Off-Year Elections In NY, NJ And VA

GUESTS:
Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor
Irene Jay Liu, political reporter for the Albany Times Union
Robert Holsworth, political analyst
Gov. Jon Corzine, democrat from New Jersey
Chris Daggett, independent candidate for governor of New Jersey

In New York, candidates face off in the 23rd congressional district in a special election for the seat once held by John McHugh. And in New Jersey and Virginia, governorships are up for grabs. Also, cities across the country, notably New York City, will elect new mayors.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The tide runs red in Virginia, a Democratic incumbent may hang on in New Jersey, and it looks like a lock in New York. We're talking City Hall, not Yankee Stadium. It's Wednesday and time for a World Series 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 (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us for a roundup of all things political. Six days to go before the off-year elections. Some conservatives want to send a message on party purity, even if that means electing a Democrat in upstate New York. Massachusetts holds its first debate on the contest to replace Ted Kennedy, and a flock of cities will elect mayors. Later, we'll talk with two of the candidates for governor in New Jersey, but first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: As always, we begin with a trivia question.

RUDIN: Well, before we begin with that, I just would like to apologize in advance for anything I might say on today's show.

CONAN: Okay, blanket apology.

RUDIN: Exactly. Okay. Well, you mentioned baseball. You may not know I'm a big Yankees fan.

CONAN: Really?

RUDIN: Yes, it's true, and I'm very nervous about tonight. But okay. The Philadelphia Phillies play the New York Yankees tonight, game one in the World Series. The last time these two teams met in the fall classic marked the end of an era. What changed forever after the Yankees swept the Phillies?

CONAN: So if you think you know the epochal change ushered in after the last time the Yankees and the Phillies squared off in the World Series, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You get a fabulous no-prize T-shirt if you're the winner, and we'll be getting to those questions in just a bit. But off-year elections, there are so few races, Ken Rudin. We're talking about governor in New York - excuse me, New Jersey and Virginia. We're talking about a couple of bi-elections for congressional seats. Is it possible to draw any big-picture conclusions from what's going to happen next Tuesday?

RUDIN: Well, sometimes you do, and sometimes we overstate it, but of course sometimes I think it's warranted. 1989 - I go back to 1989 - Jim Florio was elected in New Jersey, David Dinks, first African-American mayor of New York City, was elected there. Doug Wilder became the first black governor ever elected by the voters in Virginia. Abortion was a big issue, and several years later, not long later, Bill Clinton was elected president on many of the issues that Jim Florio, Doug Wilder, David Dinkins ran on in 1989.

In 1983, Republicans swept everything. They swept Virginia and New York City and New Jersey governor, and the next year Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took control of the Congress, the House and the Senate. Sometimes it seems to set up the next year's election; other times it's just all politics is local.

CONAN: And we are going to be focusing, a little bit later in the program, on one of the congressional races that's in upstate New York, around the Watertown, New York area. There is - that's interesting because a third-party candidate's involved there.

We're going to be focusing on the governors races in Virginia. We're going to be talking with two of the candidates who are running in New Jersey, but there are a bunch of other elections up, and including one for a congressional seat in California.

RUDIN: Right. That's the 10th District in kind of Northern California. That's the one that Ellen Tauscher resigned, quit earlier this year, to take a job at the State Department. There are - first of all, it's not getting the same attention as the one in upstate New York for obvious reasons. One, it's a pretty comfortable Democratic seat. There's an 18-point Democratic majority there, and the Democrats…

CONAN: In registration.

RUDIN: In registration, right, and the Democratic candidate there is John Garamendi, who's the sitting lieutenant governor. He's run statewide at least six times, not always successful. He was going to run for governor this year, until he dropped out to run for Congress. He has a lead - a pretty comfortable lead, I guess, in the race against - I just lost his first name because his father was John Harmer, who was the lieutenant governor of California under Ronald Reagan in the 1970s. David Harmer is his son. He's an attorney, and Republicans think he's a good candidate, but it's really a pretty solidly Democratic district.

CONAN: And again, we're going to be talking about some mayoral races. The one in the biggest city in the country, that of course the city of New York, well, not much of a contest.

RUDIN: No, and perhaps part of the reason is the fact that Michael Bloomberg has spent $85 million. There was a New York Times article that no person in history, including Ross Perot, including Jon Corzine, who we'll talk about later, but nobody has spent more of his own money in history to be re-elected - this is - to be elected.

This is his third term. He had the city council change the term limits law earlier this year so he could run for a third time, and he has a huge lead in the polls and the issues and the voter confidence over city controller William Thompson, who if he's elected, he'd be the city's second African-American mayor after David Dinkins, but I mean, Bloomberg is just everywhere.

He's omnipresent. He was in the Yankees clubhouse when they won the ALCS last week, but - and he's just, you know, spending as if it's a close race, which is really kind of silly.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Again, after the last time the Yankees and the Phillies squared off in the World Series, an epochal change happened in baseball which reflected an epochal change in the country, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's go to Judy, Judy with us from Phillips, Wisconsin.

JUDY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

JUDY: Was it the last time the manager wore a black suit with a tie to dress up for the game?

CONAN: That would have been Connie Mack you're talking about, but I believe Connie Mack was the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics.

