Republicans Hope For Gains In 2010

Guests:

Ken Rudin, NPR Political Editor

Colin McEnroe, Host of The Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR, long-time columnist for the Hartford Courant

Dave Thompson, News Director at Prairie Public Radio

Rep. Dick Armey, former Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, chairman of FreedomWorks

Two Democratic Senators, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, have announced they will not seek re-election this fall. Also, the failed attack on Northwest flight 253 continues to have political ramifications.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Senate Democrats Dodd and Dorgan will not run. Colorado Governor Ritter feels the reelection chill, too. It's Wednesday and time for an I'm-spending-more-time-with-my-family 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 (Former Republican Senator, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

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

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

Governor SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaaagh!

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics. We'll get more on the retirements in Connecticut and North Dakota in a bit. Former Senator and Former Republican Lincoln Chafee will run for governor in the Ocean State.

One poll shows the Massachusetts Senate race closing. The president wants a conference committee to work from the Senate script of the health bill.

Later this hour: former House majority leader and tea-party-enabler Dick Armey on the future of the GOP. But first, as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Happy New Year.

RUDIN: You, too. Our first time in 2010, and what a day of politics.

CONAN: Unbelievable.

RUDIN: We'll get to that. Chris Dodd announced today, of course, he's retiring from the Senate after five terms. His father, Thomas Dodd, also served in the Senate. Here's a trivia question. Since senators were first elected by the voters in 1913 - before that, it was state legislatures - what parent-child combination had the most total years in the Senate?

CONAN: So if you think you know the parent and child with the most total years in the U.S. Senate, give us a call - the U.S. Senate only, by the way - 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

And well, you know, this is - yesterday, there was no political news.

RUDIN: I just want to tell the listeners out there a little secret about how this thing works. Neal came over to me yesterday, and we were talking about the political news. And I said well, there was this, and I guess we could talk about this. And then in the last 14, 15 hours, it's like...

CONAN: Ka-boom.

RUDIN: Ka-boom is right.

CONAN: Ka-boom is right. Well, we're going to actually focus on Connecticut and on North Dakota a little later, but a bombshell in Colorado, too.

RUDIN: It is. Bill Ritter, the one-term governor, Bill Ritter a Democrat, elected in 2006. He's one of the people who led the way for the resurgence of Democrats in Colorado, once a pretty reliable red state. A few years ago, they had two Republican senators, one Republican governor and a majority of Republicans in the Congress, the House delegation. Now, both senators are Democrats, Governor Ritter, and five out of the seven House members are Democrats.

Ritter was a pretty popular governor, very strong on the environment and recyclable stuff and green...

CONAN: Recyclicable(ph) stuff?

RUDIN: Recyclable. I'm just - I just can't get over what's going on here. But anyway, Ritter was in trouble with his own party. Basically what happened, when Ken Salazar, the senator, resigned to become the Interior secretary, Ritter named somebody named Michael Bennett to the Senate seat held by Salazar, and half the Democratic Party was unhappy about that.

It split the party in two. Andrew Romanoff, who's the state - former State House speaker, really expected the nomination. He was going to run against Ritter for the nomination, decided to run against Michael Bennett, who was named to the Senate.

So the party was split. I don't know if that's exactly why Ritter is leaving, but it does seem to relieve some of the pressure on Romanoff. He can run for different offices now, and they don't seem to be in this kamikaze kind of mission, this death wheel - the death wish that the Democrats seem to be having.

But the Republicans think they're going to take advantage of this. The two major Democrats who are being talked about for governor - John Hickenlooper, who's the mayor of Denver, and the aforementioned Romanoff - are pretty much Denver liberals, and Republicans think that they can't win state-wide.

CONAN: And incumbents, no matter what party, are in trouble around the country.

RUDIN: Both parties, right.

CONAN: In the meantime, we're talking about the House-Senate conference on the health bill. This is, of course, the major piece of legislation on President Obama's docket. He wants to be able to sign it before the State of Union Address later this month.

Well, interesting comment yesterday from the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi: When asked if this was going to be an open conference - the answer to that is no - but she took a swipe at the president along the way.

RUDIN: Yes, and also, a lot of people have been replaying the quotes from President Obama last year that he will always have this openness and have it aboveboard. And everybody did expect a conference committee, the House - because there were some difference in the House version and the Senate version, mostly about abortion and a public option, things like that.

But at the same time, to bring Republicans into a conference committee, you know, the Democrats could argue that they've shown no willingness. The GOP has shown no willingness to work with the Democrats at all in trying to get this bill, and so basically, they're going to just - the president and the leaders in the House and Senate are going to just sit down behind closed doors - which sounds like something you wouldn't hear from the Obama administration - and to nail out this bill.

