Was Obama's Trip Abroad A Success?

President Obama has been busy lately: He has met with European allies, discussed nuclear weapons with Russia and visited troops in Iraq.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

As you might have noticed, it's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Barack Obama. He met allies in Europe, discussed nuclear weapons with Russia, and visited troops in Iraq. Here at home there are plenty of political developments as well, including some movement in the Senate election in Minnesota, and a House election in New York. For a Friday Morning wrap-up, here's NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, and political editor and blogger Ken Rudin.

Good morning, guys.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with you, Mara. President Obama did well with both the politicians and the public in Europe. Now that he's been back a few days and with a little more perspective, what picture is emerging of that trip?

LIASSON: Well, I think it was a personal success for the president, you know. He went to Europe, he said that he wanted to send a message that things have changed, America's posture towards the world has changed. He's different from George W. Bush. He wanted to re-establish relations with our allies on a positive footing and change the way America is perceived abroad, and I think he certainly made progress on that. He had an ecstatic reception in Europe.

He was very popular with the public, and he was greeted with real enthusiasm by European leaders. But on the substance, on policy, he came back with a lot less. The Europeans wouldn't do what he wanted on stimulating their economies, they wouldn't give him more troops for Afghanistan, and even on Guantanamo -where of course, they're all happy that he has decided to close it - the French agreed to take only one, single prisoner from Guantanamo. So, a lot less on the policy than on the personal popularity. Of course, the White House says all those tangible gains will come.

MONTAGNE: And Ken, let's turn to you. The president still seems to be doing quite all right in the polls.

RUDIN: Right. I mean, he's been president, like, 81 days and there's no calls for his impeachment yet, which is a good sign for the county. But, I mean, I'm not a big fan of polls. I think we over-rely on them. But there was something this week - it was a CBS News-New York Times poll that caught my eye. Thirty-nine percent said the U.S. is moving on the right track.

Now, that's not the greatest number in the world, but compared to - it was only 15 percent in January, and 7 percent in October. I think that's good news for the new president.

MONTAGNE: Well, there was also, in politics, a little congressional race in Illinois with very little controversy, but one that political observers are focused on.

RUDIN: Well, that's right. Tuesday, Mike Quigley - he's a Cook County commissioner; more importantly, he looks like he's a Democrat who will not be winding up in prison, which is unusual for Chicago. He easily won the congressional race left vacant by Rahm Emanuel, now the White House chief of staff.

He quickly won nearly 70 percent of the vote. Of course, I'm making references to previous occupants of this seat - Rod Blagojevich and Dan Rostenkowski - who are, obviously well-known for other reasons.

But compare that race to what's going on in Minnesota. Al Franken's lead is now 312 votes over Norm Coleman, the former Republican incumbent. A three-judge panel this week decided to count 351 previously rejected absentee ballots. Coleman, of course, wanted more to be counted. But the lead increased, Franken's lead, from 225 to 312.

I know you didn't expect math to be on this exam here. But anyway, Coleman says he probably will now appeal to the state Supreme Court. Of course, a lot of voters want this over already. It's been over seven weeks since the election was held. But Republicans want them to fight on. And Coleman says that a lot of Minnesota voters have been disenfranchised.

Now, that 312-vote lead is like a landslide compared to what's going - to upstate New York: that's the New York 20th District. That's the one that Kirsten Gillibrand gave up when she became a senator. Right now, Democrat Scott Murphy has an eight-vote lead out of 150,000 votes. Republican Jim Tedesco is the former Assembly minority leader. The deadline for counting all the overseas absentee ballots is April 13th. So, that deadline is coming up. But of course, who knows? We're probably going to go to some court or three.

MONTAGNE: But, you know, Mara, Norm Coleman there in Minnesota, still hoping to come out on top with, you know, he seems to be on the receiving end of what as you just said, Ken, a landslide of 300-plus votes. But despite what happened in a Washington courtroom this week, Alaska's Ted Stevens has no such hopes of coming on top.

LIASSON: Well, Ted Stevens is no longer in the Senate. His career ended just days after he was convicted in October on seven felony counts. But the amazing thing is that this week, a federal judge not only dismissed the conviction of Ted Stevens, but he took this extraordinary step of naming a special prosecutor to investigate whether the government prosecutors who ran the Stevens case should be prosecuted for criminal wrongdoing, that they made so many errors and violations in the way they handled the case.

And this, of course, ended Stevens' career. He was the longest-serving Republican in the history of the Senate. There's no way he can get his seat back, even if he does have this conviction voided. And of course, when there was a Democrat elected to that Alaska seat, it really helped the Democratic majority in the Senate, which looks like it might grow even more if Al Franken is seated.

MONTAGNE: Friday morning wrap-up. Thanks to both of you.

RUDIN: Good morning, Renee. Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Political editor Ken Rudin writes the daily Political Junkie blog, which you can find at NPR.org/PoliticalJunkie.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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