Republican Crist May Run As Independent In Fla.

Gov. Charlie Crist and former Speaker of the Fla. House Marco Rubio are vying for the Republican nomination for a Fla. senate seat.

But Gov. Crist is under mounting pressure from local and national Republican leaders to run as an independent.

Guests:

Mara Liasson, national political correspondent, NPR

Don Gonyea, national political correspondent, NPR

Beth Reinhard, political writer, Miami Herald

Janine Parry, associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, and director of the Arkansas Poll

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. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Rahm hints his next title might be His Honor; a SCOTUS summit at the White House; and it's wait 'til next year for D.C. voting rights - again. It's Wednesday, and time for a taxation-without-representation 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.

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

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin is feeling a little under the weather today feel better, Ken. So we've called on two of the NPR Washington desk's finest to pinch-hit: national political correspondents Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson.

As usual, there's a lot to talk about - Sarah Palin on church and state, a bevy of birther bills in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter duke it out on the airwaves. Later, we'll focus on a couple of primaries. In Florida, will Charlie Crist pull a Joe Lieberman to duck Marco Rubio? And in Arkansas, does Bill Halter help Blanche Lincoln? They debate on Friday night.

And you tell us: What's the big political story of the week; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the hour, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's six-game suspension from the NFL. But first, the Political Junkie - or more accurately, today at least, the Political Junkies. Joining us now here in Studio 3A are NPR national political correspondents Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea, and nice to have you both with us today.

MARA LIASSON: Good to be here. It takes two of us to fill Ken's shoes.

CONAN: Well, those are pretty big...

LIASSON: Because together, we're not even nearly as funny but...

CONAN: Better informed, we're hoping.

DON GONYEA: Does Ken claim, or pretend to actually have, an informed opinion on every one of those topics?

CONAN: Oh, absolutely. He'll claim it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anyway, Don Gonyea, a SCOTUS summit at the White House today, as the leaders from Capitol Hill came down for the, well, pro forma meeting to discuss their thoughts about the next nominee.

GONYEA: Yes, and it's the second time we've seen this during the Obama administration. This, of course, is his second Supreme Court pick. And it is a courtesy; the president says he wants to hear ideas for potential nominees. He wants to bounce names of nominees off of members of both parties. And I have to admit, I don't know that they have come out yet from the...

CONAN: I don't believe so, yeah.

GONYEA: ...we've seen anything, but it's part of the dance. And we could get a nominee quickly, or it could still be a little bit.

CONAN: Well, Mara, the White House said today - by the end of May.

LIASSON: Yes, I think that they want to keep to the schedule they felt worked for them with their first nomination, Sonia Sotomayor: Get a nomination up to the Hill late May, early June, and then try to get him, her, whoever it's going to be, confirmed in pretty short order.

I think the White House has some interesting things to balance. They want someone young, who's going to be on the court for a long time. They want someone who is a powerful enough personality and force on the court that could create some majorities, could negotiate with the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, to make some five-to-four majorities. And also, they have to decide how big a fight they want, how liberal a justice to send up, how big a fight do they want with the Senate? And also, the reverse of that is if they want to be safe, obviously they'd pick a more centrist candidate, but this might be their last chance to have a liberal because their majority is going to shrink, for sure, and possibly disappear altogether after November.

CONAN: Their majority in the Senate.

LIASSON: In the Senate. So in other words, if youre thinking that you are at the high water mark of the number of Democratic votes you have in the Senate, you might as well go for the most liberal one you're ever going to get because you're never going to get a chance like this again.

CONAN: Let me ask you, though, about a curious incident involving the woman many regard as the leading candidate here. That's Elena Kagan, currently the solicitor general, formerly at Harvard. And a blog appeared last weekend which said if nominated and confirmed, she would be the first openly gay justice of the Supreme Court.

LIASSON: Yes, which kind of breached a taboo to talk about that. The White House reacted angrily and, I thought, a little bit mysteriously because they said they pushed back against that blog, but they said it wasn't true, the blog was false, unless they mean there already is an openly gay justice on the court I don't think that's what they meant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: Oh, Ken would be proud of me. But anyway, but they said it's not true.

CONAN: That she is not a lesbian.

LIASSON: So they, in effect, were saying she's not a lesbian, which I thought was mystifying because I thought the position you want to take is, this is irrelevant; someone's sexual preference should be irrelevant to their qualifications for the court.