They want it, they want it passed, they want it pushed through, and they know that having a conference committee with Republican input will just stall it even further.

CONAN: And the House is - the Democratic leaders in the House are annoyed that the president says work from the Senate script because it's going to be harder to pass in the Senate.

RUDIN: I think that's true, and I think, of course, the bar was much higher in the Senate. You still, even when it comes back from congress, you still need that 60 vote all over again. So again, the issues are about abortion, about public option, both of which are much stronger in the House. I think that's why from the beginning, the administration was favoring the Senate version of the bill.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line and some emailers who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Following the example of the Dodds, what is the largest number of total years in the U.S. Senate by a parent and child combination since 1913? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Let's go to Bob, Bob's with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Yes, the answer would be the Longs from Louisiana.

RUDIN: The Longs are up there, but they are not the most. Huey Long was in the Senate for three years before he was assassinated, and Russell Long served six terms.

BOB: What about the Talmadges from Georgia?

CONAN: You only get one bite at the apple, but that's wrong, too.

RUDIN: That's wrong, too. But the Longs are up there. The Longs are the number two family of all time, 41 years total so far.

CONAN: But not quite long enough.

BOB: It's not the Lodges of Massachusetts?

CONAN: Hey, hey, one bite. There you go.

RUDIN: Was he talking about Veronica Lodge?

CONAN: I think Veronica Lodge, yes. Well, he went to Riverdale. Anyway, James is on the line from Nashville.

JAMES (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, James.

JAMES: Yeah, it is Henry Dodge and Augustus Dodge?

CONAN: The Dodges.

RUDIN: Well, the Dodges are up there, except for the fact that they were in the Senate before the popular election of the Senate. They were there in the...

CONAN: Before 1913, in the 19th century. So nice try, but...

RUDIN: I didn't mean to dodge your answer, but that's...

CONAN: Ooh, all right. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve, Steve with us from Baltimore.

STEVE (Caller): How about the Gores of Tennessee?

RUDIN: Gores of Tennessee are up there, but not close enough. Albert Gore, Sr. - people forget that there was an Albert Gore, Sr. He was there for three terms. Albert Gore, Jr., of course, was there for two terms when he left in the middle to become vice president in 1992, but only - but they've only had five terms total. I'm looking for somebody much more - a pair much longer in the Senate.

CONAN: And we should note that an emailer named John also thought it was the Gores and was also wrong. He's another emailer - and thanks for the call, Steve - this from Robert in Powell, Wyoming. He thinks Quentin and Usher Burdick from North Dakota.

RUDIN: Well, Quentin Burdick was in the Senate. Usher Burdick was a member of the House. He was not in the Senate. So usher Burdick, of course, was a - interestingly enough, he was a Republican. Quentin was a Democrat, but Usher was in the House, not the Senate.

CONAN: Let's go next to Richard, Richard calling us from St. Louis.

RICHARD (Caller): I was thinking it might be the Landrieu family of Louisiana.

CONAN: The Landrieu family of Louisiana, one of them currently in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: And that's the only one. Mary Landrieu's father was Moon - is Moon Landrieu, who was the mayor of New Orleans, but never served in the Senate.

CONAN: Nice try. Let's go next to - this is Kali(ph), I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly, in Gainesville.

KALI (Caller): Yeah, you pronounced it correct. I would - I think that's Daddy Joe and son Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

RUDIN: Well...

CONAN: Daddy Joe served as ambassador to London.

RUDIN: Yes, and he ran for mayor of Boston. He never served in the U.S. Senate. As a matter of fact, he did run for the U.S. Senate in the old days, but he lost to Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., which was a possible answer, but the Lodges are not the answer.

CONAN: All right. Anyway, thank you. Here's an email, this from David Schoenbaum(ph): How about La Follettes, father and son from Wisconsin?

RUDIN: They're up there, too. They also served five terms. Senior La Follette served two terms. La Follette, Jr. served three terms, until he was defeated in 1946 by a guy - a guy by the name of Joe McCarthy.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Bill, Bill with us from Forest in Virginia.

RUDIN: Wait, did you say Virginia?

BILL (Caller): Yes.

RUDIN: Okay.

BILL: Okay.

RUDIN: I'm prepared.

BILL: The Harry Byrds of Virginia.

RUDIN: That's the answer. That's the answer.

BILL: All right.

RUDIN: Harry Byrd, Sr. served six terms, plus two years in the Senate before he retired because of ill health in '55. His son took over for two terms, plus four years - 50 years between Harry Bird, Sr. and Jr. in the Senate.

