A Potpourri Of Political Decisions This Week

The politics of Afghanistan are critical to the politics of America this week, as President Obama ponders the future of the U.S. mission there amid uncertainty about that country's elections. In Washington, Congress is poised to take the year-long debate on health care to the floor of the House — and several states will be holding elections for governor, mayor and other offices. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks with NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

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Series Overview: The Pulse Of The Nation

Capitol building.

One year ago, the American political world was remade in a day. The nation elected its first black president and gave him Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

The new chief executive came to power with an ambitious agenda in health care, climate, financial regulation and other policy realms. He promised to refashion the American image around the world.

One year later, the new administration is engaged on many fronts, and finding the going difficult on all of them. The health care bill is on the brink of floor debate in the House and Senate. But other systemic changes are still in the committee stage, and big subjects such as immigration are still on the horizon.

With the passing of the one-year milestone, however, the focus for many lawmakers will begin to change from the mandate of 2008 to the challenge of 2010. One year from now, the midterm elections will repopulate Congress and elect governors in 36 states. The results will inevitably serve as a referendum on the Obama administration and its works. And they will set limits on what the administration can achieve in the 112th Congress.

More immediately, in the week just ahead, off-year elections in several states will offer a shorter-term glimpse of how the country views the first year of the Obama era.

So this week, NPR News offers a series of stories on the theme, "Pulse of the Nation: A Year After Election '08." Beginning Sunday, Nov. 1, broadcast programs and npr.org will look at where we stand one year after the Obama victory and one year ahead at the elections of 2010 — as well as full coverage of the off-year voting on Nov. 3.

Those elections include the gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey, congressional seats in New York and California, mayoral contests in many of the top 10 cities, and referendums around the country, including the possible gay marriage repeal in Maine.

The stories begin on Weekend All Things Considered Sunday, Nov. 1, when Brian Naylor takes a look at the people who don't identify with either of the two major parties and prefer to be called independents. Capturing their votes is the key to victory, and Brian travels to Pennsylvania to hear how one such group sees the world a year after the Obama election.

On Monday's Morning Edition, Jeff Brady reports from Denver on how Colorado has taken a turn from red to blue in the past three election cycles and where it stands today. In 2010, a Senate race, a gubernatorial contest and several competitive House races will give the parties plenty of opportunities to make their point.

Also on Monday, Tell Me More with Michel Martin will focus on young and minority voters, crucial components of the Obama coalition in 2008 who may not vote in comparable numbers when he is not on the ballot. Plus, what lies ahead for Latinos and young conservatives?

Then, on All Things Considered, NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea reports on the perennial battleground of Ohio, the focus of presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008, which is now preparing for an open Senate seat and a gubernatorial contest in 2010.

Online throughout the week, npr.org will feature correspondent Liz Halloran exploring election prospects for the Democratic moderates known as "Blue Dogs" and the voters who prefer them. The Web site will also have an interactive chart exploring the historical patterns in midterm elections, a topic touched upon in Ron Elving's Watching Washington posting on political cycles.

On Tuesday's Morning Edition, Scott Horsley looks at the impact of high unemployment on campaigns and past election results. On All Things Considered the same day, Pam Fessler looks at the state of voting systems. After years of registration foul-ups and machine breakdowns, overhaul efforts are becoming a rare occasion for bipartisanship. On the same show, NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson will preview the election night results from around the country.

On Wednesday morning, we'll be all about the results of Tuesday's voting, with Liasson summing up the big races and reports from around the country, bringing in the congressional, mayoral and referendum outcomes. Tell Me More continues the post-mortem. Then, Liasson returns for All Things Considered, where she'll discuss the effect Obama had on 2009 campaigns and what the results may mean for his agenda in the months ahead.

In between, fans of Ken Rudin's Political Junkie blog will hear his special take on all of the above on Talk of the Nation, with special guests Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate; and Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker, who has a new book on President Obama.

On Thursday's All Things Considered, we continue looking forward, asking what 2010 might bring for the beaten-down Grand Old Party. Buoyed by polls showing conservatism attracting new attention and loyalty, Republicans hope to storm back in the midterm elections the way they did in 1994. Gonyea reports on their plans.

Friday morning, Liasson offers her take on the big slate of 2010 contests: 36 gubernatorial contests, at least 37 Senate contests (beginning in January in Massachusetts) and dozens of competitive House races.

Finally, on Saturday morning, Peter Overby audits the campaign finances of Democrats and Republicans one year after the record-shattering fundraising of 2008. Will the flow continue in 2010?

Correction Nov. 1, 2009

In an earlier version of this conversation, we said Charlotte, N.C., may be on the verge of electing its first African-American mayor. In fact, Harvey Gantt was elected Charlotte's first black mayor and served from 1983 to 1987.

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