Now, CBS did pull down the blog. The blogger did kind of say, oh, I was trafficking in rumors. But I found that kind of curious, their reaction.

CONAN: This week, President Obama went to the West Coast to campaign and make a speech for Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who - of course - is up for re-election. And in his speech at the fundraiser, was interrupted by a protester who yelled out: Don't ask, don't tell. The protester was then drowned out by others in the audience, though the president said afterwards:

President BARACK OBAMA: No, listen. What the young man was talking about was we need to we need to repeal Don't Ask, Dont Tell, which I agree with.

(Soundbite of applause)

President OBAMA: And which we have begun to do.

CONAN: And Don Gonyea, this in the same week in which the president - or just the week after - the president extended visitation rights, hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples.

GONYEA: And it does get to how complicated the president's relationship remains, you know, with the gay community. He had tremendous support during the last election but again, there has been just huge frustration about his inability, so far, to make good on that promise to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell - from his first day, first day in office, literally.

And he has deferred to the military in terms of, you know, letting them talk it out, figure out what kind of policy...

CONAN: Well, he asked for a year the last time.

GONYEA: Exactly. And now, you're starting to get these kinds of protests. There was also, you know - some activists chained themselves to the front gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday. So this remains an issue, but it is interesting that it does come, you know, in the same week as the announcement on visitation rights, which is giving something.

CONAN: Mara, you were mentioning those Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, which may go a-glimmering after November. It's not just on the Supreme Court for the Senate, of course, but for issues like Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That would require a bill to be passed by Congress. It would be the same thing for immigration reform.

LIASSON: Sure - well, yes, although immigration is a whole other discussion. We can talk about that. I think that's actually ripe for some bipartisanship and might be easier to pass in a more divided Congress, but that's a separate issue. But yes, the majorities for everything the president wants to do are going to be slimmer, if not nonexistent, after November.

CONAN: Financial reform, though, we're talking now reconciliation. Suddenly it's bipartisan week at the...

LIASSON: Yeah, reconciliation as in little-R, not big-R please don't get yeah, let's not go back to reconciliation.

CONAN: Let's not go back to reconciliation.

LIASSON: Yes, as in bipartisanship.

CONAN: Exactly.

LIASSON: I believe that the threatened filibuster and the talk of Republicans, you know, blocking this bill was all a bit of kabuki theater. I think that all along, this bill was destined to pass - and probably pass with some Republican votes.

This was never like health care. Even Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said it wasn't like health care, and it does look like they're going to get a bill that at least some Republicans can support.

CONAN: Speaking of the makeup of that next United States Senate, there's an interesting primary in the state of Pennsylvania. The new Democrat, former Republican former Republican, former Democrat anyway, Arlen Specter is running against a member of the House of Representatives, Joe Sestak. Joe Sestak thought he would, of course, get the blessing of the Democratic establishment to run against Republican Arlen Specter. Now, the Democratic establishment is with new Democrat Arlen Specter. Anyway, this is a Specter ad running against Sestak for the Senate primary.

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Unidentified Announcer #1: Joe Sestak, relieved of duty in the Navy for creating a poor command climate. Joe Sestak, the worst attendance of any Pennsylvania congressman, and near the bottom of the entire Congress. Last year alone, Sestak missed 127 votes. Sestak says the missed votes weren't important. He went campaigning instead. Let's say no to no-show Joe.

CONAN: Suggesting this is going to be no holds barred when the primary comes up, this is Sestak's ad.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Announcer #2: Sestak has been called Pennsylvania's most effective new congressman, but he's not a career politician. Sestak served in the Navy for 31 years and became a three-star admiral. He commanded an aircraft carrier battlegroup in Afghanistan and served in President Clintons White House, Democrat Joe Sestak.

CONAN: I'm not sure how you command an aircraft battlegroup in Afghanistan, Mara Liasson, but this is one of the more interesting primaries we have coming up.

LIASSON: Yeah, it is, although I think, you know - Don can correct me I think the polls show that Specter is in pretty good shape to win the primary. His big worry, of course, is the general, where polls show he is really trailing his Republican opponent, Pat Toomey, who he switched parties to avoid running against in a Republican primary. And I always say that if...

GONYEA: And it's Specter who is ahead, not Sestak, which...

CONAN: No, she said...

