elected governor of Virginia was from the same political party as the president of the United States, boy, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org. If you can figure out the question, give us a call.

RUDIN: You know, listeners will miss these trivia questions.

CONAN: They're going to miss these, absolutely.

RUDIN: Including you, Neal.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: So we begin when we can with actual votes.

RUDIN: Well, I think what happened yesterday, South Carolina's 1st Congressional District, was absolutely remarkable. Yes it was a Republican district, it mean, it has gone Republican every year since 1980 for House. Mitt Romney won the seat by 18 points. And Mark Sanford had represented the seat for three terms in Congress before he was elected twice as governor.

But I think it's remarkable because every headline regarding Mark Sanford, you know, starting with the Appalachian Trail, has been humiliating, the fact that he, you know, trespassed on his wife's - in violation of his divorce decree.

CONAN: (Unintelligible), yeah.

RUDIN: Right. The Democrats poured in a million dollars, Democratic-leaning groups poured in a million, Sanford was like basically ignored by the NRCC. Sanford was walking around with a cardboard cutout, I think it was a cardboard cutout...

CONAN: Of Nancy Pelosi.

RUDIN: I don't think it was actually Nancy Pelosi. But the point is everybody was ridiculing that. And a Public Policy Polling poll two weeks ago had Colbert Busch up by nine points. So for the most part everybody was writing his obituary, as you said. So the fact that he won by nine, 59-45, was I think a pretty - a remarkable comeback.

Now just one thing, everybody says well, it's a Republican district, and people will over...

CONAN: He won by nine. Mitt Romney carried that district by, what, 18.

RUDIN: Yes, but we've seen a lot of districts, upstate New York, in the past few years where there have been scandals, and voters will say - in Republican districts, and Republicans say uh-uh, we're going to vote out the Republicans to make them pay for it. They did not make Mark Sanford pay for his sins.

CONAN: In the meantime, some commentators said that, well, how French of the voters in South Carolina. They ignored the affair. Mark Sanford himself did not cite that precedent.

REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT MARK SANFORD: I just want to acknowledge a...

(APPLAUSE)

SANFORD: ...a god not just of second chances but third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth chances because that is the reality of our shared humanity.

CONAN: And go ahead.

RUDIN: I was just going to say, but you know something, yes maybe God had something to do with it, but he out-worked her. He campaigned very, very hard. And Elizabeth Colbert Busch did not. She was not very fluent on the issues. She did not get out and talk to the folks. Sanford was everywhere. He was omnipresent. And she did not campaign as she could have, and perhaps she was the wrong candidate at the wrong time.

CONAN: Well in the meantime last night after the results were in, she thanked her volunteers.

ELIZABETH COLBERT BUSCH: Thank you so much. It's been a tremendous honor to represent you. You are the most beautiful people in the most beautiful district in the most beautiful nation. And I cannot thank you enough for taking this journey with me.

RUDIN: And Neal, I want to say you're the most beautiful host of the show.

CONAN: In the most beautiful studio.

RUDIN: Thank you very much. Oh, I thought you were talking about me. But also tomorrow we should also point out that Mark Sanford is going to appear in court to deal with those trespassing charges, and I believe he'll appear in court with his ex-wife Jenny Sanford, so a very auspicious beginning for his congressional career.

CONAN: As he becomes a representative-elect, yes. Again, in the meantime there are polls out. We're going to talk about them. There are some in, for example, places that are having elections next November, including the state of New Jersey, where it's not expected to be close.

RUDIN: No, and of course a lot has to do with the horrific events of Hurricane Sandy, but Chris Christie by most polls, there's a new NBC-Marist poll that shows Chris Christie with 60 percent of the vote. The likely Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, a state senator, with 28 percent, a landslide for a Republican in a state where Republicans usually don't win let alone landslides.

CONAN: And there are also - well, we should mention of course the big news in New Jersey is a smaller governor.

RUDIN: Well yes, that's right. He went - he underwent lap band surgery. Now of course we have tried to get Governor Christie on TALK OF THE NATION. But now I understand he's going to go on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

CONAN: Oh my gosh.

