Tea Party Candidate Shakes Up Texas Race

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Republicans Debate i

Texas GOP gubernatorial candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina debate at the WFAA Channel 8 studios on January 29, 2010. Louis DeLuca/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Louis DeLuca/AP
Republicans Debate

Texas GOP gubernatorial candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina debate at the WFAA Channel 8 studios on January 29, 2010.

Louis DeLuca/AP

Debra Medina, who identifies with the tea party movement, has disrupted the race between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Medina's poll numbers went up after a late January debate with Perry and Hutchison. Shortly after the debate, Medina appeared on Glenn Beck's syndicated radio show. He asked her whether she believed the U.S. government had any involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

She answered, "I don't have all of the evidence there, Glenn," and continued, "I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard." Immediately thereafter, Medina released a statement clarifying her belief that the U.S. government was not involved, but still, it has seemed to affect public support for her campaign.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin and Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News assess the Republican gubernatorial primary race in Texas.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Bipartisanship breaks out in the Senate on the jobs bill; little of that expected tomorrow across the street from the White House on health care; and Texas braces for a primary. It's Wednesday and time for a Lone Star 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. Wheres 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 Im the decider.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont) (Screams)

GROSS: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics. Ron Paul wins the presidential straw poll at the annual conservative confab. Sarah and Bristol Palin both head for Hollywood. In just a bit, we'll focus on next Tuesday's primary, where the Texas Tea Party candidate could force the incumbent governor and the incumbent U.S. senator into a Republican runoff.

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. Okay, well, Tuesday is the Texas primary, the second primary of the season. The first was Illinois last earlier. Texas has not elected a Democratic by the way, you're going to really earn your Political Junkie T-shirt because this is a tough one.

CONAN: So this is a tough one, a two-parter, and you've got to get both parts right.

RUDIN: Two-parter. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990 -that was Ann Richards - and a Democratic senator since 1988. That was Lloyd Bentsen. So here are the two parts. What state has gone longer without electing both a Democratic governor and a senator - longer than Texas, of course - and which state has gone the longest without electing a Democratic governor?

CONAN: So which state, if you think know, which state's gone longer without electing both a Democratic governor and senator, and, plus, which state has gone longest without electing a Democratic governor? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. The stakes, of course, well, they continue to mount, a fabulous Political Junkie...

RUDIN: You're going to earn it. You're going to earn it this week.

CONAN: Okay. And so, Ken, it is vote today in the United States Senate. Five Republicans crossed party lines to break the filibuster the other night on the jobs bill, and it did pass today.

RUDIN: It did. The big vote was Monday. Five Republicans, including Scott Brown, Scott Brown who was, of course, cheered at CPAC last week, today on his Facebook page and Twitter, they're talking about Benedict Brown, they call him, a traitor, a Judas, because he was one of the five Republicans to vote to end the filibuster. He, along with Snow and Collins of Maine, George Voinovich and Kit Bond of Missouri.

CONAN: Voinovich of Ohio, of course.

RUDIN: Voinovich from Ohio, right. So those five senators gave the Democrats a 62-30 vote on Monday to end the filibuster. It passed today 70-28.

Now, Mitch big, big victory for the Democrats, for Harry Reid. Harry Reid -even though it's a small bill, it's like $15 billion compared to $155 billion...

CONAN: You get that much every other week in your paycheck.

RUDIN: Well, that's just the scuttlebutt (unintelligible). So but it's if the Democrats want to campaign on having gotten something accomplished, this is a small step, and of course the Republicans helped.

CONAN: Well, Harry Reid says he's going to introduce the next jobs bill next week that's going to include an extension of unemployment insurance.

RUDIN: Right, that's exactly right. Interesting, you know, we're talking about Scott Brown, but of course, by the way, on both Monday's vote and today's vote, Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to vote against it. I don't know if he's talking about switching parties, but he's certainly not in tune with his party leadership, not that he ever was.