LIASSON: In the primary. Yes, yes, that's what I'm saying. Yes, so I'm correct, thank God. But...

CONAN: We wouldn't want to set precedent like that on this show.

LIASSON: Right. But I always say if, you know, Arlen Specter could switch his party affiliation to a third party, he'd probably do it, but there are no more parties to switch to. But in any event, you know, he did make a risky move. There's a lot of enmity towards him, but just the fact that Pennsylvania, which is a blue state, has this incredible, you know, anti-Democratic surge going on there, for Pat Toomey, who is a very conservative Republican, he is the Club For Growth Republican who the Club For Growth is the kind of really fiscally...

CONAN: Fiscally conservative.

LIASSON: Right-wing group. I think that he is always on the list of the eight Senate races where you can easily see or plausibly see Republicans making pickups this year. When you kind of go down the list, Pennsylvania is always in there as one of the eight that they could lose.

CONAN: That primary is coming up in May. We should let you know on May 5th, all three of those candidates Joe Sestak, Arlen Specter and Pat Toomey will be appearing on this program. Presumably after Ken Rudin's feeling better, though, they may want to duck Ken Rudin, too.

LIASSON: Mazel tov. That's a good show.

GONYEA: And both of those new ads you played, I mean, they're both about telling people who Joe Sestak is - one defining him to the negative, one kind of building up the biography. Sestak's campaign is organized. I can't tell you how many emails I get every day from Sestak. But it's an uphill climb. He basically says hey, Arlen Specter is a Republican still; Im your Democrat.

CONAN: Don Gonyea and Mara Liasson, both NPR national political correspondents, both guest Political Junkies today.

Up next, to the Sunshine State. Governor Charlie Crist is getting - well, trailing badly in the polls and may have little choice but to run as an independent. We'll have to see about that. We're also going to check in, in Arkansas, on the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington. It's our regular Political Junkie Wednesday program. Ken Rudin is out, visiting with Sam and Ella today. NPR national political correspondents Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea are filling in.

One political race that received a lot of national attention is in the Sunshine State, between Republican Governor Charlie Crist and former speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio. They are vying for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. For now, at least, Crist is under mounting pressure for Senate as an independent.

Later, we're also going to be talking about the Democratic primary for Senate in Arkansas. If we have voters in those states, call and tell us how it's playing out where you live, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Joining us now by phone with the latest on this Senate race in Florida is Beth Reinhard, political writer for the Miami Herald. Nice to have you back.

Ms. BETH REINHARD (Political Writer, Miami Herald): Thank you.

CONAN: And how close is this Republican primary shaping up to be?

Ms. REINHARD: Well, at first it was it looked like a cakewalk for sitting Governor Charlie Crist. He was 20, 30 points ahead of the former speaker of the House, Marco Rubio. Fast-forward 10, 11 months, you had the governor, one of the few Republicans in the country who embraced the president's stimulus package; the Tea Party movement; and a great campaign run by this guy, Rubio, and you have complete reversal in the polls. And the governor is now fighting for his political survival.

CONAN: And indeed, much of the Republican political establishment is embracing Marco Rubio.

Ms. REINHARD: Yes. That, too, has totally changed. This is as fast as people were clamoring to endorse the governor when he was extremely popular months ago, now they're bailing just as fast and running to the side of Marco Rubio.

CONAN: And now the speculation is that he may the governor may pull a Joe Lieberman and decide to run as an independent, duck out of the primary and run as an independent.

Ms. REINHARD: Right. I mean, the one difference with Lieberman is he can't run as a Republican, lose and then say well, maybe I'll try it as an independent. He has to decide a week from Friday, one way or the other, either qualifies for the ballot as a Republican, or he qualifies as an independent. And then he's got to stick to that. So this is really crunch time, these next few days.

CONAN: And airtime in Connecticut ain't cheap, but Florida's a much bigger state. Is this going to cost a lot to run in that state?

Ms. REINHARD: It is. It's an extremely expensive state to run a statewide campaign in. It's more than a million dollars, you know, just to get on television for a week. And while the governor does have a fundraising advantage right now, that's expected to dry up really quickly if he were to leave the Republican Party.

CONAN: And the other part of this is - well, I wonder how the polls show he would fare in a three-way race.