RUDIN: If I use that joke one more time, you'll kill me. But look, the point is - the funny thing is everybody's talking about what this means...

CONAN: Because that joke wasn't funny.

RUDIN: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: The fact is that everybody keeps talking about what this means for 2016, and...

CONAN: Is he slimming down to improve his profile, if you will, for a presidential run?

RUDIN: But he had other reasons, obviously.

CONAN: And he explained that the reason he hadn't told anybody is it wasn't anybody's business.

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: If asked about it, I would have never lied about it, but, you know, it's not anybody else's business but mine. And so, you know, that's the reason I made the decision that I did. That's all.

RUDIN: And it's said it's about - it's not about 2016, it's about his health, and it's about his family. His family keeps asking him about his weight, and here's something he's done with it.

CONAN: Another election next fall will be in Virginia, where the - as we mentioned today's trivia question, the governor's seat - race - seat is up.

RUDIN: Yes, and there was a Washington Post poll out last week that had among likely voters Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, the Republican, had a 51-41 lead over Terry McAuliffe, who ran for the nomination four years ago, former Democratic National Committee chairman. There's a new NBC-Marist poll among likely voters that came out today that had Cuccinelli up by only 45-42. It's very, very close. But it's just interesting that Cuccinelli has this lead. But again I think Republicans are more excited about this race and more excited about Cuccinelli than they are about McAuliffe. A poll this early again doesn't indicate, you know, what's going to actually happen in November.

CONAN: In the meantime, though, time is getting tight for the Massachusetts Senate seat formerly held by now Secretary of State John Kerry.

RUDIN: Right, and that election is June 25, and what's interesting about that, there's a new poll also by Public Policy Polling, which I should - Public Policy Polling, which I should say is a Democratic-leaning firm. But it has Ed Markey, who has been in Congress since 1977, with a 44 to 40 lead over Gabriel Gomez, the former Navy SEAL, the former - he's not a former Hispanic, he's still an Hispanic...

CONAN: He's still an Hispanic and probably will be for some time to come.

RUDIN: Exactly, but he also has Gomez leading among independents 47-31. Do I think Gomez has a shot at it? I guess he does. I mean, Scott Brown did prove that anything is possible. But this is a kind of shocking numbers for the Democrats. But again the election isn't until June 25.

CONAN: In the meantime we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, the last time a newly elected governor of Virginia was of the same political party as the president of the United States. And if you know the president and the year, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And Scout(ph) is on the line with us - and where are you in Minnesota?

SCOUT: We're in Zumbrota, Minnesota. And there's a trivia question for you.

CONAN: Yeah, I was going to say that because I didn't know how to pronounce that. Go ahead.

SCOUT: Yeah, Zumbrota. It would be Chuck Robb in 1993, I believe.

RUDIN: Well, the answer is not Chuck Robb because Chuck Robb was elected governor one year after Ronald Reagan was elected governor.

SCOUT: Oh, so that would have been - well, the cool - what president portrayed Knute Rockne, who was from Zumbrota, Minnesota.

CONAN: I see. All right.

SCOUT: That should be worth a T-shirt.

RUDIN: Or maybe...

CONAN: We'll try to work that in.

RUDIN: A visit to a doctor. Yeah, so...

CONAN: Thanks very much, Scout. Let's see if we can go to Michael(ph), and Michael's on the line with us from Winston-Salem.

MICHAEL: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, what's your guess?

MICHAEL: Oh good day, sir. My guest would be the president would be Coolidge, I suppose, and I suppose the year would be '24, 1924.

RUDIN: Well, I will - I can't remember who was elected governor of Virginia in 1925...

CONAN: It's Silent Ken.

RUDIN: Silent Cal Ken. But I will tell you that it's - the answer is much more recent than that.

MICHAEL: Oh, so I'm way too far back. Well, thanks anyway, gentlemen, appreciate it.

CONAN: Thank you, we always like those Coolidge...

RUDIN: Not enough Coolidge.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Tom(ph), and Tom's on the line with us from Naples, Florida.

TOM: Hi, 1969, Nixon was the president.