CONAN: All right - moving right along, that health care summit is tomorrow. This is going to be a big televised event, and in advance the president comes out with his own proposal, merging the two versions of the Democratic bills, one of the Senate, one from the House, into his proposal on Monday.

RUDIN: Right, but of course it does not include the anti-abortion language that we saw in the House version, the famous Stupak Bill, and so it's going to be very interesting.

Look, right now, all along, it's been a spectacle of the Democrats fighting Democrats. We saw that with Ben Nelson, with Joe Lieberman, with Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, people who have had Democrats who have reservations with it.

And then we've also had the House bill, the House folks not voting for the Senate version, which they could have done all this time. So this gives the president an opportunity. He said, look, I did pretty well when I was up against those House Republicans in Baltimore. Let's see if I can do the same thing on a health care summit for six hours tomorrow at the Blaire House, across the street from the White House.

So - but the Republicans are aware of this. They made it was like the Paris Peace Talks, deciding what the table would look like, who would sit where, what the shape of the table - because in Baltimore, all you saw was President Obama, and you never saw the Republicans at all. They were just voices in the distance.

I don't think any bipartisanship is going to come out of it. Obviously, it's all politics, but there's a tremendous amount at stake for both sides, because if the Democrats could paint the Republicans as the party of no and saying that they're against all this, it could help the Democrats, but the Republicans are saying, look, we're not going to have to match our 1,200-page bill for your 1,200-page bill. I just have to just say, explain that it's just too expensive and it doesn't work and the American people are against it.

CONAN: But they are, the Republicans are going to show up tomorrow.

RUDIN: They're about, at least 19 Republicans - Mitch McConnell, who's very canny, you know, he's not the greatest-looking guy on TV as far as, you know, presentation and stuff, but he's very smart, very canny, very, a great strategist. John McCain will be there too, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma...

CONAN: Dr. Tom.

RUDIN: Dr.�Tom Coburn.

CONAN: We have some people who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question.

RUDIN: We always hear that...

CONAN: We always hear that, but hey so if you think you know which state has gone longer without electing both a Democratic governor and a Democratic senator and which state has gone the longest without electing a Democratic governor, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: All that for one crummy T-shirt.

CONAN: One crummy T-shirt. Jennifer's on the line from Boise.

JENNIFER (Caller): Is it Utah?

CONAN: Utah for both states?

JENNIFER: Yes.

CONAN: Okay.

RUDIN: Well, Utah is correct in the fact well, I can't believe on the first guess. Utah has not elected a Democratic governor since 1980. That was Scott Matheson, and a Democratic senator since 1970, and that was Frank Moss, as you well remember.

CONAN: Of course, yes.

RUDIN: Who lost to Orrin Hatch in '76. But it was not the last state that's gone the longest without electing a Democratic governor. So now we have...

CONAN: Half the answer.

RUDIN: We know that it's Utah, but we need to know the state that has gone the longest without a Democratic governor.

JENNIFER: So I get half a T-shirt?

CONAN: Yes, you can have half the T-shirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JENNIFER: Okay.

CONAN: All right, bye. Thanks very much for the phone call. Here's email, this from Artis, who guesses, well, this was before we knew one of them was Utah -Louisiana and California.

RUDIN: No, because Louisiana had Kathleen Blanco as governor not that long ago. And California was the other guess?

CONAN: Yes.

RUDIN: And California had Gray Davis elected as recently as 2002.

CONAN: They'd like to forget about that.

RUDIN: I can recall him. Oh, they did recall him.

CONAN: They did recall him, yes. Here's another email, this from Frank in North Carolina: Longer, South Carolina; longest, Alaska.

RUDIN: No, because in South Carolina they elected Jim Hodge in 1994 for governor, a Democrat; and Alaska they had they elected a Democrat for governor in - also 1994.