CONAN: And we're down two fabulous no-prize T-shirts because we got an email with the same answer from Dana in Roanoke. So there's going to be two no-prize T-shirts sent out.

So Bill, stay on the line. I'm going to put you on hold if I can find the right button, and we'll take your information and your prize will be in the mail in exchange for a promise of a digital picture of yourself so that we can put it on our wall of shame.

BILL: Sure thing. Thank you.

CONAN: All right, nice answer. Appreciate it.

RUDIN: And just to let you know that as of next year, the Dodds will replace the Longs as the second-most-longest tenure in the Senate.

CONAN: Anyway, there are some other news. Speaking of political dynasties, Harold Ford, Jr. may decide to move to New York State to run for Senate.

RUDIN: Well, he has moved to New York. He's lived there for three years. Of course, he was a former Tennessee congressman, lost in the Senate race, a bitter Senate race in 2006. He moved to New York three years ago to become a vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch. There are some Democrats who clearly have not warmed up to Kirsten Gillibrand. She was appointed to the Senate by Governor David Paterson when Hillary Clinton left to become secretary of state.

Gillibrand, of course, had these conservative views on guns and abortion, things like that - not on abortion, I'm sorry, guns and immigration - she was always pro-choice - while she was a member of the House. And some feel that Harold Ford would be a great alternative.

The Democratic establishment, led by President Obama, Vice President Biden and Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, have pushed out, elbowed out, every Democrat who wanted to challenge Gillibrand and said look, this is the one we're going to be backing. She's our guy, or she's our gal, and we're sticking behind her.

Harold Ford, Jr., if he runs - and he's going to announce in 45 days his decision - would be a fascinating decision if he decides to run. I think he doesn't run, though.

CONAN: Speaking of political dynasties, again Chafee, Rhode Island, independent, governor?

RUDIN: Right, Lincoln Chafee served one year, plus a few years. He succeeded his late father, John Chafee, when Chafee died in 1999. He was - Chafee was defeated. He's a liberal Republican, defeated in 2006. He became an independent in 2007, endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, and now he wants to run as an independent for governor.

We've seen independent governors in New England. Maine has had Angus King for two terms and Jim Longley, and so - and Lowell Weicker was a third-party candidate, governor in Connecticut. So it's doable, but it'll be interesting to see if it happens.

CONAN: And let's not forget we have an actual election in just a couple of weeks time in Massachusetts for the U.S. Senate, and one poll shows that race closing.

RUDIN: Thirteen days to go. It's not getting much attention. This is the race currently held by Paul Kirk, but, of course, it's Ted Kennedy's race. Martha Coakley with a nine-point lead in one poll over Scott Brown. I don't know if it's that close, but if is, it'll be a real shocker.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. Coming up, we'll take a look at - a closer look at the major political developments overnight at the retirements of Senate Democrats Dodd and Dorgan. We'll check in in Connecticut and in North Dakota. If you're from those states, give us a call and tell us what the Senate political outlook looks like where you live. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. You're listening to the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is with us. And just a little bit ago, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd made it official: He will not run in 2010.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): I love my job as your senator. I always have. Still do. However, this past year has raised some challenges that insisted I take stock of my life.

CONAN: Dodd is among three Democrats - Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, and as we mentioned earlier, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter - who broke the news in the last 24 hours that they will not be standing for reelection. We'll talk more also about the race in North Dakota, as well.

If you're from Connecticut or North Dakota, how does this change things where you live for those mid-term elections and the U.S. Senate? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Colin McEnroe is in Connecticut. He hosts THE COLIN MCENROE SHOW on WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio. And he joins us now from a studio there in Hartford.

And Colin, I guess this goes to show if you're going to run for president of the United States from the state of Connecticut, don't move your family to Iowa.

COLIN MCENROE: Yeah, I think enrolling your kids in the Des Moines School System is probably a pretty bad idea. I'm not sure how big a role that played in today's decision, but it's in there somewhere.

CONAN: It's in there somewhere, but it does go to the fact that just a couple of years ago, Chris Dodd was an icon in the state of Connecticut and seemingly, you know, unassailable.

MCENROE: Yeah, in the previous elections, basically, if he spelled his name right on the form, he won. And I think we didn't really see this day coming until quite recently. This is - it's a big surprise to a lot of people.

CONAN: What was his downfall?

MCENROE: I don't think there was one particular downfall, but what happened, I think, was a set of building impressions. There were some reports about his mortgage, some reports about AIG and his role in approving bonuses. There were some reports about a cottage in Ireland.

None of these things was terribly damning all by itself, but they kind of contributed to this vague impression that he was maybe a little bit too comfortable with Washington and a little too disconnected from Connecticut after 30 years and maybe a little bit too comfortable with some of the people that he should be overseeing.