JUDY: Oh, okay.

RUDIN: That's true, and again, no matter what Connie Mack wore - and by the way, you know his grandson and great-grandson served in Congress from Florida - but this is a major sea change in what's happened in the country following that last World Series - by the way, which the Yankees swept.

CONAN: Four straight. Thanks very much, Judy, appreciate the phone call. Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jeff, Jeff with us from Boston.

JEFF (Caller): Hi again.

CONAN: Hi.

JEFF: I believe women were allowed to vote.

CONAN: Women were allowed to vote?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, not in the World Series.

RUDIN: Actually, women got the vote in 1920, during the Warren Harding-James Cox presidential election. So…

CONAN: And that would have been the Yankees and the Giants squaring off in the World Series that year.

RUDIN: I was so young then, I hardly remember that.

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: Nice try, Jeff. Thanks very much for the call.

RUDIN: You know what I love, is that people give answers, and Neal and I talk forever, ignoring the question.

CONAN: Ignoring the question completely, exactly right. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Charles, Charles with us from Franklin, New Jersey.

CHARLES (Caller): Greetings, gentlemen.

CONAN: Hi there.

CHARLES: My guess is, and I'm starting to doubt it because I'm just uncomfortable about it, I'm starting to think that it's - well, here's my answer. The season change from 154 games per season to 162, which then led to the Babe Ruth/Roger Maris scandal.

RUDIN: Well, that didn't happen actually until 1961. As a matter of fact, the year that Roger Maris hit the 61 home runs is the year when they moved their schedule from 154 to 162 games.

CONAN: Because of expansion.

RUDIN: Because of expansion.

CHARLES: Ah, rats.

CONAN: All right, nice try, Charles.

CHARLES: Thank you.

CONAN: Good guess, though. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Collins, Collins with us from Greenwood in Delaware.

COLLINS (Caller): Yes, having heard the corrections on the previous ones, I'm sure this is wrong, but my guess is collective bargaining.

RUDIN: That happened much later, I guess during the Kurt Flood(ph) era in the 1970s, correct?

CONAN: Late '60s, early '70s, yeah. It depends on when baseball management accepted collective bargaining.

RUDIN: But this has a lot to do with that specific, that particular World Series, is the answer we're looking for.

CONAN: All right, Collins, thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Bob, Bob with us from Rapid City in South Dakota.

BOB (Caller): Hi, Neal. Great show. I really love you guys. Hi, Neal. This is Bob. I really listen to you guys every day, and I do have a guess for the answer.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

BOB: Is it when the designated hitter was started?

CONAN: Designated hitter in the American League, and of course the first designated hitter every to stride to the plate was Rom Blomberg of the New York Yankees.

RUDIN: Right, and I think that's also the 1970s, and I'm looking for an answer before that and certainly much more significant than the designated hitter.

CONAN: But nice try, Bob. Let's see if we can go next to - here's a caller from Philadelphia, Rosemary on the line from Philadelphia.

ROSEMARY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ROSEMARY: The answer is it was the last all-white World Series.

RUDIN: I hate to give the winner being from Philadelphia, but having said that…

ROSEMARY: It won't be the last time, Mr. Rudin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Good for you, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: You're absolutely correct. The 1950 World Series, which the Yankees played the Philadelphia Phillies, the last time every player was white in a World Series. It hasn't happened since, thank goodness.

CONAN: And presumably will never happen again. Rosemary, worst of luck to you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSEMARY: Yeah, thank you.

RUDIN: But she does get a T-shirt.

CONAN: She does get a fabulous T-shirt. We're going to leave you on hold, and you have to promise to send us a digital picture of you and the T-shirt to add to our wall of shame.

ROSEMARY: Will do, thank you.

CONAN: All right, there you go.

RUDIN: You know, I never liked rosemary.

CONAN: No, no, Philadelphia. Anyway…

RUDIN: No, actually, the best team win - may the best team win.

CONAN: And as long as it's the Yankees. Anyway, as we're moving right along, big - we're talking electoral politics. We'll be focusing on that in the next two segments of the program, but of course the big issue here in Washington, D.C. is the health care issue, and earlier this week, the majority leader, Harry Reid, the Democrat from Nevada, came out with a statement that really did surprise a lot of people who thought that the public option was dead.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The best way to move forward is include a public option with the opt-out provision for states. Under this concept, states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt out. I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system, it will protect consumers, keep insurers honest and ensure competition, and that's why we intend to include it in the bill that will be submitted to the Senate.

CONAN: And this is a marriage of the bills that came out, the famous Baucus Bill from the Finance Committee, but of course the earlier bill came out of Ted Kennedy's committee. He wasn't there. It was pretty much Chris Dodd of Connecticut who shepherded that through the HELP committee, and that did call for a public option, but a lot of people looked at the math and said there's no way the Democrats can get to 60 to avoid a filibuster.

RUDIN: It almost reminds me of the 2000 presidential election, when we thought Gore won, then we thought Bush won, then we went back and forth, and then we had to wait all those days until Florida decided.

