Richardson's Candidacy and Goodling's Testimony

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In this week's Political Junkie, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin talks about Bill Richardson's presidential campaign launch, Monica Goodling's testimony, and Kentucky's primary election.

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(Soundbite of Political Junkie intro)

NEAL CONAN, host:

On Capitol Hill the Democrats cave in to pressure and remove the timetable for withdrawal from the Iraq spending bill. And of course they claim it's a legislative victory.

Plus, Congress hears another witness - we've lost count of how many - from a former Justice Department official about the fired federal prosecutors. In Kentucky, Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher, whose term has been riddled with controversy, is the latest political Lazarus. A political analyst in Kentucky will tell us why. And on the 2008 campaign trail, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson makes his presidential bid official.

If you have questions about the Democrat's compromise, about former Justice Department lawyer Monica Goodling's testimony on the Hill or about the rest of the week in politics, give us a call. If you're from Kentucky, did you vote to reelect Governor Ernie Fletcher, why or why not? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, email is talk@npr.org. You can also comment on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation.

And joining us as he does every Wednesday, NPR's political editor and Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And the Democrats gave up on that key demand for the Iraq funding bill, a timetable for withdrawal. This was the defining issue that they think brought them to power into Congress. This is splitting the party.

RUDIN: Right. There are a lot of Democrats not happy about this at all. Many Democratic candidates for president have criticized it. John Edwards said today that - he said it's not a compromise, it's a capitulation. Basically the Democrats knew that they didn't have enough votes to override a second Bush veto and so - they passed it the first time with a timetable, Bush vetoed it. Now that they got that out of the way, they need to do some kind of thing that would fund the troops; they want to do this before the Memorial Day break, congressional break.

And Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, even though she helped engineer this compromise, she said herself that she would not vote for it because she would not vote for anything without a timetable. The Democratic Party is split on this.

CONAN: And I think one of the anti-war congresswomen said, look, this is a Republican bill, they can pass it with Republican votes, we're not going to vote for it.

RUDIN: Well, but again, they also gave some of the anti-war Democrats a little appeasement here, a little way out, because there's a second vote in the House, when the vote is expected to come tomorrow, and that will be on increasing the minimum wage, more domestic spending, things like that. Both of those parts of the bill, the no timetable and the increased domestic spending, will be in the House bill and the Senate will vote on it probably Thursday night or Friday.

CONAN: So it looks like it might be able to get through before the Memorial Day recess.

RUDIN: Definitely looks like that. President Bush will sign it. And now some Democrats say this is a victory in a sense because President Bush will have to report back to Congress in July and September to talk about whatever benchmarks put on the Iraqi government for some progress. Ultimately, I still think that the Democrats will win in the end in the sense that, as we get closer to 2008, it's hard to see more and more Republicans continually to vote for these kind of bills for, you know, almost like the stay the course kind of bill, but right now the White House claims victory. I think there's some justification to that.

CONAN: Yesterday the state of Kentucky held its primary elections and Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher won his party nomination. He was originally elected on an anti-corruption platform, but was himself bogged down by allegations of ethics violations. He was indicted for a misdemeanor.

Joining us now is Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and community issues at the University of Kentucky. He joins us by phone from Lexington. Nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. AL CROSS (University of Kentucky): Glad to be here, Neal. Hi, Ken.

RUDIN: Hi, Al.

CONAN: And you'd think that Governor Fletcher might have had some difficulties. He of course faced a very strong opponent, the former member of Congress, Anne Northup.

Mr. CROSS: She lost her seat last fall and it took her a couple of months to decide to get in this race. And I think those two months were critical. I think in those two months Fletcher had time, once he'd gotten his court case behind him, to use the powers of incumbency to solidify his support. And a former congresswoman from Louisville needs more than four months to get around the state and make connections to defeat an incumbent governor, no matter how weakened.

CONAN: No matter how weakened. But she did run a lot of ads charging him with, well, the kitchen sink, I think.

Mr. CROSS: Well, and she gained no traction at all. She basically ended this race where she started in terms of the polling and vote. And it never really resonated with Republican voters, this notion that Fletcher could not win in the fall. Republicans had not had a governor here in 32 years, the longest hiatus (unintelligible) at the time. And they were standing by their guy. And he in fact appealed to their sympathy, saying he had been bullied by Democrats in a witch-hunt. There was a famous ad in which a kid walks through the schoolyard representing Fletcher, and a follow-on ad in which a little girl in pigtails representing Northup, joined the crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, the big bully he's going to face in November is going to be former Lieutenant Governor Steve Beshear - himself somebody who has lost his last couple of elections.

Mr. CROSS: Well, Steve Beshear has come back in an unusual way for a Kentucky politician. Usually, there are no second or third acts in Kentucky politics, but here's a guy who won his last race 24 years ago when he was elected lieutenant governor. He lost the gubernatorial primary in 1987, and lost as the Democratic nominee to Senator Mitch McConnell in 1996.

But after some other people such as the U.S. Representative Ben Chandler, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, former Governor Brereton Jones, Millionaire Charlie Owen did not run, Beshear stepped up, and he essentially bore the mantle of the traditional moderate wing of the Kentucky Democratic Party, the other wing being conservative.