CONAN: Okay, and we'll remember that person's name at 2:00 tomorrow morning. Let's see if we can go back to the phones, and let's go next to, this is Emanuel(ph), Emanuel is from Prairieville in Louisiana.

EMANUEL (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: You're on the air, Emanuel, go ahead, please.

EMANUEL: Yes, thanks for taking my call. I think it's Oklahoma and Mississippi.

CONAN: Well, we know one of them's Utah, but...

RUDIN: Well, it's not Oklahoma because they have a Democratic governor right now, Brad Henry. So they have not gone the longest. They have a Democratic governor currently.

CONAN: Nice try, though. Let's go next to this is Rodney(ph), Rodney with us from Lewistown in Montana.

RODNEY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Rodney, you're on the air. Go ahead.

RODNEY: Yes, sir. I guessed Utah and then Oklahoma second, but I already heard Oklahoma was wrong, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Afraid not. Well, you're still half right. You get the other half of Jennifer's T-shirt.

RODNEY: There you go.

CONAN: Okay, bye-bye.

RUDIN: Oh, oh, I just remembered Tony Knowles was the governor of Alaska we were thinking of.

CONAN: Okay. Two o'clock arrived early.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Bob's on the line from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Yes, this is Bob Sixta from Rochester, Minnesota, and I believe the answer I know the first part is Utah, and I think the second part is Nebraska.

CONAN: Nebraska.

RUDIN: No, Ben Nelson, now the senator, was elected governor of Nebraska in 1994. So we still had a Democratic governor at least in the 1990s. We're looking before that.

CONAN: All right. Nice try, though, Bob.

BOB: Yup, thank you.

CONAN: In the meantime, let's go back to we've gone through the first round of callers, only got half right. Nevertheless, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

Let's go back to that CPAC summit. Interesting that the outcome was a victory for, well, the person you think perhaps the most unlikely to actually get the Republican nomination for president, Ron Paul.

RUDIN: Yes, but not unlikely at a CPAC conference. As a matter of fact, that was criticized by Mike Huckabee, who did not attend the conference. He said that the libertarians have basically taken over CPAC. It's less Republican, and CPAC will tell you it's not Republican, it's conservative, but it's more libertarian.

When I ran a little poll for NPR, who's the most likely nominee for 2012, Ron Paul also won that as well. They are the Ron Paul supporters are very active, very adept on the Internet, the Internets, very good at conservative action committees, stuff like that, but it's interesting because in the last two years Mitt Romney had won the straw poll there, and here he finished second to Ron Paul.

CONAN: And Mitt Romney, by the way, will be with us on Political Junkie next week.

RUDIN: Ooh, I hope to hear him.

CONAN: That would be good, and somebody named Rudin. In the meantime, there was an interesting comment from the keynote speaker, Glenn Beck of Fox News - well, yes, giving it to the progressives, giving it to the Democrats, but giving it to the Republicans as well.

Mr.�GLENN BECK (Television Host): I'm a recovering alcoholic, and I screwed up my life six ways to Sunday, and I believe in redemption, but the first step to getting redemption is you've got to admit you've got a problem.

I have not heard people in the Republican Party yet admit that they have a problem, and when they do say they have a problem, I don't know if I believe them.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr.�BECK: I haven't seen the come-to-Jesus moment of the Republican Party yet. I've voted Republican almost every time I've gone. I don't know what they even stand for anymore, and they've got to recognize that they have a problem. Hello, my name is the Republican Party and I've got a problem. I'm addicted to spending and big government.

CONAN: And of course that got a rousing reception from the libertarians and conservatives.

RUDIN: Well, we know Glenn Beck has a problem, and we can talk about that some other time, but he makes a good point in that conservatives feel that the Republican Party does not stand for anything, and that's why in Florida, where the frontrunner for the longest time for the Senate race was Governor Charlie Crist, but now Marco Rubio has a considerable lead. It looks like Jeb Bush, who's the most popular Republican in Texas, may be behind the scenes for Rubio.