The public option seemed very, very dead when the Senate, the Baucus committee, Finance Committee, voted against having a public option, and then when Harry Reid comes out and says, well, we're going to have it, we think, okay, it's been rescued, but a lot of Democrats - it seems like he said that without counting the votes, whether he can get the 60 votes needed to pass this thing, because Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, says I'm not voting something with a public option. There's some questions about Blanche Lincoln, who's up for a tough re-election battle in Arkansas next year; Ben Nelson of Nebraska. There are a lot of Democrats who are really not in favor of it.

CONAN: Mary Landrieu.

RUDIN: Mary Landrieu, and also Olympia Snowe. The whole idea of getting a Republican on board was to say there would be no public option. That was ostensibly what President Obama wanted, some kind of a bipartisan nature to it, and she says, Olympia Snowe says, look, if there's a public option on it, I'm not on board either.

So it may come down to reconciliation, which would be changing the rules or at least adapting the rules that you could pass it with 51 votes. I mean, that would cause a civil war, World War III, I should say, in the Senate, but that may be what has to happen.

CONAN: Well, obviously we'll be staying very closely tuned to that, but in the meantime we're going to get back to electoral politics, six days out from the off-year elections. What's happening where you live? What's the interesting race where you live? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

We're going to be focusing on the races in upstate New York for a congressional district and then for the race in Virginia for governor in our next segment. So stay with us, but wherever the race is going on where you are, give us a call. I'm Neal Conan. Ken Rudin, political junkie, is with us. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. This is your super-sized, pre-election World Series Political Junkie. Ken Rudin, the junkie himself, is with us. We want to hear about the races where you live. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

In a bit, we're going to check on the Virginia governor's race, but first New York, where the big race is for the 23rd Congressional District, where there will be a special election for the seat that used to be held by John McHugh, now President Obama's secretary of the Army. It's a race that has been thrown into complete turmoil.

(Soundbite of ad)

(Soundbite of music)

Former Senator FRED THOMPSON (Republican, Tennessee): Big government, high taxes, deficits, broken promises. America's in trouble. So when your grandchildren ask you why you didn't do something, be able to tell them that you voted for Doug Hoffman. He's not a career politician. Doug's like us, a concerned neighbor who's just had enough. He's a principled conservative. He'll come home when the job is done. We can send Washington a message: Elect Doug Hoffman.

CONAN: Yes, that is Fred Thompson there, apparently from the Southern stretches of the New York 23rd. That's in an ad for the Conservative Party candidate. Irene Jay Liu is a political reporter for the Albany Times Union. She's been following this race closely and joins us now from the studios of WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany. Irene, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. IRENE JAY LIU (Albany Times Union): Thanks so much for having me.

CONAN: And this has completed exploded, this race, when people like Sarah Palin come out in support for Doug Hoffman.

Ms. LIU: Absolutely. I mean, this is - this race has been turned upside-down. I mean, essentially you have Dede Scozzafava, who is running on the Republican line, who sort of appears sort of as an independent. You have a registered Republican, Doug Hoffman, who's running on the Conservative Party line, and then you have somebody's who's a registered independent, Bill Owens, running on the Democratic line. It's politics turned upside-down.

CONAN: And this is a district that is heavily and historically Republican, and, well, who's going to win at this point?

Ms. LIU: Your guess is as good as mine. I mean absolutely - you talk to anybody, and certain polls say that Hoffman's up. Other people say it's a three-way. I mean, the sort of non-partisan Sienna Institute did a poll I believe late last week, and they have - basically, it's a three-way toss-up at this point.

CONAN: And there are conservatives who have been supporting Hoffman who say look at the record of that reputed Republican running on that line, and we'd rather the Democrat get elected than that we elect another RINO, Republican in name only.

Ms. LIU: Well, what's interesting about this is that it really speaks to sort of an identity crisis that the Republican Party has faced over the past few years. I mean, you know, the Republicans have suffered major losses, particularly in last year's race with the Obama sweep of New York. You know, basically it became a very, very blue state. Every statewide office is held by a Democratic now, and all but now two congressional seats are held by Democrats. Only two seats in New York are held by Republicans. This one is the third, and it's a toss-up.

So yeah, it's pretty crazy, and the influence of Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson has been significant in this race. As with most special elections, money matters a lot, and you know, this has sort of bucked the conventional wisdom that third-party candidates can't really get a foot in the door. I mean, he - you know, I think the estimate was that after Sarah Palin made her endorsement, they received $116,000 in donations in a 24-hour period, mostly from out of state, mostly small-dollar donations, between $25 and $50. That's according to the Hoffman campaign. Of course, we won't know the full, specific numbers until the FEC filings come out.

CONAN: After the election. But anyway, Ken.

Ms. LIU: Exactly.

RUDIN: You seem to point out what's most interesting to me, at least, is that once upon a time, given the terrible state of the Republican Party, they thought that Dede Scozzafava would be somebody who could win because she has been a popular state assemblywoman there, even though she supports gay rights and same-sex marriage, and she's pro-choice, not the national kind of Republican, but upstate Republican very popular.

Now it seems like with the tea parties, with what's going on over the summer, it seems like the conservatives have gotten a second wind, and they're pushing for Doug Hoffman, and I don't know if they're running as much against the Obama administration as they are as liberal Republicans. It seems like to be a complete family feud among the Republican Party.