Ms. REINHARD: Well, it's interesting. There was a, sort of a well-timed poll for him just this week, that showed pretty much a dead heat between - if he ran as the independent, Marco Rubio as the Republican nominee and the likely Democratic nominee, which is a congressman from Miami, Kendrick Meek.

So, I mean, that - once that poll came out, and the governor vetoed some legislation that was fervently backed by some of the most powerful Republicans in the state, people saw the writing on the wall and, you know, are just waiting for not if, but when he will declare himself to be independent.

CONAN: We're talking with Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald about the upcoming Republican primary for U.S. Senate, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And Reed(ph) is on the line from Havana, Florida.

REED (Caller): Hey Neal, Don, Mara, nice to talk with you. Listening to Beth there and a couple things she didn't mention, the news came out this morning that the IRS, along with the Florida department of law enforcement and other entities, are investigating former Speaker Rubio for the American Express credit card that he was given by the Republican Party of Florida.

Of course, the late, erstwhile Republican Party Chairman, Mr. Greer, is under investigation, too. And I'm wondering how Don and Mara might feel that Charlie might gauge his decisions on this investigation of Marco Rubio. Will it strengthen Rubio's base if they know that he's under investigation by the IRS?

CONAN: By the dreaded feds, yeah.

REED: Who they hate, or will it taint his candidacy to the point that by the end of this month, when Governor Crist has to make a decision, he might feel like he's in a better position?

CONAN: To stay a Republican. Mara?

LIASSON: Well, first of all, this investigation is something that Crist has been using like a cudgel against Marco Rubio. So clearly, he thinks it's a good thing for him - or maybe he thinks it's one of the few things he has. As far as Rubio's base being energized, I think it's basically the amount - the extent to which Rubio's base can be energized is limitless.

His base is so energetic. It is the Tea Party base. He is their hero. And I think it's something that yes, it's something that would hurt Rubio. I think that one thing that politicians do, above all else, is they know when there's an opportunity. And if Charlie Crist thinks that there's an opportunity for him -because certainly, I think his career would be over for a while if he dropped out to run as an independent, he would.

It would be really hard, but he certainly has a better chance as an independent, of winning, than he does as a Republican because he certainly will lose the primary.

CONAN: Don?

GONYEA: And the Am Ex story has been out there for a while, and we're not seeing real movement at all in the polls. Things don't look any better for Crist. But in the general, it becomes a much more important story as independent voters come into play.

CONAN: Beth Reinhard, anything there you would disagree with?

Ms. REINHARD: Yeah, it's true that the news about the credit card spending, you know, Crist actually was using that on television ads, ads that he took down over the weekend so because they weren't moving his poll numbers. Though the story we have in today's paper takes it to a new level. There's actual a federal investigation, actually, into the party, and you know, maybe this is good for Marco in that it sort of tarnishes the whole party with one big, you know, broad brush.

He is part of the IRS inquiry, but there are lots of other players and Crist, of course, is in the mix. And it was his hand-picked state party chairman. So, it's not good for the party overall in an election year, where in Florida, there's five statewide seats on the ballot.

CONAN: Reed, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

REED: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Helen(ph). Helen's with us from Miami.

HELEN (Caller): Yes, good afternoon, how are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

HELEN: Well, my opinion on Governor Crist - it's just horrendous. At this point, the only chance he has is if he runs as an independent. All his tactics are very towards winning, just it. And as a voter in Miami, as a voter in Florida, I need someone who is going to get things done. These men can't do it.

CONAN: Helen, thanks very much for that. Let's go back. Beth Reinhard, the most recent action of the governor was to veto an education reform bill in Tallahassee. How is that playing?

Ms. REINHARD: Well, it's interesting. The outcry to that bill from the teachers' union, and from many public school parents, was, you know, among one of the biggest that the legislature have seen in recent years. Some people have compared it to you might remember the Terri Schiavo case, the brain-damaged woman.

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. REINHARD: So the rallies, you know, people took to the streets and you know, people who hated the legislation saw a governor who listened to them and vetoed it. Of course, the governor's critics say, well, this was the biggest political calculation of his life. He just sort of threw a Hail Mary in vetoing legislation that was so important to his party because he needed to shake up the dynamics of the Senate race.

CONAN: Could cost him it's possible, it could cost the state Race to the Top funds from the Department of Education. But we'll have to see about that when the second round of education grants is announced - what, this summer and - I think in June.