A lot of in the conservative-versus-moderate battle, the conservatives are winning.

CONAN: And we'll see about that in Texas in just a moment. In the meantime, we should note that former Vice President Cheney, who addressed that CPAC conference, then a couple of days later went to the hospital, had a mild heart attack, but we're delighted to report that he's out of the hospital and feeling much better.

So Bob Dole, though, still in the hospital?

RUDIN: He's still in the hospital, but he's also expected to be doing okay. This was Dick Cheney's fifth heart attack.

CONAN: And let's we have an email answer from Jennifer, who asks: Utah, we know that, and South Dakota.

RUDIN: That is the correct answer. In 1974, Richard Kneip.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding. Jennifer, we're got your email address. You have to promise to send us a picture of you in your brand new political junkie T-shirt so we can put it on our wall of shame.

Coming up, Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News joins us to dope out the primary in Texas coming up on Tuesday. Stay with us. 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. NPR political editor Ken Rudin is with us, our political junkie, as he is every Wednesday. We're talking all things politics. You can read his blog, download his Podcast, solve his ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org.

But now we turn to the governor's race in Texas, where Republican incumbent Rick Perry is running for re-election, being challenged in the GOP primary by longtime United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and by a surprise third party candidate, Debra Medina, who has become the nominee of the Texas Tea Party, and I just think everybody loves saying that phrase: Texas tea. It reminds us all of nice TV show.

Anyway, we'd like to hear from our listeners in Texas today, Republicans and Democrats. How is this race playing out? Yeah, Democrats are going to make a nomination too. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Wayne Slater joins us, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News. He's covered Texas politics for 20 years. He's with us from the studios of member station KUT in Austin. Nice to have you back on the program today.

Mr.�WAYNE SLATER (Senior Political Writer, Dallas Morning News): Great to be with you.

CONAN: And the race on the Republican side has just been riveting. Everyone expected that Kay Bailey Hutchison would be out way ahead at this point in the primary race because, well, weren't they talking about the Perry fatigue factor?

Mr.�SLATER: Absolutely. This is astonishing. A year ago, Rick Perry was in trouble. He was seen as the likely loser if he chose to run for re-election. Kay Bailey Hutchison was leading him by double digits. People were kind of tired of Perry. He's not unpopular, but he's not particularly popular. Some of his agenda items haven't gone well. So it looked like it was a slam dunk for Kay Bailey Hutchison, and then she walked into this wave of Tea Party activists.

CONAN: And, well, there's a Tea Party candidate, but Rick Perry actually got out in front of this wave.

Mr.�SLATER: That's what he did, and it's amazing because he really doesn't have that much of an agenda to offer. The original idea was to press the a year ago - was to press the case that Perry is the governor of a state that's doing pretty darn well, thank you, even though the economy is not great. We're certainly better than California and most other states, and we are.

But what he found was that the response he got when he showed up at a 10th Amendment rally that is to say the states' rights issue - and then in April, at the first round of tea parties in Texas, was the populist anti-Washington and ironically anti-incumbent message was something that he could seize on, would work for him if only he could position himself as the outsider, and he's done a great job at that.

CONAN: Well, isn't that the occasion when he made that remark that seemed to applaud secession from the union?

Mr.�SLATER: Yeah, welcome to the Lone Star State: guns, secession and was 9/11 an inside job? Those are the kitchen table issues that we're talking about.

CONAN: Well, was it you, Wayne, who came up with the idea that we knew that Rick Perry wanted to run for president, we just didn't know it was president of Texas?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�SLATER: That's right. I think I have written that, but others have as well. But you know, the amazing thing about the secession comment was that I am told that Kay Bailey Hutchison on that day was in Houston at a fundraiser, walked out, heard that Perry had made a reference about secession, which he didn't advocate secession.

CONAN: Not quite.