Ms. LIU: I think there is that, and I think at this point in New York there is a strong anti-incumbent sort of sentiment, and that goes against both parties. Pretty much if you're an incumbent, especially if you have any attachment to Albany and the state legislature, you have an uphill battle. I mean, the - we - as I've been on here talking before, earlier this summer, we had a coup in the state Senate, stalemate.

Although, you know, Dede Scozzafava and the assembly didn't have anything to do with that, they've been sort of cast under this whole anti-incumbent sort of rage that is also coupled with sort of the tea-party movement and all of that, so…

RUDIN: And that could help the Democrats, too, because Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate, has never run for office, either, right?

Ms. LIU: Uh-huh. Absolutely. I mean, he - it's interesting to see how this all is working out. Essentially, Bill Owens is, at least in his own personal campaign ads, sort of, you know, it's all about sort of positive messaging, you know, sort of bio-kind of advertising, and you know, they leave it to other people to sort of do a lot of the attack-dog work.

I mean, essentially the less - they're trying to, you know, keep the attention focused on Scozzafava, and now Hoffman as well, to - and hoping that sort of the backlash won't go against Owens.

RUDIN: There's a new ad that came up, actually two new ads this week, that the Democrats and the Democratic allies are attacking Hoffman, not Scozzafava. So it seems like it's Hoffman they fear as the bigger threat.

Ms. LIU: Well, certainly according to the polling, Hoffman has been surging against, you know, sort of any expectation, and because this is a money race and this is a ground game, because this is such a short timeframe, you know, the benefit that Hoffman has received in terms of support nationally from organizations like Club for Growth, the Sarah Palin endorsement, Fred Thompson endorsement, all these sorts of things, has put him sort of, you know, trending up, and I think that Scozzafava has seen her negative approval - sorry, her negative ratings, you know, drive up in the polling as well.

So you know, if you're considering that this is such a short time frame and, you know, that your momentum really, really matters, I think that it's not surprising that you see Hoffman becoming the target of a lot of the attacks.

CONAN: And finally, Irene Jay Liu, is part of the Republican and Conservative calculation, well, even if we do elect a Democrat, it's only going to be for two years because we can get our act together two years from now, and a Republican with such a huge registration advantage in that district is sure to win?

Ms. LIU: Well, that is a very interesting question because there - another thing that will happen next year is the - basically the state of redistricting is going to be determined in 2010. There's going to be a fight in the state Senate over who is going to control majority.

If the Democrats continue to keep the majority in 2010, essentially Democrats will control the redistricting process. If a Republican is elected into that district, it would not be surprising if that district were redistricted in a different way.

CONAN: You cynic, you.

Ms. LIU: Oh, well, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LIU: But yeah, so I think that that's a consideration. Essentially, if the Democrat wins, then this is something that, you know, they can - they'll continue to fight to keep. If the Republicans - if the Republicans lose, I mean, certainly there's going to be a primary next year to figure out who's going to be a stronger candidate.

There are a lot of other people who I've been told who sought the endorsement for the Republicans, sought the line, did not get it and may actually run next time around, depending on how this all turns out.

CONAN: Irene Jay Liu, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Ms. LIU: Thank you.

CONAN: Irene Jay Liu, a political reporter for the Albany Times Union and a blogger for Capitol Confidential at TheTimesUnion.com. She joins us today from WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany.

Let's see if we can get a caller on the line, and let's see if we can go to T.J. T.J.'s calling from Geneva in Illinois.

T.J. (Caller): Good afternoon, yeah. Yeah, I've seen a big turnout of new faces on both sides of the fence as far as Democrats and Republicans, but the big one is independents and Green Party candidates. I think you're going to see a strong pulling from these people because I think, quite frankly, living in Illinois, it's probably one of the, if not the most corrupt state in the country.

CONAN: Oh, we could have a big fight about that.

T.J.: Oh yes, and I think at this point in time, I think people are so fed up they're ready to walk and go to another party, which is not the two majors anymore, so…

CONAN: Not one of the present major ones. Ken Rudin, is this - off-year elections are - well, one thing that helps third-party candidates in off-year elections, not a lot of people turn out for a lot of these elections.

RUDIN: True, but…

T.J.: Well, you know…

CONAN: I was talking to Ken Rudin there, T.J. Go ahead.

RUDIN: But T.J. makes a very important point, and two polls have come out in the last couple of weeks that illustrate that. Both the Pew poll and the Washington Post poll show that a big upsurge in independents - and we don't know if they're conservative Republicans who feel that the Republican Party is too liberal or people who just think the Republican Party is too conservative - but either way, there seems to be an upsurge in independents. The problem is you have to have good independent candidates.

What gave Ross Perot 19 percent of the vote in 1992 was that he had a hundred gazillion dollars at his disposal. If you don't have that money and you don't have that grassroots organizing, just being - saying you're an independent may not work.

CONAN: T.J.…

T.J.: Yeah. I was just going to say real quick, the reason I am going to agree (unintelligible) because they've had their chances on both sides in the 20, 30 years, and nothing's - neither one of them seem to get anything done, and yet we're in a quagmire in this country like I've never seen.

I'm in construction, and I'm out of jobs right now. I'm out looking for something. I'm at 53 years old, and I've got mouths to feed. And, you know, neither one of them really care about it. You talk to a candidate that's all smokescreen and mirrors. So, you know, I get more information out of the third club party candidate than I do with the other ones. Thanks, guys. I appreciate your show.