RUDIN: Nixon was the president, and as you well remember, Linwood Holton, also a Republican, was elected in 1969. But that was not the most recent time it happened.

CONAN: Ooh, very good call, Tom.

TOM: Not worth a...

CONAN: No, not worth a T-shirt, you've got to get the year.

TOM: All right, listen, you gave me my 15 seconds second of fame. I appreciate that.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: All right, thank you. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve(ph), and Steve's on the line with us from Little Rock.

STEVE: Was it Mills Godwin, who had switched parties, I believe, in '73, Nixon was president?

RUDIN: Now that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding ding ding.

RUDIN: We did have the right president, Richard Nixon, but it was his second term. Nixon was re-elected in '72. Mills Godwin...

CONAN: And we have two T-shirts going out this week because Joseph Powers(ph) of San Francisco came in with that answer on email.

RUDIN: And Mills Godwin of course a Democrat who was elected as a Democrat, by the way, in '65 then elected as a Republican in '73. There is not - there is no such thing as too much trivia on TALK OF THE NATION.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Stay on the line, Steve, we'll collect your particulars and send you out that political junkie T-shirt for free and of course the fabulous no-prize button and in exchange for a promise of yourself wearing said products in a digital image that we can post on our wall of shame. OK...

RUDIN: Neal, do you realize that when we go off the air you and I will be stuck with 8,000 of these T-shirts? But we'll just walk around...

CONAN: Start handing them out. It's going to be - in the meantime, we just have a few seconds left in this segment, Ken, but interesting response by the Senate majority leader Harry Reid to the anti-gun ads being run by the mayor of New York.

RUDIN: Well here it is. I mean of course we know that the Republicans - the anti-gun folks - the pro-gun - I'm sorry, the anti-gun folks are trying to target Republicans like Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake and things like that. But when Michael Bloomberg's group goes after Democrats like Mary Landrieu and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, that's too much for the Senate majority leader from Nevada.

CONAN: And are they going to stop?

RUDIN: They're not. Bloomberg said uh-uh, look, they voted against the gun law, we're going to go after them.

CONAN: OK, Ken, stay with us. When we come back, we're going to be focusing on Iowa, which has an open Senate race in two years, or I guess a year and a half or so, and we're already talking about 2016. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, which means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And Ken, Scuttlebutton winner from last week?

RUDIN: There absolutely is. I'm so glad you asked me that. There was actually a very interesting puzzle, in my humble opinion. The first button was a Feinstein for vice president. Second button was a Perot for president. And then in three buttons in a horizontal line, vote no on John Roberts, impeach Earl Warren, and stop David Souter. So when you have Feinstein for vice president, Perot for president, and those three judge buttons, do you have Diane Ross and the Supremes.

CONAN: I see.

RUDIN: Yes, and the winner was Kelly Cherry Leah(ph) of Washington, D.C.

CONAN: Who needs more to do with her time.

RUDIN: We all do.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: New puzzle up?

RUDIN: The new puzzle will be up as soon as this show is over today.

CONAN: Today.

RUDIN: Today, and the new column is up, yes.

CONAN: OK, and you can find both of those, go to npr.org/junkie. Last Friday, Vice President Joe Biden addressed fellow Democrats in Columbia, South Carolina. Across town, Republican Senator Ted Cruz spoke to Republicans. The two high-profile appearances in the early primary state fueled speculation about 2016.

When drafting a short list of possible contenders, some look to Iowa, home of the first electoral test for anyone seeking the White House. Today we'll talk with leaders from both parties in that state, first A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. He joins us from Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

A.J. SPIKER: Yeah, thank you for having me.

CONAN: And before we get to the presidential possibilities, you're still looking for Senate possibilities.

SPIKER: That's correct. We've got an open Senate seat here, and the Republican Party is looking at a pretty contentious primary.

CONAN: Well, there's been any number of prominent Republicans there who said, well, we're just going to sit this one out.

SPIKER: That happens from time to time. People, for whatever reason, decide to stay in their current job. We have several statewide elected Republicans that are very happy staying, working in the state of Iowa.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, you know, what's strange, A.J., about this is that, you know, in the past when Tom Harkin has run, the Republican Party has recruited very good, seemingly very good Republican candidates, mostly House members. But now everybody, everybody of prominence, the lieutenant governor, Congressman Steve King, Congressman Tom Latham, even Governor Terry Branstad, they all said no.