Mr.�SLATER: But he did make a reference to it, said, you know, this could happen, and she said it's over. It is over. So in April, Kay Bailey Hutchison thought that when you said crazy stuff, it meant something. Well, what it meant was, it was a code, in a sense.

I mean, most Texans don't believe we're going to secede, but they do believe it's a way to express an attitude, a disaffection with Washington, and essentially, you know, you know it and I know it, and certainly Ken knows it.

The way you win campaigns, one of the ways is to have a crisp, clear message. A clear message beats a muddled message every time. Her message is kind of all over the place. His message is: I'm Texas, she's Washington. This is the year for that.

CONAN: And meanwhile, that jobs message, well, all the candidates were there at a televised debate, the second one. You were on the panel of that debate, Wayne, and on the question of the jobs, I think you put a question to the governor, Rick Perry, and he was a little bit less than clear on how well Texas is doing in the economic realm.

Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): I can't tell you how many government jobs. I can tell you what the percentage is. In Texas, we only we produce about five percent of the total job market in that sector. So 95 percent, 90 to 95 percent of the jobs created were in the public sector.

Mr. SLATER: (Unintelligible)

Gov. PERRY: I know you're having trouble understanding percentages, Wayne...

Mr.�SLATER: Just give me a number. How many private and how many public jobs, or are you just not going to answer it?

Gov. PERRY: Well, I've told you the percentage-wise. We had 270,000 jobs lost in Texas in 2009.

CONAN: And that was, in terms of message, Wayne, less than clear.

Mr.�SLATER: Absolutely. He didn't want to answer the question. He wanted to talk about years before 2009, which really, admittedly, that was a difficult year for everyone, but in Texas last year, we lost 350,000 jobs, private-sector jobs. We gained 88,000 public government jobs. It's not a message that a populist conservative Republican incumbent in this year of popular insurgency wanted to acknowledge.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Hi, Wayne. You know, it's interesting that Kay Bailey Hutchison has suddenly become the Washington establishment candidate, and yet she has the endorsement of almost everybody in the Bush family: George, Sr., Barbara Bush, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Karen Hughes. Once upon a time, these were popular people in Texas, no?

Mr.�SLATER: Yeah, and once upon a time, and actually, George W. Bush remains a somewhat popular figure here in Texas. This is a fairly conservative state. But, you know, once upon a time, Ken, you went into an election, and if you had experience, and if you were a national federal candidate, and you had a record of bringing home the bacon to Texas, those were good things.

Once upon a time, if you had a former president from your own state's endorsement and the endorsement of a number of other folks like, as you say, Rove and Karen Hughes, that was a positive thing. Not this year. That's not what we're finding. People Perry has been very successful in identifying all things Hutchison with all things Washington.

CONAN: And the most important endorsement, it seems, was that - not of a Texan but of Sarah Palin.

Mr.�SLATER: Oh, that was a big you know, I go to these events. I was just out with Kay Bailey Hutchison the other day, and these are campaign events where you get maybe, you know, 50, 60 people; 20, 30 people for a meet and greet. This was five, six thousand people in Houston on Super Bowl Sunday, before the game, when Sarah Palin came to publicly endorse Rick Perry. That is gold in the bank.

CONAN: In the meantime, the United States senator, the once very popular Kay Bailey Hutchison, at that same debate, well, you gave her, Wayne, a chance to clarify a, well, rather fuzzy statement she'd made on her position on abortion. You'd think that's something you'd need to clarify in the Republican primary. You gave her the opportunity to do it again.

Senator KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (Republican, Texas): I have a very strong pro-life record, 94 percent, but I take Justice Roberts - what did he say when he was asked in his confirmation hearing about overturning Roe v. Wade? He said he would be very cautious because there is now 40 years of settled law that has started restricting abortion in our country, that has had a good effect, and he would be cautious for overturning it for not knowing what is behind it.