CONAN: And T.J., good luck with the work. We're going to talk next about the - one of the big races everybody is going to be talking about next week. That's the governor's race in Virginia. Joining us now from the studios of WCVE, our member station in Richmond, is Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst. And Bob, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Professor ROBERT HOLSWORTH (Political Analyst, Richmond, Virginia): Great to be here again.

CONAN: And has this race been decided? Creigh Deeds down by nine or 10 points in the polls.

Prof. HOLSWORTH: That's actually a low number right now. Most of the polls are showing him down double digits. The Post had him down 11. And recent polls in the last couple of days have had him down anywhere from 13 to 19. So one of the things that's happening is that even the Democrats seemed to be performing already a pre-mortems on the campaign, trying to allocate the blame and point fingers about who's responsible for this debacle.

CONAN: And one of those big fingers pointed at the candidate himself, whose - everybody says, at least if you read the papers, not a great candidate.

Prof. HOLSWORTH: I don't think Mr. Deeds is the best candidate possible. I think that he's clearly stumbled in any number of ways. The Democrats made a couple of colossal misjudgments, I think, early on. First, they thought they could simply run on a record of sound and good government here in Virginia and didn't understand that a changing national climate had made people really anxious about national policies. And Bob McDonnell's capitalized on that far better.

Secondly, while Bob McDonnell said he wasn't going to raise taxes, Creigh Deeds basically said the only way to solve Virginia's transportation problem was to put together a bipartisan commission and that he'd sign a tax increase. And essentially, what you've seen here then is almost kind of its odd replay of Mondale/Reagan in '84, where Mondale said he was going to raise taxes. Reagan said that, you know, his opponent thought every day should be April 15th…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. HOLSWORTH: …and at the end of the day, what's happened is that all these issues of managing economic problems, Bob McDonnell's ahead of the polls 20, 25 points. And to reinforce a point that you've just made in another context, he is just cleaning up with independents. He has almost two-to-one lead among independent voters in Virginia right now.

CONAN: We're talking with Robert Bob Holsworth, a political analyst in Richmond, Virginia. We're discussing the elections, which happen six days from today, next Tuesday. Join us next Wednesday for results on the Political Junkie. I think we'll be supersized again. Ken Rudin is with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?

RUDIN: Bob, once upon a time, it seemed like there's - Bob McDonnell gave the Democrats a gift in that 1989 thesis where he talked about working women and things like that. And it seemed like the Democrats not only didn't know what to do with it, but they didn't know to do anything else. In other words, that's all Creigh Deeds - if you watch an ad on TV, all you hear Creigh Deeds talk about is the thesis and there were so many other issues and it just didn't seem to work for them.

Prof. HOLSWORTH: No, it really didn't work. They thought they were going to replay that 2006 race, when George Allen had his infamous macaca moment. But it didn't work a number of reasons. First, as you said, Deeds just got a reputation as a negative campaigner without somebody who had a good set of plans, while Bob McDonnell did a very good job of trying to rebrand the Republican Party away from being labeled the party of no to a party of pragmatic solutions.

And secondly, there wasn't a real clear hook on which you could now place this thesis. For example, Democrats liked to say that abortion policies are threatened, but with Barack Obama being president, it's very difficult to think that Roe v. Wade is actually…

CONAN: (unintelligible)

Prof. HOLSWORTH: …under assault here in Virginia.

CONAN: Another interesting situation is that Creigh Deeds initially was running, well, not - if not away from President Obama, well, at arm's length anyway. He describe himself as a Creigh Deeds Democrat, not a Barack Obama Democrat. Interesting development in Virginia yesterday.

President BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, United States): Go on, get your cousin who you had to drag to the polls last November, Cousin Pookie. You go out and get him and you tell him you got to vote again this time.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CONAN: Is Cousin Pookie and all the others who helped Barack Obama carry the state of Virginia for the first time in a very long time for the Democrats, are they going to come out as a result of the president's appearance yesterday?

Prof. HOLSWORTH: Certainly, the Democrats hope so. That's their one chance of actually of narrowing the gap here, that the polls are showing that there's a tremendous enthusiasm gap. That's the almost the exact reverse of 2008, when Obama supporters came out in far larger numbers than Republicans did for John McCain. That's the reverse in this campaign.

The Democrats are trying to pull out Obama, Bill Clinton, hoping that can change the dynamic. I don't think it will, that, in fact, beyond this, they've almost been having this family psychodrama. Obama comes to town and says get out and work for Deeds. The same day as Press Secretary Gibbs is basically saying that Virginia looks lost. Last week, we had a…

CONAN: And if it is, it's not our fault.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. HOLSWORTH: Right. Exactly. So what's happening now is everybody is trying to position themselves for what comes next. And almost all the Democrats believe that the Deeds' cause is essentially hopeless right now.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. John's on the line with us from Charlottesville in Virginia.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. I have an observation. I live in Charlottesville, and it's an area that's - I guess, you call it nationally Republican, but underlying-ly liberal. The local elementary school, for instance, quit having Halloween parties because it's politically incorrect.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

JOHN: I've noticed all of the local candidates, on their TV ads, on their campaign literature, and even when they come to the door, don't identify themselves as being a Democrat or a Republican.