And this is an open Senate seat, usually which is the easiest to win as opposed to running against an incumbent. What's going on?

SPIKER: Well, like I said, I think Tom Latham and Steve King, both congressmen, are very happy continuing to work within their congressional districts. And we have statewide elected Republicans who really love the state of Iowa and who want to continue to work within the state. So you'll see a very big field probably emerge within the Republican Party.

I expect people with high name recognition will enter the race, and you'll see Republicans unite around the winner of the primary, and we'll be ready to win in the fall.

CONAN: As we've seen in Massachusetts, a relative unknown can suddenly rise to prominence very quickly and make it a competitive race. But I wanted to get off to the rumblings about 2016, the early polling, and it is very early, show that Marco Rubio is among the favorites.

SPIKER: Yes, Marco Rubio is popular in Iowa, with Iowa Republicans. He was here last fall and did an event for the governor's birthday party.

CONAN: Do you think that his prominence in the immigration reform push might hurt him among the Republican Party faithful who are, well, in Iowa decidedly conservative?

SPIKER: Republicans are very united around the idea that the first thing we need to do is secure the border. And then after that, you know, there's really within the party some room for debate on where the next step is. And I think whether it's Marco Rubio or another potential candidate coming to Iowa for 2016, they're going to make their case to Iowans.

Iowans are very open and will listen to whatever their positions are and what they have done for voting in the past, and they'll vote their conscience in the caucus.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: You know, of course a lot of people around the country say I can't believe we're talking about 2016 because after all, we are many years away from that. But we do know that folks in Iowa do pay attention earlier than anybody else because candidates, would-be candidates, come into the state earlier than anybody else. Is there anybody - we mentioned Marco Rubio, but is there anybody else getting especially good buzz?

SPIKER: Well, we're having United States Senator Rand Paul here this Friday. He'll be keynoting the Republican Party of Iowa's Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. And that event sold out about two weeks before the date of the event. So that's obviously been a good event for us to be pushing and a sign of some interest in Senator Paul after his 13-hour filibuster.

RUDIN: The - some Republican parties around the country have shown this battle between the establishment and the so-called Ron Paul wing of the party. Is Iowa going in that...

SPIKER: Well, Iowa has several factions within the party, just like every state. I supported Congressman Paul in 2008 and 2012. I was nominated in 2012 to be the chairman of the party by a Santorum supporter who was the head of the Iowa Right to Life in the past. And in 2013 I was nominated by Steve Scheffler, who's the head of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, a Ralph Reed entity.

So, you know, I think there's a lot of unity around principles of the party. We're going to have some differences on candidates from time to time. But Republicans as a whole are pretty united on issues.

CONAN: Are you united on procedure? There was a lot of criticism after the last presidential election about too many debates. The Iowa straw poll was seen as a distraction by some.

RUDIN: And the caucus itself, which we didn't know that Santorum won until much later.

CONAN: And so are you going to change procedures at all?

SPIKER: Oh, I think you'll see some procedure changes. The RNC is currently looking at scaling back the number of debates. But that's going to be very political also because, you know, some candidates are going to want fewer debates, some candidates are going to want more debates.

As far as the Ames Straw Poll, that's always an item that the marketplace decides if we have a straw poll. If the candidates want it, it occurs; if they don't, it doesn't occur. So you know, I really see, you know, pretty good possibilities for 2015, 2016.

RUDIN: Can I ask you a question also? There's always been the criticism about Iowa that you have to run - Republicans need to run so far to the right to get the votes; the Steve Schefflers and the pro-family groups are in Iowa. And yet as we saw, Mitt Romney in 2012 desperately try to move towards the center, to the middle, in the general election. Do you feel that's a fair criticism of the situation in the way of you have to get the Republican nomination?

SPIKER: No, I don't think that's a fair criticism at all, because if you look at Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, those two candidates were arguably, you know, not embraced by social conservatives to a large degree. And between the two of them, they would have pulled in 45 percent of the caucus vote. So you know, I don't think that's necessarily a fair statement.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us today.