CONAN: So is she for overturning Roe v. Wade or against it?

Mr.�SLATER: I don't know. I think she's not for overturning the precedent of Roe vs. Wade, but could you hear, in her answer all the social conservatives nodding off, tuning out? The problem is that Kay Bailey Hutchison is not a Massachusetts Republican. These are Texas Republicans. These are conservatives, and she has a very conservative record, actually, but not on abortion.

When she ran for Senate in 1993, she basically made it clear that she was pro-choice but with as many restrictions as you could reasonably put on abortion, but she was not for overturning Roe vs. Wade. It is a soft spot. It is the definition of a liberal in Texas that even if you voted conservative and love guns and advocate the death penalty, if you are wrong on abortion, it's a real, real problem, and she's really never come up with a satisfactory answer to that, certainly not one that would satisfy voters.

Her problem is that next Tuesday it's a Republican primary. A million people will show up. These are conservative voters. Statistically, the likely Republican primary voter in Texas, fully a third of them, go to church at least twice a week, and we know that is a metric. Most of them are Southern Baptists, but that is a metric that is a politically conservative measure.

It's important that she get to these people. If somehow she could survive this primary and be the general election Republican nominee with a somewhat more moderate pool of voters, then she likely would be in great shape, but you have to pass this first hurdle, and it is a group of very conservative voters.

CONAN: And there's a wildcard in the race. That's the Texas Tea Party candidate, Debra Medina, who's polls were rising rather surprisingly in the Republican primary, at least until she made an appearance on the Glenn Beck syndicated radio program and he asked her about reports that she didnt quite believe that the U.S. government had no role in the 9/11 - the attacks in 9/11.

(Soundbite of radio interview)

Ms. DEBRA MEDINA (Republican gubernatorial candidate, Texas): I dont have all of the evidence there, Glenn, so I don't - Im not in a place. I have not been out publicly questioning that. I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard. There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that.

CONAN: And she has also said that as governor of Texas, if she should be elected, she would, well, simply not pay any attention to federal laws that she doesnt think are constitutional.

Mr. SLATER: That's right. The term is nullification and it's essentially - it's a part of her stump speech everywhere she goes, and it's essentially that if the federal government passes a law that we don't like - meaning we believe that it's unconstitutional - we will simply ignore it. It's - that's a problem. Legally, that's certainly a problem.

CONAN: Thought we settled that one at Appomattox?

Mr. SLATER: We did. We - John C. Calhoun talked about that a few years ago, and I think it's over. It's over. But the thing about Medina is that she actually is quite a striking presence. She's very bright. She was a former county GOP chairwoman. She's a Ron Paul Republican, and as Ken alluded to earlier in the show, these Ron Paul Republicans here in Texas and elsewhere are a very active bunch.

The problem for her was although she was able to generally make appearances where she would impress people with articulate, you know, answers that were quite conservative libertarian in form, that there was always a suspicion that if you open the right door, the cuckoo would come out.

And the birther, the truther movement, all the rest of that is in evidence if you go to some of her rallies. She's tried to escape it. Glenn Beck, I think, asked her the question - she wasn't expecting it. And it was - even though she denied it later - she took back, in essence, what she had said, what it did was kill this rise, we think, of Medina. Although, you know, some of her voters -there's a new Rasmussen poll out today and it shows she's at 16 percent - I doubt that, but she might be. And if that's the case, she's still could throw this to a runoff.

CONAN: Were talking with Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. The Texas primary is on next Tuesday.

Here's an email from Mike(ph) in San Antonio, who says, I'm on deliveries for my job but I listen to the Republican debates on KSTX. I'm from Illinois. Where I'm familiar with the politics there and listening to the debates in Texas, I'm reminded of the tune by Paula Cole - question: "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" Answer: Texas politics. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

RUDIN: Wayne, four years ago, Governor Perry barely survived a four-way race for a reelection. I guess he got 38 percent of the vote.