CONAN: You see that on campaign signs or don't see that on campaign signs everywhere, Bob Holsworth. Any particular reason for it in Virginia?

Prof. HOLSWORTH: Well, I think Virginia has become this kind of purple state in which people aren't really too far to the right or too far to the left. And I think a lot of people basically see some power and some resonance in being an independent candidate or at least speaking as an independent candidate who is going to perform the will of the people and not the will of the party right now because I think parties are just generally unpopular. The Democrats have lost a lot of enthusiasm on the national level, but I'm not sure people have absolutely embraced Republicanism as an alternative.

CONAN: John, thanks very much for the call.

JOHN: Thank you. I agree. I think Larry Sabato(ph), one of my neighbors here, predicted early on that this might be a referendum on Obama. And I'm not sure there…

CONAN: Now…

JOHN: …sure which way it's going to wash. I don't want to…

CONAN: We're going to have to check the chicken entrails next Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION Political Junkie. John, thanks very much for the call. And Bob Holsworth, thank you so much for your time today.

Prof. HOLSWORTH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bob Holsworth, a political analyst in Richmond, Virginia, former dean of the College of Humanities and Scientists - Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, with us from our member station in Richmond, WCVE.

Coming up next, well, yes, more Junkie. We've got two of the candidates running for governor in the state of New Jersey. Stay with us. What's happening where you live? 800-989-8255.

I'm Neal Conan. Ken Rudin will be with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is pre-election edition of your weekly Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is still with us. Tell us what race you are watching most closely: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And now, we head to the state of New Jersey, where Governor Jon Corzine - New Jersey's Democrat running for reelection - joins us by phone from the campaign trail. And governor, nice of you to be with us today.

Governor JON CORZINE (Democrat, New Jersey): Thanks, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And…

Gov. CORZINE: It's good to be with you.

CONAN: Thank you very much. It's a tough year for an incumbent to be running.

Gov. CORZINE: Well, we are all, across the nation, suffering from certainly the longest and probably the deepest recession since the 1930s. And so, quite obviously, with seven-and-a-quarter million people losing their jobs in that period of time, I can see a lot of folks really suffering, and that sets a tone that's not particularly attractive for incumbents. But I think it's not about candidates. It's really about peoples' lives, and this is a tough time for people across America.

CONAN: One thing that people are looking at, particularly in your election, you, like any number of other governors, have made - had to make - given the economic situation - some unpleasant and unpopular choices. If you are reelected, some people say, well, that will encourage governors across the country who are going to be facing difficult decisions again next year. If you are not, it's going to send people flying off into the woods.

Gov. CORZINE: Well, I think most of your listeners know that if you don't have money coming in, you can't spend it. And that's exactly what we've had to do. We've cut absolute dollars, $5 billion out of our budget over the last two years. I have the same rough budget number today as I did the first year I came into office. And when you make those kinds of cuts, it is - it obviously sets up a less-than-comfortable dynamic, in addition to the overall economic situation. And we, I think, have done that responsibly. We've actually increased our spending on education in that environment, but we've to make a lot of other tough choices that have ended up - setting up a less-than-ideal political backdrop.

But all that said, I think that it is important that when people take responsible actions that the public recognize that, and not say they're bad guys because they're having to take on a tough economic situation. And I'm hopeful that that's exactly what will turn out here in New Jersey. We have a smart public, and when they have the information, they make good decisions on what it is we've done with scarce resources in a tough economic time I think they'll come to the proper conclusion, the right conclusion. And I think that's to stay with those that are emphasizing things like health care, where we've increased the number of insured children by a 100,000 or reduce the number of uninsured 150,000 in the midst of a recession.

CONAN: Ken Rudin has a question for you, governor.

RUDIN: Governor, some people say that your campaign has spent more time tearing down Chris Christie, the Republican nominee, and less times defending your last four years in office. How do you respond to that?

Gov. CORZINE: Well, I don't think that's true. I think we have spent most of our television time talking about the things we would do and contrasting it with what my opponent says he would do. And when you get those contrasts, I think, then, the public can make a better objective decision.

I just walked out of a preschool, my opponent has first labeled preschool babysitting, and says that we shouldn't actually move forward with the expansion of preschool and, in fact, wants to take it away from certain school districts across the state.

I think that that is a fair contrast, and let the public decide whether that is something they stand with his perspective on or mine. And we're not hesitant to make sure that those contrasts are known. You know, we had the same discussion about whether insurance companies should be required to provide autism screening or diagnostics, whether there ought to be mammogram screenings or whether there should be 48-hour hospital stays for our new moms be required those insurance companies to provide. He's for mandate-free policies. I'm for making those requirements be a part of the standard policy in New Jersey. So we've tried to contrast that.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: One quick follow up. You said you talked about the tough choices you've made as governor, and you have made some unpopular choices. You also have a World Series starting tonight between the Yankees and the Phillies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Yankees in the north, the Phillies in the south. Does the governor of New Jersey dare root for a team?

Gov. CORZINE: Well, I'd be a little disingenuous if I didn't say, at some level, I'm rooting for the Yankees. But what I'm really happy about is I think there'll be a lot of cars driving up and down the turnpike between Philadelphia and New York, and probably improve our revenue stream.