I'm not saying any of these impressions are fair, but they were - they became perception, anyway.

CONAN: We should remember, of course, that the other senator from Connecticut was defeated in the Democratic primary last time he ran and won as an independent, Joe Lieberman. I just wonder there's continued anger in Connecticut over their senatorial representation.

MCENROE: Well, I don't know about that. And certainly, the marriage between Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman is one of the strangest and worst marriages of all time. And Chris Dodd was in the unenviable position of placing Joe Lieberman's name in nomination before the convention in 2006 and even for a while campaigning for him, until he lost the primary.

I don't know that his heart was ever really in that. But I do think people perceive Dodd and Lieberman very, very differently in this state.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Colin, also the fact is that, I mean, we're talking about perception, but he seemed to have - Chris Dodd seemed to have the lowest number - approval ratings of any senator seeking reelection in 2010. I mean, it seemed like it was an avalanche of stuff that he couldn't escape from.

MCENROE: Yeah, the poll numbers in Connecticut can freeze on you, and that seems to be what happened. And Chris Dodd, over the last year, did everything an incumbent senator could possibly do. He came back to the state. He campaigned like it was his first election ever. And, you know, nationally, he had a pretty good year, and he was associated very prominently with the two major, signature issues of the past Senate term.

He was, you know, everywhere on television, but his numbers weren't moving that much in the state. And I think looking at all that and looking at what he had done to try to kind of correct this problem and turn his numbers around and seeing so little result, that may have contributed to the decision that he announced today.

RUDIN: And although all the headlines seemed to say it's a bad day for the Democrats, more Democrats are cutting and running, the fact that Dodd is leaving and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who's likely to announce his candidacy in this hour, that's probably good news for the Democrats.

MCENROE: It's absolutely good news. The Republicans are in fetal positions today. This is not what they wanted. You know, it's a little like cracking an egg. You don't want to smash the whole egg against the side of the bowl. You just want to crack it. That's what they were trying to do to Chris Dodd, just leave him wounded enough to be still in the race but beatable by one of the two possible candidates they had.

Dick Blumenthal, by contrast, is a formidable political foe. He has gigantic approval numbers, gigantic name-recognition numbers. He's going to be very, very tough to beat. And I think this seat just went from very problematic to not a lay-up for the Democratic Party, but as close to a lay-up as you get in politics these days.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. We'll go to New Britain, Connecticut, and Mark.

MARK (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. And hi, Colin, sorry I missed you last hour. I have to concur with the assessment that I think Attorney General Blumenthal, when he jumps into this thing with both feet, is going to run away with it.

I would have personally crawled across broken glass to vote for Dick Blumenthal over the Liebermouse(ph) in 2006, and I think we're going to see him carry this thing. And my big next concern is going to be...

CONAN: I'm glad there's no bitterness over that election in Connecticut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARK: No, no, not at all. In fact, my next concern is going to be now that Blumenthal is having his day earlier, who's going to come forward in '012 against the Liebermouse?

MCENROE: I don't know the answer to that question. You're right in saying that what had been anticipated, prior to Chris Dodd's withdrawal, was that Dick Blumenthal, who has been snowbound forever - he's been waiting to run for U.S. Senate for a really long time. He's been attorney general here since the American Civil War. He was probably going to run against Lieberman in 2012, and people were really looking forward to that particular clash of titans.

This is so sudden that I don't think anybody's really thought through the 2012 thing. A lot of people think that Lieberman will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012, and I don't think anybody has thought far enough ahead to know who might run against him.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Andrew, Andrew calling from New Haven. Andrew, you there? Andrew has left us. Anyway, as we look ahead to this race in 2010, who - you mentioned a couple of Republican candidates who were hoping to run against a crippled Chris Dodd. They will get probably a vigorous Dick Blumenthal, but nevertheless, who are they?

MCENROE: The two main candidates are Rob Simmons - Rob Simmons, a long-time congressman from the Second District of Connecticut who had lost his election to Joe Courtney and then had sort of revived his political interest because, in fact, Chris Dodd seemed so weak.

Then the kind of surprising, out-of-nowhere candidate has been Linda McMahon. She is the wife of Vince McMahon, and she herself has been the CEO, I think, of World Wrestling Entertainment. She had - back when Chris Dodd was the probable opponent - said that she was prepared to commit $50 million of her own money - they actually make quite a bit of money, apparently, in the wrestling industry - to a campaign. And I don't know whether she - you know, she's a good businesswoman. I don't know whether she's willing to spend $50 million running against Blumenthal because it's a very different proposition.