Ms. REINHARD: Yeah, it's already cost the governor several important endorsements. And the question for the governor will be, is there a large enough constituency of teachers and parents out there who could really form almost a new political base for him, a new fundraising base for him, which is right now, he doesn't seem to have a base at all.

CONAN: Beth Reinhard, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Ms. REINHARD: Thank you.

CONAN: Beth Reinhard, political writer for the Miami Herald, with us today by phone from her office there in Florida. And let's now move to Arkansas, where Bill Halter challenges Senator Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Voters in the Land of Opportunity, we want to hear from you. How is the race playing out there? Which candidate do you support; 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Or again, join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. And click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now by phone from Fayetteville is Janine Parry, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, also the director of the Arkansas Poll. And Janine Parry, nice to have you with us today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. JANINE PARRY (Political Science Professor, University of Arkansas; Director, Arkansas Poll): Glad to be here.

CONAN: And how close is this race?

Ms. PARRY: Well, that depends, right, on which poll you're looking at. But my best guess, paying pretty close attention to this race, is that it's still double-digits, but just barely.

CONAN: Double-digits in favor of the incumbent?

Ms. PARRY: In favor of the incumbent, that's correct.

CONAN: And this is a challenger who's being coming at the incumbent from the left.

Ms. PARRY: Interestingly, for the most part, yes. Bill Halter is perceived as more liberal. It's difficult to say, you know, how much that's measurably true. But it's also to say that, you know, in some ways, the perception is that it's not difficult, at least from some Democrats, it's not difficult to be on Senator Lincoln's left - although again, empirically, I'd say that that's questionable.

But much of his challenge is coming from the left, and even more than that, sort of an anti-Beltway populist train, but this time inside the Democratic Party.

CONAN: And he is also being funded by, among others, the unions.

Dr. PARRY: Well, there is where the stamp of left comes from. He has - he has strong endorsement and heavy funding by AFL-CIO and affiliated labor groups, and then, of course, by Moveon.org, which was very glad and very open about having actively recruited him.

CONAN: And I have to ask, though, is being attacked from the left a bad thing for a Democrat in the state of Arkansas?

Dr. PARRY: I would say that it's really not. There certainly are some liberals in the state, and they certainly have been frustrated with Senator Lincoln. There are also the usual forms of frustration that she has become too distant and hasnt been home a lot. I would say that the latter is more prevalent. But in general, no, attacking from the left is not - not, in recent memory, a winning strategy in Arkansas politics.

CONAN: Don Gonyea?

GONYEA: She has also, famously, been running some TV spots, which you watch them and you would hardly know she is a Democrat - from watching them.

Dr. PARRY: And that's exactly the point and why I think - and I'm not - I don't think this is conventional wisdom. But in a sort of sick way, I think that his challenge from the left has really served to her advantage, assuming she survives it. It's allowed her to position herself where most Arkansans are, which is squarely in the middle. And some of the language she's used - you know, I'm the rope in this tug-of-war...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Dr. PARRY: ...and also, of course, you know, I'm being attacked by extremists on both sides - that's the kind of thing that has held great appeal in Arkansas politics for decades. We were split-ticket voting before split-ticket voting was cool. So I think this has been - again, in a kind of a twisted way, may serve her well as she presumably readies herself for the general.

CONAN: And Mara Liasson, you were talking earlier about the endangered eight Democrats as a...

LIASSON: She is at the top of the list. I mean, I'm sorry to say this, but you know, this - it's really interesting to talk about these primaries because they are fascinating. But I would say she is the single most endangered, just in terms of her poll numbers, against her potential Republican opponents in the fall. You know, she's - now, she might come out of the primary stronger, you know, this challenge might perversely help her. But I think she is considered one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents this year.

CONAN: Don?

GONYEA: And to what degree are people paying attention to this high-profile role she is playing this week in the whole financial regulations story?

CONAN: Ms. Derivatives, yes.

GONYEA: Exactly.

Dr. PARRY: Well, once we all sort of figured out what derivatives were...

CONAN: I'm glad you have figured it out.

LIASSON: Oh, have you? Oh, wow. That's better than we have here in Washington, I can tell you that.