CONAN: They're renting trains as to run between the cities. Yeah.

Gov. CORZINE: We're pretty excited actually about it. I'm sorry?

CONAN: They are renting trains to the each of the teams to travel between the two cities.

Gov. CORZINE: It's pretty exciting, actually. Our state is very interested in the metropolitan regions that are important parts that we are partners in, and people are fired up. And we're excited about how it turns out. Believe it or not, I grew up in the Midwest, and I'm still a Chicago White Sox fan, so I can honestly say, I've only got a minor rooting interest in them.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, governor, and good luck to you.

Gov. CORZINE: Take care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We'll be hoping to talk with some representatives of other candidates and other candidates in the state of New Jersey in just a moment. But in the meantime, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Now, let's go to Sasha(ph), Sasha with us from Needham in Massachusetts.

SASHA (Caller): Hey, there. What World Series?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Boy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SASHA: We don't know no stinking World Series around here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

RUDIN: You know, they get a taste of it, and they just don't let (unintelligible).

CONAN: The thing about entitlement, I think, yeah.

RUDIN: I mean, you know, you wait 84 years and they think of it, you know, okay.

SASHA: Well, you know, it's the old thing about, hey, my two favorite games of the Red Sox in any team that's going to beat the pants off the Yankees.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I think there's something wrong with the phone line. I think - did we just hang up on her? No, I'm sorry.

SASHA: No. No, I'm still here.

RUDIN: No. No, I was teasing.

SASHA: Anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Anyway, well, you guys are, kind of, ignoring a little election up here to succeed Senator Kennedy, which is - it's happening. I mean, we have - what's interesting, of course, is that we have such a really short, short election season under the statute, and the fact that the Democratic primary is really is going to be the de facto election, whether or not the local Republican Party wants to admit it.

So it's interesting watching the other candidates at least try to break through against the frontrunner. And I'll be interested to see if this - how much more attraction happens in the next couple of weeks for any of them.

RUDIN: Well Sasha, actually, we were not planning to ignore the race at all. We would have talked about it at the first opportunity after we got rid of what's going to happen on Tuesday. But the Democrats in Massachusetts had a big debate on Monday, obviously, to not only succeed Ted Kennedy, but, of course, Paul Kirk, who holds the seat now. And by all observations, Attorney General Martha Coakley seems to be the frontrunner. But I saw some reports in the papers and the press the last couple of days that she almost - she kind of had a Sarah Palin moment. I hate to say that, but…

SASHA: Yeah.

RUDIN: …you know what I'm talking about, they asked her…

SASHA: Yes, I do.

RUDIN: …about her international experience and she said, well, I have a sister who lives overseas. She used to live in England, and now she lives in the Middle East. And a lot of people winced at that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SASHA: Yeah. That was definitely wince-worthy. I mean, I'm not - I can't say I'm a Coakley supporter, but at the same time, I think around here it's going to take some effort to actually blow that up into something more noteworthy, that someone can get traction on.

I think, though, where Coakley is going to - you know, Coakley has more organization simply because she's the only candidate who's ever run statewide. But at the same time, I think there is a certain degree of frontrunner-itis going on, and that could be a trap for her if she's not careful.

In the same way, it was, you know, kind of - there are some people I know who are comparing that kind of sense of - you know, I'm the frontrunner. I don't have to work at it all that hard, too, what happened with Hillary Clinton.

CONAN: Hello, Sasha, I'm sure we're going to get back to the set right after Ken and I get back from the parade to through the Canyon of Heroes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

SASHA: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Joining us now by phone, also on the campaign trail in New Jersey, is Chris Daggett, the independent candidate for governor in New Jersey. And Chris Daggett, nice to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Mr. CHRIS DAGGETT (Independent Candidate for Governor, New Jersey): Hello?

CONAN: Hello. Chris Daggett, are you there?

Mr. DAGGETT: Yes, I am. How are you?

CONAN: Well, speaking of baseball, you've compared your campaign to the 1973 Mets.

Mr. DAGGETT: Well, at one point, I did. Sure. You got to vote, you go vote(ph). In the end, it only took them part way. So, it's - more - a little more than you got to believe. You've got to finally execute at the very end.

CONAN: That's right. The '73 Mets, I think, in the end, did lose to the Athletics, but…

Mr. DAGGETT: They did.

CONAN: In the meantime, why did you decide to enter this race? So what made the other two candidates so - well, unacceptable to you?

Mr. DAGGETT: Well, I think cover along period of time, and I've had, I don't know, over 32 years of experience in public life in New Jersey in a number of roles in the public, private and nonprofit sectors having to work with people across party lines and ideological lines. And I finally got to the point where I felt that it didn't matter who was in Trenton, Republican or Democrat, nothing ever changed. Taxes kept going up, issues never got resolved, and I think that's reflective of what many people think in New Jersey. There are voters in New Jersey and I think, frankly, nationally, it's a growing issue as well.

CONAN: You've gotten some important endorsements. The Newark Star-Ledger, for one. You've gotten, according to the opinion polls, well into double digits, but also - according to those same opinion polls -only enough to affect the race between the two major party candidates.