CONAN: You'd think political journalists would back the race just to be able to write all those headlines about smack downs.

MCENROE: Believe me, this is why I take statins. I want to be alive for this entire political season. I mean, it's really going to be a fun one way or the other. And one possibility that people are talking about as of today is that Rob Simmons might get out and move back over to the Second District. It's going to be - as I'm sure Ken Rudin would say - a tough year for Democratic incumbents all over the country. You know, it might be possible that Simmons would think about running for his old seat against Courtney.

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

MCENROE: It was really fun. I'm a big fan, so this was really cool.

CONAN: All right. You don't get a Political Junkie T-shirt. Anyway...

MCENROE: I didn't know the answer, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Colin McEnroe hosts THE COLIN MCENROE SHOW on WNPR, Connecticut Public Radio, with us today from the studios there in Hartford.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Phil, Phil with us from Baldwin in Missouri. Phil, you there?

PHIL (Caller): Yes, I'm here. I'm having a little trouble - phone.

CONAN: Or, you're having trouble with the phone.

PHIL: Yeah, I pushed a wrong button.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, did you have a question, though?

PHIL: Well, I'm from the state of Missouri, and we have Senator Kit Bond, a Republican, who is not going to seek reelection, thank God. Personally, I'm independent. I lean - even though I'm Hispanic and I'm a minority, I do lean Republican because of their family values. But right now, we have - the seat is wide open, and there is a man that's not an unknown totally in Republican politics here in Missouri, but his name is Don Griffin, and he's going to try to seek the Republican nomination to run, you know, here in the primary. I think the primary's in August, but Don Griffin is...

CONAN: Well, let me just turn it to Ken Rudin. And it is a wide-open seat there in Missouri.

RUDIN: It is, although it's my understanding the Republican establishment - that's a good thing or bad thing - has coalesced behind Roy Blunt, the former minority - majority whip in the House.

PHIL: He's not well-liked by the rank-and-file, though.

RUDIN: And he's also the...

PHIL: He's too liberal. And, you know, Republicans in Missouri, and I'm also active in - I'm the Queeny Township caucus chairman, and I supported Ron Paul. I'm the caucus chairman from Queeny Township here in St. Louis County. The Republicans are not happy. The voters, the rank-and-file, are not happy with what's going on in Washington.

CONAN: Well, we hope you'll stay tuned. We're going to have Dick Armey on with us later. I don't think he's happy with what's going on in Washington, anyway. But Phil, thanks very much for the phone call.

Democrats in North Dakota face a tougher challenge come the fall. Senator Byron Dorgan announced that he would not run again. There is no obvious successor to take his place.

Dave Thompson is news director at Prairie Public Radio in North Dakota, joins us today from his office in Bismarck. Dave, this one, well, at least for those of us here in Washington, this one came out of the blue.

DAVE THOMPSON: This one definitely came out of the blue. Nobody had an inkling that Senator Dorgan was going to walk away. As a matter of fact, there was a lot of speculation about how much money was going to be spent on a race between Senator Dorgan and Governor John Hoeven, who has been basically seen as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. They thought there was going to be a lot of money poured in the race. And all of a sudden here it's five minutes to 5:00 yesterday afternoon and Senator Dorgan announces he is not running for re-election. And it sent the entire state into a tizzy and there's a lot of scrambling going on in both parties.

CONAN: Any ideas who the Democrats are going to think about?

THOMPSON: There are a few names that are surfacing right now but nobody really is coming to the forefront. The first name, of course, is our lone congressman, Earl Pomeroy, who would step into the Senate race. He is going to be holding a news conference later on this afternoon to announce what his plans are. But at first blush he said he would like to stay in the House because he's built up some seniority in the House. There are some other just names of some people who have retired from politics - one is Scott Stoff (unintelligible) for Senate Kent Conrad.

And the odd one that just surfaced today is former local talk show host, now national liberal talk show host Ed Schultz, who apparently said on MSNBC this morning that he was contacted by some people in North Dakota and he is considering it.

CONAN: On the Al Franken ticket, apparently.

THOMPSON: I think that's right.

CONAN: Yeah, anyway, Ken, if Connecticut now looks like a Democratic hold with Senator Dodd's decision to retire, North Dakota, you'd think the advantage would swing the other way.

RUDIN: It has. Dave's absolutely right. Governor Hoeven is one - he has a title that is very rare to hear these days, it's called popular governor. There are not many popular governors. The last poll I saw had him at 87 percent approval rating, which is pretty remarkable. And he's in his third term, which is something too. Also, Real Clear Politics, the Web site, announced today that their understanding is Earl Pomeroy will announce that he will not seek the seat. Of course he's also elected statewide, as is Hoeven, robbing the Democrats at their best shot.