Mr. SLATER: Thirty-nine percent.

RUDIN: Thirty-nine percent. Now, of course, the Republican fortunes between 2006 and now have changed a lot, but what about his chances of - assuming he survives the primary, what about him against Bill White, the former mayor of Houston?

Mr. SLATER: He'll probably beat Bill White. I mean, White is going to frame him as the - as Obama, as Washington. He was on the Clinton administration, as Sanctuary Bill because the city has a policy about immigration sanctuary. The city really doesn't, but you say it anyway.

There are ways to frame Bill White as the dreaded liberal, even though he's going to be one of the more moderate Democrats to run in quite awhile, you know? Conversely, White is going to try to frame Perry as the guy, the crony guy, the guy who has the nuts surround him. You know what, a lot of Texans don't think much of the - some of the stuff as nutty. And so I think he - I think White has a real good chance but I think it's difficult.

CONAN: It's not - it doesnt look like a Democratic year, at least in that part of the country.

Mr. SLATER: No. No. I mean, does it look like a Democratic year anywhere, Ken?

RUDIN: Ah, D.C.?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I don't think they have any elections coming up this year in D.C. Wayne Slater, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. SLATER: It's great to be with you.

CONAN: Wayne Slater, senior political writer of The Dallas Morning News. And he joined us from our member station, KUT in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, Ken, a couple of things we did not have a chance to get to earlier. One of them is the fact that Mr. Traficant, the bewigged former congressman from Ohio, the Democrat, apparently going to try it again.

RUDIN: Yes, he apparently is the hair apparent - yes, thank you very much. He has served nine terms in Congress, served seven years in prison for corruption. He was only the second member of Congress since the Civil War to be booted out, expelled from Congress from his corruption conviction in 2002. But he has left the Democratic Party. He's talking about running as an independent. He still has some kind of a support. You know, he rallies against the IRS and all that. Even though he's lifelong - had been a lifelong Democrat, he is kind of like the Tea Party anger that you see out there, the distrust of the government. So he has some kind of support but I dont know what that means.

CONAN: Trying to make it from the jailhouse to the House of Representatives, so...

RUDIN: A pretty small leap there.

CONAN: Yeah. Let's - and we should note, the death, this past week, of Al Haig. He did run for president a couple of times. He did not even do well in the primaries and withdrew, very early, his name from consideration. However, was very important, first as a four-star general in the United States Army, a war hero in Korea, and then, of course, chief of staff in the very end of the Nixon administration.

RUDIN: You know, we always talk about how, of course, he did run for president. He finished last in the Iowa caucuses - dropped out. We always talk about his -after President Reagan was shot, he, as secretary of state, says, I'm in control here. But the real role that Al Haig played was when he was chief of staff to President Nixon, in the rainy days of the Watergate scandal, he really helped with the transition between the disgraced President Nixon and the new President Ford, and for all the mocking he got for the I-am-in-control-here, he played a very major role in making government the continuation of government in 1974.

CONAN: A lot of memoirs of that era say, well, he was in charge at that time. President Nixon, reportedly drinking heavily, Carl Albert who - of course the vice president, that was Gerry Ford and he was lacked legitimacy, he'd not been elected - and Carl Albert, the speaker of the House, well, he was having his difficulties too.

RUDIN: Yeah. I know. It was just an awful, awful time. But you also think back to his time in the Reagan administration, that was not his happiest time. He battled with national security advisers over foreign policy. He didn't get along with many people, but again, it was '73, '74 the key role he played.

CONAN: Al Haig died this past week. Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor with us here in Studio 3A, as he is every Wednesday. And again, you can go to npr.org to check out his blog, his Podcast and his scuttlebutt and puzzle. He'll be here with us again next week. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, Margaret Regan hopes to put faces to the grim statistics of border-crossing deaths. We'll talk about "The Death of Josseline." Stay with us.

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

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