Mr. DAGGETT: Oh, that's their opinion, but I would tell you that if you traveled with me for a day in New Jersey, you would find that what I've said about the sentiment is very strong. It's wide. It's deep. People are disillusioned and disappointed by both parties, and I think that was reflected in the endorsement of the Star-Ledger, which is the state's largest newspaper, where as part of my endorsement, they wrote a ringing indictment of the two-party system.

So I don't believe for a minute that I'm doing something to spoil their race. I think what's happening is I'm tapping into an anger that on Election Day, is going to show people that, indeed, they're ready for a change from politics as usual, and they want a different type of governor.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Chris, question. New Jersey's one of the most expensive states to run in. You have the New York City market. You have the Philadelphia market. You don't have a statewide television system or anything like that, and yet you're running - some polls show you at least at 20 percent. One, how does somebody with no money do that? And two, how does somebody with no money become more than just a spoiler or somebody who affects the races, as Neal said, as opposed to winning in a state like that?

Mr. DAGGETT: Well, you're right. It's very expensive here, and I'm not going to match the resources of Jon Corzine, who's basically independently wealthy and attempting to buy his third election, nor from Chris Christie, who's raised enough - a bunch of money through the process here in New Jersey, as well he's gotten the help from a bunch of special interest groups outside this state.

So I'm up against a big pile of cash. But by the same token, I think evidence of the fact that people are ready for a change is the fact that I'm in somewhere probably in a high teens to low 20s in my numbers. And the way you overcome it is to keep pounding away at the same things I've done all during this election, which is to lay out specific plans and specific proposals that, in the end, people in the last week, I think, will start to take a look at, see that I stand alone with respect to being detailed about how to fix this state.

New Jersey has a history of fast turns at the end. When Christie Whitman became governor and ran against Jim Florio, she was down by something like eight or nine percentage points coming into the final weekend. So the electorate here is extremely volatile and I think, in the end, you're going to see that by the outcome.

CONAN: Chris Daggett, good luck to you. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. DAGGETT: Thanks very much for having me.

CONAN: Chris Daggett, independent candidate for governor in New Jersey, with us by phone from the campaign trail. The Political Junkie is with us.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, of course, there is that other candidate we've been mentioning, the Republican Chris Christie, the former federal prosecutor. He has not been able to be with us today, but joining us now is John Kyrillos, chairman of the Christie for Senate campaign - excuse me, Joe Kyrillos. And he joins us now by phone. Nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. JOE KYRILLOS (Chairman, Christie for Senate campaign): Nice to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: And the polls, as we look at them, have not swung in your favor. Mr. Christie did have a lead, but as Mr. Daggett has gone up and well, pretty much the governor's numbers have held steady and, well, it looks like he now, according to the opinion polls, holds a lead.

Mr. KYRILLOS: Well, the governor has held steady. You're quite right about that. And he really can't get beyond the 40 percent mark, which, of course, is quite telling and he would admit, for him, very dangerous as the incumbent governor.

But, you know, almost all the polls show Chris Christie ahead. There is a poll out today, the Quinnipiac poll, that shows us behind by a few points. There were two polls yesterday that shows us up by a few points. So it's a close race. There's no doubt about that.

We think, based on our own internal research and the research that we see from others publicly, that we're probably slightly ahead by a little bit. But, you know, it is close. There's no doubt about it. And, you know, New Jersey is a very turbulent state.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KYRILLOS: I've heard Chris Daggett talk about it. And on that point, he is correct. And that's why in this very blue state, I believe that there is so much abreast that you're going to see a Republican governor emerge on Tuesday.

CONAN: Oh, we just have a minute and a half left. Ken?

RUDIN: Joe, quickly, if Governor Corzine has had an unpopular four years in office, his disapproval ratings are high, why is every headline about Chris Christie and the gaffs and the things that are going wrong with his campaign, why has the issue suddenly become Chris Christie and not Jon Corzine?

Mr. KYRILLOS: Well, I think the issue has always been Jon Corzine, and that's why in this very Democratic state, that Barack Obama won by 15 or more points, just 10, 11 months ago. I guess we can call it a year at this point.

CONAN: Yup.

Mr. KYRILLOS: And why there's 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans and why we've been out - where we've been outspent four to one, that the numbers are what they are. So in most places in America, this would be a race that would be over. Here, it still remains competitive, and that is very telling, obviously.

CONAN: Well, we wish your candidate the best of luck. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. KYRILLOS: Well, I wish we had more time, and it'll be an exciting finish. And I look forward to talking to you in the future.

CONAN: All right. And we'll have the results on next Tuesday - next Tuesday's results - next Wednesday on Political Junkie. Joe Kyrillos is the chairman of the Christie for Senate campaign, and joined us by phone from New Jersey.

Ken, there's a contest for people, if they want to go to your blog.

RUDIN: There is. We're going to predict the winners in all the big gubernatorial, congressional and mayor races, and you win prizes.

CONAN: Win prizes?

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: So go to Ken's blog. That's at npr.org. Go for the Political Junkie. And he'll be back a week from today with results of all those elections and tell us exactly how wrong he was, and we'll be celebrating the Yankee's victory.

Anyway, Political Junkie Ken Rudin, with us here in Studio 3A.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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