CONAN: So given - if that's the case, Dave Thompson, anybody prominent statewide on the Democratic side?

THOMPSON: Not very many people coming to the forefront right now. In the Capital Tower we elect a lot of our state officials here, and with the exception of one - the Republicans. So there's no other name that's really surfacing right now.

CONAN: Ken, you going to move to North Dakota?

RUDIN: Well, you know, what's amazing about this is that North Dakota is one of - first of all, it's voted for one Democrat for president, one since 1936...

THOMPSON: Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

THOMPSON: Right, and it has two Democratic senators and yet it always votes Republican every other time.

CONAN: All right. Dave Thompson, thanks very much for your call and for being with us today, and we'll be checking back in with you as this develops.

THOMPSON: Okay, you're very welcome.

CONAN: Dave Thompson is news director at Prairie Public Radio with us from his office is Bismarck, North Dakota.

You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

RUDIN: I just wanted to add that I was actually thinking of moving to South Dakota so I could be among my peers. I just thought I'd mention that.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Steve from Hilo in Hawaii. How can NPR's totally ignoring the news that eight-term Congressman Neil Abercrombie has announced his resignation from the House to pursue the governorship of Hawaii? Is that on newsworthy?

RUDIN: Well, it is, and Neal and I were actually just talking about that before the show and during the break and I'm glad we got to it. This is a very interesting race because Linda Lingle, who is a two-term Republican is term-limited and the Democrats think they have shot at it. But Abercrombie announced this week that he's going to resign from the House next month and that could make things a lot - difficult for Democrats to hold the seat.

CONAN: Let's get a call from Jackie(ph). Jackie with us from Denver.

JACKIE (Caller): Oh, hi. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

JACKIE: You know, I'm very disappointed in Governor Ritter, actually during his term, not that he quit. I was just telling my husband the other day, he is going to lose if he runs. But I was astonished that he decided to not even try. So I'm hoping that Mayor John Hickenlooper will run for governor.

CONAN: Why did you think he was destined to lose?

JACKIE: I think he was terrible. He was a do-nothing. I was very disappointed in him. I was very glad when Bill Owens(ph) was gone and that Ritter won the governorship, but he really didn't accomplish anything.

CONAN: Hmm.

JACKIE: In my opinion.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Ritter is also a pro-life Catholic. I think that turned off a lot of liberal Democrats and obviously a lot of the Democrats would rather see a Hickenlooper or maybe the Abramoff, not Abramoff...

JACKIE: That's Romanoff.

RUDIN: Romanoff to run for the seat, but can Hickenlooper, Romanoff -can they win state-wide, or are they too liberal, as some Republicans think?

JACKIE: You know, I don't know. There are certainly, you know, the two big pockets of liberals - Denver and Boulder in Colorado. But I don't know, we'd have to see. I mean, I always find that, you know, I thought that Ritter, his stance, you know, went along with his religious beliefs and that was fine. But I didn't think that it really went along with the Democratic platform. So I thought that was a little bit contradictory.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the analysis. We appreciate the call.

JACKIE: Sure.

CONAN: Bye bye. Let's go to another caller from Denver. This is David. David.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, I enjoy your program enormously and I couldn't disagree with the previous caller more. Governor Ritter has been an excellent governor in a whole range of respects that have been extremely challenging because of the revenue shortfalls and budget cuts, which his administration had learned to apply with great astuteness and a huge appreciation for the preservation of the safety net for the vulnerable and the disabled in Colorado.

CONAN: So then why did he decide not to run again?

DAVID: Well, I think, frankly, a premature decision has been rendered that I regret enormously. I'm sorry - usually eight to nine, ten months out from an election an incumbent in a difficult economic context is going to take a gloomy look at things and make a decision that could be regretted. And I think that's exactly what the administration, frankly, has done in this case. I'm very sorry that that he isn't going to run again because I think it's important for Colorado in this recession to have a steady hand on the government's helm. And his has been an excellent one, frankly, for those of us who work at the state capital.

CONAN: David?

DAVID: Yes.

CONAN: Just a quick email question that you or Ken might be able to answer - what will Governor Ritter do with the $7 million he raised for his re-election campaign?

DAVID: I have no idea.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: You know, it's funny, I looked at Governor Ritter's Web site, campaign Web site last night, at it still talked about supporting him and he was going to run for a second term. They didn't even update the Web site. So it seemed like a decision made very, very late in the day.

DAVID: I would agree with that analysis, knowing what I know. It has taken quite a few of us who are comparative insiders in the state capital here in Colorado by surprise.