SPIKER: Absolutely, thanks for having me.

CONAN: A.J. Spiker, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, joined us from the studios of Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines. We're trying to get Tyler Olson, the chairman of the Democratic Iowa Party, on the - the Iowa Democrats on the line. He's not answering his phone right now. But as soon as he does, we'll get him on the line.

In the meantime, some other items that we need to talk about, Ken. We talked about Senate races in Massachusetts. There's interesting developments in the Senate race in Georgia.

RUDIN: Well, yeah, just like the Republicans are having trouble finding a candidate in Iowa, the Democrats are having trouble finding a candidate in Georgia. The big announcement this week is John Barrow, the Blue Dog Democrat who is always targeted by the Republicans because he's so conservative in a conservative district; he announced this week he will not run for the Senate seat that Republican Saxby Chambliss is giving up.

So while the Democrats are looking for a candidate in Georgia, the Republicans have too many almost. You have three members of the House: Paul Brown, Phil Gingrey and now Jack Kingston in the race. Others may get into it. So while the Democrats are searching for a candidate, Republicans are going to have a very tough primary.

CONAN: And there are - and that was the Democrats, he was thought to be their best hope in that.

RUDIN: Absolutely, the best choice. Now they're looking at Sam Nunn's daughter, actually, as a possible candidate.

CONAN: And there are rumblings about the Senate seat in Alaska, where there is what's perceived to be a vulnerable Democrat.

RUDIN: Well, that's Mark Begich, of course, who voted against the gun bill, which may be popular in Alaska.

CONAN: That vote may be popular, but...

RUDIN: Right, but anyway, the Democrats - the Republicans, there's a Tea Party group that's saying Sarah Palin, please run; they want her to run. I guess she did so well as a half-term as governor, maybe should could be a half-termer senator. That's a snarky thing to say, I apologize.

Sean Parnell, who was the governor of Alaska, some - who succeeded Sarah Palin as governor - some Republicans would love for him to run. But he announced today, this week, that he will run for re-election as governor. Joe Miller, the Republican who beat Lisa Murkowski in the primary but then wound up losing to her, who ran as a write-in, Joe Miller is in that race.

Mark Begich is a popular guy, but it's still Alaska, which is very strongly Republican. It'll be a tough race for Begich.

CONAN: In the meantime, Tyler Olson is ready to join us now, he's the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. He's with us by phone from the state capital, Des Moines. Good to have you with us.

TYLER OLSON: Thank you. Good afternoon.

CONAN: And as we were talking earlier with your Republican counterpart, we'll start with the Senate race, and the Democrats have a very different situation, as opposed to an entirely open field. The party seems to have already coalesced around one candidate.

OLSON: Well, Congressman Braley is out and running. He has really been a champion for Iowa in the House for the last few years. He's really stood up for Iowa values, the middle class and expanding health care, and people have responded to that message. And he's off to a great start.

CONAN: And do you expect that he will attract a rival in the primary?

OLSON: I don't think so. He is already out working, has visited a number of counties. He has reported a million dollars cash on hand, and he is working to solidify the primary voters and move forward to make sure that we're successful in 2014.

CONAN: Ken?

Tyler, I can't ask you to get into the heads of Republicans, but how come the Republicans were very eager to run against Tom Harkin, who won all those terms, and yet with an open seat, there were no Republicans of note running, at least as of yet? Why do you think that is?

OLSON: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with Congressman Braley's strengths. You know, as I said, he served in Congress for a number of years and has really stood for the same values that Senator Harkin has spent his career fighting for.

RUDIN: Yeah, but they ran - but the Republicans ran against Harkin time and time again, with good candidates. They're not doing it this time. I'm just wondering if you have any idea why that may be the case.

OLSON: Well, I don't, really. I mean, I think that, obviously, Senator Harkin, his announcement, I think, surprised some folks and - but I really think a lot of it has to do with kind of the way that Iowa has moved over the past couple of election cycles. President Obama was - won the state handily. And we've really moved towards an electorate that understands that the values that Senator Harkin fought for and now that Congress Braley fight for - will fight for are the ones that will move our country in the right direction.