CONAN: And, of course, his victory is going to be a real gamble since these casinos are his big issue.

Mr. CROSS: It was his big issue at first, but as he got down to getting those socially conservative votes in Western Kentucky and other places to put him over 40 percent and avoid a runoff, he didn't talk much about casinos.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Will, and Will is with us from Fort Mitchell in Kentucky.

Mr. CROSS: Hi, Will.

WILL (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hey, go ahead, Will.

WILL: Yeah, I just wanted to say that I'm from northern Kentucky. It's certainly Republican up here, but I voted Anne Northup. I'll tell you why. It's like your guest mentioned that, you know, we haven't have a Republican governor for a while, and that's not a good thing - had the same party and power for 32 years, but every governor that's been in or - you know, I mean, there's always some finagling going on with patronage jobs and that, but this is a little more outrageous, and it came from the governor's office itself. Usually, it comes from people that support them or something that…

Mr. CROSS: Usually, is not that as formalized as it was under Fletcher. Fletcher was under a lot of pressure from rural areas in particular to turn around some of these state highway garages and state park jobs that had long been supposed to be protected by civil service but in practical terms were not, and that desire to turn that around fled over into changing some more important jobs in Frankfort that they should not have been messing with.

WILL: Right, exactly. And, I mean, he's a great campaigner, but this is a terrible smear on the Republican Party in Kentucky that needs to be cleaned out. And, you know, I wish he had not sought reelection. I think you'd be in a different ballgame, because the demographics have changed. You know, you're getting more and more Republicans, people moving into the state with Toyotas. There's a lot of big industry here. It's moving more towards Republicanism. as you know, we have two U.S. senators who are both Republican.

Mr. CROSS: Well, Will you vote for Fletcher in the fall?

WILL: No. I'm not sure. I have to really think about it. I don't know.

CONAN: That's interesting. Ken?

RUDIN: Al, I just want to ask you a question. Fletcher got 50 percent of the Republican vote in yesterday's primary. How will - what are his prospects of getting a united party behind him in November?

Mr. CROSS: Well, getting 50 percent was a significant accomplishment for him. A lot of us were surprised in the end at that. But Northup has not yet committed to attend the unity rally that's supposed to be held on Saturday. My guess is Mitch McConnell will call her up and say you've got to do this for me, not for Ernie, because McConnell really wants a united party if he was in for reelection next year.

He's got some real topics on his plate that both begin - immigration and Iraq -as the senate minority leader, and he is now serving two different constituencies - his fellow Republicans in the Senate and his voters in Kentucky. But it's those voters in Kentucky that he's got to think about as he moves to reelection next year.

CONAN: A couple of emails from Kentucky. Mike in Louisville writes: I'm a registered Republican. I voted against Governor Fletcher in the primary. I think he's unelectable, and I was also disappointed with his advocacy of teaching intelligent design in our schools. Northup being from Louisville was a long shot, but I had my fingers crossed for her.

Katherine in Louisville wrote: I am a Louisville native who probably voted for Anne Northup. She's Republican and female and from Louisville, but I could not get pass her negative attacks on Fletcher. So some of those ads that she ran…

Mr. CROSS: She makes a real good point. Northup really failed to deliver a clear, positive message to the voters. They had heard all the stuff on Fletcher. I think she would have been better off to have made glancing references to that after making the initial point about his electability. People just wanted to hear something more positive and uplifting.

CONAN: And do you have an early read on November? How does the race shape up between Beshear and the governor?

Mr. CROSS: Well, the Democrats are clearly more united than the Republicans. Fletcher is still somewhat in the ditch politically, but I think he's pulled a couple of wheels out. He just gains a little bit of momentum as he goes along, as for the last six months, and this was a big move for him yesterday. But you have to remember, that's only within his own party.

It is much a greater challenge to keep those Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for him four years ago, many of whom are disappointed that a guy who ran on the promise of cleaning up Frankfort made a mess of his own. I expect that he will campaign strongly against casinos and other social liberalism that he will say is represented by Beshear, and he will get a lot of attention and help from a national party committees as well Beshear, because this is really the only governorship that is going to be a true Republican versus Democratic contest - a fully contested race this fall.

CONAN: Well, Al Cross, thanks very much for you time. We appreciate it.

Mr. CROSS: Thank you.

CONAN: Al Cross, director of the institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues of the University of Kentucky, and he joined us by phone from Lexington, Kentucky. We're talking with Ken Rudin, NPR's Political Junkie. If you'd like to join us- 800-989-8255, 800-989-talk. Email is talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Another former governor is now - in fact, a sitting governor started a race for a president this week, and began it with an ad that - well, he calls it the job interview.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Unidentified Man: Tell me what you did as the governor of New Mexico.

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico; Democratic Presidential Hopeful): Well, I used tax cuts to help create…

Unidentified Man: Over 80,000 jobs. Yeah, I saw that.

Gov. RICHARDSON: A lot of those jobs are…

Unidentified Man: …are high-tech, helps the middleclass.

Gov. RICHARDSON: Up to six in the nation for job growth.