CONAN: David?

DAVID: I have a question for all...

CONAN: I'm afraid we don't have time for your question. I appreciate the phone call.

DAVID: What's happened with Ned Lamont in Connecticut?

CONAN: What's happened with Ned Lamont in Connecticut?

RUDIN: He is running for governor

CONAN: All right.

RUDIN: in the Democratic primary.

CONAN: Quick question and quick answer. David, thanks very much for the call. Coming up, we'll extend our Political Junkie segment. We'll talk with Dick Armey. We want to hear from the conservatives, Republicans and libertarians in our audience. Wither goest the movement? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: And we're back with our extra-long edition of the Political Junkie. Hey, we missed it last week. Ken Rudin is still with us.

After devastating losses in 2008, Republicans now hope to make major gains in 2010, and already plan to make Barack Obama a one-term president. But there is no - as yet no clear frontrunner for the nomination. The party remains divided on tactics, strategy and ideology. Last year the so-called tea party movement emerged and injected tremendous energy into the conservative movement. In a moment, former House Majority Leader and tea party enabler Dick Armey joins us.

We'd like to hear from conservatives, libertarians and Republicans in the audience today. Is the GOP the only realistic political prospect? What's the future of the movement? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site - that's at npr.org. And click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dick Armey is now the chairman of FreedomWorks, a national limited government organization and he's kind enough to join us today by phone from his ranch in Texas. And Congressman, nice to have you with us.

Mr. DICK ARMEY (Chairman, FreedomWorks): It's nice to be with you.

CONAN: And I read a recent interview with you where you said you thought the governor of Minnesota, Mr. Pawlenty, is the best person - the person in the best position right now.

Mr. ARMEY: I think he's in great position in that he carries no baggage. He is a fresh face and he has a chance to define himself on his own terms. He seems to be a reliable conservative, and of course is in my estimation, for virtually all races in the foreseeable future, you're going to have to be able to make yourself a pretty good case for being a reliable conservative in order to win. I think it's going to be - right now it's going to be, well, who is different from Obama, who gives us change that we can really believe in? Because we kind of got hoodwinked the last time.

CONAN: Well, some people would say, and certainly some people in the tea party movement, also different from the previous Republican administration, which of course created record deficits and passed things like a Medicare Plan D and other things that went right along in the big spending part of the program.

Mr. ARMEY: Absolutely right, and that's one of the things you have understand. The tea party activist movement or the grass roots activist movement - that includes tea party activists as well as many other activists, is - it is not a partisan movement. It is not devoted to any political party. It's devoted to a point of view, a set of principles. Fiscal conservatism is a center stake of this big tent.

But I would argue, and I think can do so convincingly, that the biggest big tent in America today on the political scene is the grassroots conservative movement. And the first thing that they want is people to be clearly and predictably and reliable fiscal conservatives. That's why a fresh face, somebody who can basically stand up and say, look, I understand your disappointments that you've had with some Republicans in the past, it is very clear that I am not a person who was there at that time, and with respect to whom you could have any concern about being disappointed in the future.

CONAN: Well, some of those tea party activists say, look, we don't want to be boxed in to the Republican Party either, there should be talk about a third party or maybe supporting libertarian candidates.

Mr. ARMEY: Well, and I understand the sentiment about not being boxed in. I think you can be committed to a set of principles and you can challenge both parties I think realistically given the principles we're talking about, you know, real fiscal conservative and real devotion to individual liberty, that you would only reliably dare to hope that the Republicans might rise to that occasion, put the principles out there.

But I mean, the fact of the matter is, third parties don't get elected. The Conservative Party in New York has had some luck, but - some success, but it's been very limited. The fact is that the political infrastructure that's enjoyed by the Democrats and the Republicans make it fairly likely that in any election they're going to be the way it turns out. So the question is then - what can you do to reform the behavior, the attitude and the actual business in office? Either of the two parties, I think, most - most conservatives in America today understand that we have a fighting chance to have our point of view appreciated and respected by Republicans in the majority. They've done it in the past. They understand it and they has a - so we have a chance there, but we have no chance from the Democrats.

CONAN: Ken, you have a question for Dick Armey?

RUDIN: Congressman, a lot had been said about the so-called Scozzafava seat in upstate New York and with - between conservatives and moderates, and that didn't work out the way the Republicans would have liked. But we also see Crist and Rubio in Florida. You see major divisions in California for governor and the senator between conservatives and moderates. You see Utah, Bob Bennett, the conservative senator being challenged from the right. My question, I guess, is does the - do the Republican - does the Republican Party need several cycles to get its feet planted or its act together? And is that enough time to unite and tie in for 2012?