CONAN: Iowa traditionally is seen as a swing state. Are you ready to paint the state blue?

OLSON: Well, I'm working night and day to make sure that that happens, absolutely. You know, we at the party have a great base to jump off of because of 2012 and the organization that the president's reelection campaign put together. We're hard at work cementing that organization in. We have hired a field director earlier than the average cycle, and already contacting all of those neighborhood team leaders, so that even though it's a nonpresidential year, you know, we're going to make sure that those folks are out organizing their neighborhoods and communities so that our candidates in 2014 are successful.

CONAN: Tyler Olson, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. It's Wednesday. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And thoughts of 2016, of course, turned to the leading two Democrats. Is there Iowans expressing any preference thus far? Well, the two leading Democrats, of course, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden. Is anybody else in any people's thoughts?

OLSON: Well, I think there are, obviously, a number of folks that are interested, and I'm sure will be visiting the state over the next couple of years. Iowa is a state in the presidential caucus process that values one-to-one contact. Candidates come here. They meet folks in their living rooms. They go to the community center and want to ask questions. And so Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden both have obviously had those networks in the past and have worked on those networks in the past.

And I know that, you know, supporters of each are awaiting their announcement. And so I think, you know, we'll see - we'll start to see some activity here. We obviously have an open Senate race at the top of the ticket. We have a governor's race up in 2014, and control of the Iowa House and Senate are both relatively close. And so I think candidates that are interested in evaluating their options for 2016 are going to see - work on each of those races as important to getting a head start on their chances in the presidential year.

CONAN: Well, Tyler Olson, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

OLSON: I appreciate it. Thank you.

CONAN: Tyler Olson, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. He joined us by phone from Des Moines. And, Ken, before we leave, 2016, one of those possible candidates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is getting beaten up a little today in front - at the House of Representatives. She's not there in person, but she's being called to task for what happened in Benghazi.

RUDIN: Exactly. This is the House Oversight Committee that's having its hearing today. Now, the Republicans want to embarrass the Obama administration. Do they want to hurt Hillary Clinton in advance of 2016? Without any question. But there seems to be questions that that have been raised at today's hearings. Gregory Hicks, who was the deputy chief of mission there when Ambassador Stevens was killed, the others were killed, he's been a career diplomat for 22 years.

Yes, this is a Republican issue that they love to beat over, you know, beat over, but Hicks is asking very serious questions about what the administration might have been able to do to prevent this tragedy, what couldn't they have done, and these are questions that ultimately will demand answers from the White House, and perhaps from Hillary Clinton herself.

CONAN: And some expect subpoenas for people like Hillary Clinton.

RUDIN: Yeah. I mean, look, as I said, the Republicans are looking to make this political hay of it, and I understand that. But there are still some questions that need to be asked. And Gregory Hicks is the perfect guy for them, because this guy is not a Fox commentator. This guy is not Darrell Issa or a conservative member of Congress. This guy does not have an ideological bone to pick with the Obama administration. He just seems to have these legitimate questions that need to be answered.

CONAN: In the meantime, yesterday, Delaware became the 11th state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage, and the news is there was a yawn.

RUDIN: Well, look, the point is is that one year ago tomorrow is when President Obama had his interview - like, I don't know, I think it was on NBC News - who said that, you know something? I've changed my mind that...

CONAN: I've evolved.

RUDIN: I've evolved, yes. And I think same-sex marriage, marriage equality is good for the country. It's just remarkable how the country has shifted in that one year. And as you said, last year was - last week was Rhode Island, this week was Delaware, and it was not front-page news. It was - it's just remarkable how much that issue has changed in the minds of most voters.

CONAN: Well, Ken, thanks very much, as always. And we'll see you again next week.

I'll be here.

The producer of the Political Junkie segment is Laura Lee. She should get better and stay home if she's still sick. Up next, when bombers preyed on Patriot's Day crowds on Boylston Street, all of Boston felt attacked. Our next guest warns: Don't look to the justice system for catharsis. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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