Unidentified Man: (unintelligible) budgets, put over $600 million in the classrooms and cut school bureaucracy.

Gov. RICHARDSON: New Mexico was 46 in teacher pay. Now we're 29.

Unidentified Man: For what we're looking for you, might be a little over qualified.

CONAN: Well, Bill Richardson would like to think that, and he's getting some traction early on in this race, Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Yeah. A new poll came out today from Iowa - said that he's now into fourth place. Now, of course, you need to be first or second to have any kind of movement out of Iowa, but it's a big step for a Richardson, who was an asterisk for the longest time. He's now with 10 percent double digits.

And the poll - he has several ads like this, and they're actually very funny to watch. There's one where he's having a job interview, and the interviewer is munching on a sandwich, completely bored and completely disinterested in what Richardson's says his accomplishments are.

But when you look at his, you know, 14 years in Congress and secretary of energy under Bill Clinton, and U.N. ambassador and two-term governor of New Mexico, you know, you compare him to some others who may have less experience and say, well, this guy has in a lot of rounded - a well-rounded resume. Maybe he is a factor.

Plus the fact that he's the only Hispanic in the race, the only Westerner in the race, and given the fact so many Hispanics are in California, Nevada, Florida and Texas - early primary states. He could, theoretically, be a factor.

CONAN: And interesting news out of Iowa today, as well. A memo leaked out of Hillary Clinton's campaign, suggesting that maybe Iowa was not the best place for her to run.

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people dismissed that. We saw that. Ultimately, she probably will run in Iowa. We've seen that people who have bypassed Iowa in the past - like Wesley Clark four years ago, John McCain in 2000 - ultimately, it's not the right decision. You really need to start from the beginning and contest in all the primaries and caucuses, starting with Iowa.

CONAN: Email question from Peggy. Why do you suppose the time is right for moving up primaries? I don't recall this happening before.

Mr. CROSS: Well, they've always been moving up, but never to this extent. I mean, once upon a time - like go back to 68, 72 - it would start in February or March and go through June. Remember, Bobby Kennedy in California, Barry Goldwater winning in California. Gary Hart and Walter Mondale fighting it out in California in June.

But because the nominations are decided earlier than ever, a lot of the states wanted to move up earlier than ever. But with 22 states now perhaps preparing to have primaries and caucuses on February fifth, all - first of all, the nomination will over by then, my guess is. And two, these latest - I mean, there'll be the most boring time between February fifth and the late August conventions. Something is going to have to stir up the interest of the American voters. And given the fact that the nominations should be over very early, I think it's a mistake, actually.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. Now this is Natalie -Natalie with us from Davis, California,

NATALIE (Caller): Thanks so much for taking my call. My question's actually about the supplemental funding bill. My congressman is one of the Blue Dog Dems, and I'm wondering what part the fiscally conservative Blue Doggers played in this whole negotiation, and how should we anticipate their votes looking?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: Well, I guess…

CONAN: This is on the Iraq funding bill, but go ahead.

RUDIN: Right. Well, let me just say one quick thing about this. It's very interesting. Iraq was supposed to be a winning issue for the Democratic Party. We saw it on November 2006, and yet the Democrats seemed to be split on this, just like immigration was supposed to be a Republican issue and Republicans are split on immigration.

But having said that, I think the Blue Dogs, the conservative Democrats, really pushed this thing along with the folks in the Senate - John Warner in the Senate. They wanted it passed. They didn't want another presidential veto, and ultimately, you know, they could decide to renegotiate the whole thing this summer. But for them to pass, for the money to go to the soldiers before Memorial Day as the Democratic leadership insisted on, they had to have a bill that did not have a timetable, and these Blue Dog Democrats most likely will vote for it.

NATALIE: Yikes. Thanks so much.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, Natalie. And Ken, that issue of - you're starving the troops of funds, of bullets and beans at a critical moment in the conflict. That's the issue that the Democrats wanted to avoid.

RUDIN: And it seemed to have worked for the president. It seems like that was the issue that sold. I mean, there are people like Chris Dodd running for president, John Edwards running for president who said, this is a big mistake. Just keep sending it back to the president. Keep sending it back with a timetable. Let him keep vetoing it. Let the America people decided who's at fault.

But ultimately, if you looked at, I guess, the national polls or whatever, the feeling was that the Bush argument, meaning that this is jeopardizing the - they're taking care of the American - the troops in Iraq. That's the argument that won out overall.

CONAN: And an email from Amy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, going back to the fired U.S. attorneys issue. Are we ever, she asked, going to see Karl Rove's emails?

RUDIN: Well, it doesn't sound like it. Although, once upon a time, we didn't think we'd hear from Monica Goodling, the latest Monica to upset a White House, although she testified today before the House Judiciary Committee. And she did - she almost seemed like Reese Witherspoon watching her little, you know, like, well, I'm just, you know, a kid. I'm very excited about working for the president. But I think Karl Rove - it's one thing to have Monica Goodling on the witness stand. Karl Rove and his emails, I would think that you're not going to see him.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie here with us in Studio 3A, as he is every Wednesday for our Political Junkie segment. You can read his column of the same name at our Web Site at npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan, and this TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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