Mr. ARMEY: Well again - I mean, the fundamental principles of small government and fiscal conservatism are certainly not something to be discovered. They know that. The Republican Party certainly must know these principles well. They've actually served them well in the past, on some occasions.

RUDIN: But these are bitter primary battles here.

Mr. ARMEY: Well, there's always going to be a primary battle and, you know, that's part of politics. You accept the fact that there will be a primary. The question is - I would argue right now, in any primary in any state in the country today, in either the Republican Party or the Democrat Party, the - except for isolated, highly gerrymandered districts that are as - were owned by the Democrats, the fact is the more conservative candidate, that candidate is going to be less likely to endorse what have proven to be the frightening extremes of the Obama administration, the current speaker and the current leadership in the Senate. That candidate is going to win the primary and he's going to win it more than they want to believe in the Democrat Party as well, except for, as I say, the selected, highly gerrymandered district that they own thoroughly.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Our guest is the former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Dick Armey. He's calling us from Texas. Mike(ph) is on the line calling from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

MIKE (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thanks.

MIKE: Very good. I think that there are - I'm a registered Republican in the state of Michigan, and I believe that there's quite a fissure in the party, to where the - there's the conservative Republicans and then there's the rest of us. And I believe that in order to get the Republican nomination for president, you kind of have to pander to the conservatives because the Republican Party is so full of them. However, once they get a head of steam out of the primaries into the general election, it's hard to get elected as a conservative Republican in these days, I believe.

Mr. ARMEY: I think - and I understand the concern that you're raising there. I think the alternative, though, is to stand on principles. And when you stand on principles you find yourself endearing to many voters across the board. If you take a look in - at the people who are the grassroots activist in America today, who are the source of virtually all discernible energy in politics today, you're going to find Republicans, Democrats, independents, moderates, moderate conservatives, Evangelical conservatives. There's a very wide range of people to whom a person who is willing to say, I really and truly do stand on principle, and in fact I reliably mean it, you can count on me. If they can get that message across and if they can get the voters to believe them, they're going to win elections.

MIKE: Now, Congressman, do you believe that the Republican Party would be better served breaking into the conservative Republicans and the moderate Republicans or a facsimile thereof?

Mr. ARMEY: I think the Republican Party is best served (unintelligible) its best electoral success when and has been the party of small government, fiscal conservative, a party that could be relied on to protect your individual liberties and protect the security of the nation and, in effect, what has been the party of a small government, an efficient small government. The party of Reagan, the party of the contract with America.

It's had - the Republican Party has had electoral success in the past that has been stunning in its completeness. It's capable of doing that again. But not if they're going to say, well, our idea of how you win elections is to look at the Democrats and say, well, we're kind of like them but just not so much. Nobody wants itty, bitty big tents. They want big tents that have real meaning that you can reliably - a reliable meaning.

CONAN: Let's see if we can squeeze one more caller in, Jack(ph). Jack with us from Concord, New Hampshire.

JACK (Caller): Hi, Representative Armey. I don't - I have the same view as the last caller except that I have the opposite opinion that the party is - the future looks pretty bleak, because people like me - and I'm - used to consider myself a conservative. I campaigned for George Bush in 2000. But now I consider myself a libertarian. I don't feel welcome in this party at all. I don't consider myself a Republican anymore. I've moved to New Hampshire with the Free State Project, and successive things like the Free State Project I think show how disillusioned libertarians feel with this once alliance with the Republican Party...

CONAN: And I don't mean to cut you off, Jack, but I want to give Representative Armey a chance.

Mr. ARMEY: Yeah. If you kind look at it from the other end of the spectra - that's the challenge that before the Republican Party. Clearly, the grassroots activists that have so - been so obviously on the scene in the past year have shown us the way. The middle ground is, in fact, fiscal conservative - get out there and demonstrate your commitment to it and you will win people's loyalty. If the Republican Party can do that, they'll win elections. Now, the bigger question and the one you see probably reflected in the amazing attrition rates that the Democrats are experiencing right now, is what could they possibly do to once again endear themselves to the voters, because the voters are scared to death of them.

So, you know, the fact is that the Republican Party has an opportunity to demonstrate to American people, we're the folks you can count on. We will give you change that you can really believe in, whether they rise to that occasion or not, I don't know. But I do know right now, the Republicans electorally are much well - more well-placed than the Democrats, precisely because they are not the Democrats. And the Democrats are scaring the devil out of everybody that in the country.

CONAN: Jack, thanks very much for the call. And Dick Armey, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. ARMEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Dick Armey, the chairman of FreedomWorks, former majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives. And Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin will be back with us one week from today on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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