Dr. PARRY: Yeah. I really think, though, that even if you dont know what a derivative is, it's interesting - in that sense she has come out, and I think it was a form of some surprise and frustration to Halter and his supporters. You know, she kind of carved out a space for her left on this one because it is economically to the left and therefore, populist. And that actually has great appeal in Arkansas - and again, strangely, helps her against Halter and helps her in a potential general.

Well, certainly she is vulnerable, and I think it positions her in a way that says, you know, she's looking out against big interests, you know, she's looking out for us, that kind of thing. And that's certainly language she can use in her campaign.

CONAN: We're talking with Janine Parry at the University of Arkansas, also the director of the Arkansas Poll, with guest Political Junkies Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

GONYEA: And Janine, we should talk about her potential Republican opponent.

Dr. PARRY: OK.

CONAN: Go ahead.

GONYEA: John Boozman.

Dr. PARRY: Well, I would say that sorry, I'll just jump in there. I would say that at least in recent polling, it's hard to say it's an eight-way race, so its hard to know what to make of the polling. And the Republicans are hardly on TV, mainly because most of them haven't raised enough money to do so. But John Boozman is a longtime Republican member of the U.S. House from the Third Congressional District, which has been in Republican hands since the 1960s.

He is a loyal Republican and, as most people would say, an extremely nice guy. It was something of a surprise to many that he would jump into this Senate race, you know, out of an extraordinarily safe seat. But it looks like it is possible - I still think it's unlikely, but that it's possible - he will come out of an eight-way primary without a run-off.

CONAN: Let's see if we get a caller in. This is Joe, Joe with us from Little Rock.

JOE (Caller): Ah, yes. You there?

CONAN: Go ahead.

JOE: Yeah. I just had a couple of - a question and a comment. The question is, do you have any recent numbers on the polls in the way the Democratic primary here in Arkansas is shaping up right now? And my comment being, in the past year and a half, I believe, Blanche Lincoln has really come on to the radar in the kind of more left-leaning area of Arkansas in her approach to the health-care bill and how she kind of - not necessarily stalled progress, but was one of the major deciding votes in whether or not that would go on. And also, I believe that in Arkansas, if you notice, a lot of the Democratic voting seems to go fairly in line with the labor unions. And as I see it right now, it doesnt seem as though the labor unions - the stronger ones here in Little Rock - are really behind Blanche Lincoln.

CONAN: No, no, they're very much for her opponent, as Beth Reinhard was telling us - excuse me, as Janine Parry was telling us. And the number you gave us was -she is still in front by what, 20 points?

Dr. PARRY: She is - oh no, not as much as 20. There are a couple - there is sort of a quote-unquote internal poll. There's an independent poll run by a liberal site that still finds her within double digits. You know, it's anywhere, I think, from, you know, 12 to maybe 15 points. But there was another poll and it was automated telephone calls, but also from an independent source, that had Halter within seven points of her. So you know, we're probably somewhere in that range. It's still a lead, but I'm sure not the lead that she would like to have at this point.

And in terms of, you know, the trouble that she's had, particularly in central Arkansas, that and in Fayetteville - where I live; are the more liberal places to be in Arkansas - I think it's interesting because certainly she was high profile as being in the middle. She both voted for and against public option, health care in general, she voted for - excuse me against public option, but for health care in other ways. She let it continue, she let it not continue. And the conventional wisdom has been that - that that made, you know, Democrats and conservatives - Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, angry at her. On the other hand, I would argue it positioned her where most Arkansans are, when you looked at any of the independent polling on health care.

And I guess the other thing I would say to some of the liberals, that I found a little bit puzzling, is if you look at her ADA scores - you know, kind of that established mark of liberalism in American politics today - she tends to, you know, other than Vic Snyder, for the Arkansas Democratic delegation, she tends to do better than any of the others, consistently - again, according to the ADA. In 2009, for example, she was at 95 percent congruence with ADA scores.

So she's doing what's worked for Arkansas politicians who are Democrats for a while, which is toe the party line and be a loyal Democrat on fairly low-profile issues, but then carve a middle path or move to the right on the high-profile stuff, which is where the electorate is.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much, Janine Parry. It sounds like it's a tactic that may work well in the primary. It could be a Republican year, though, in Arkansas, Florida, and in some other places, too. But thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Dr. PARRY: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Janine Parry, an associate professor of political science at the University of Arkansas, with us today on the line from her office in Fayetteville, also director of the Arkansas Poll.

Our thanks to our pinch-hitting Political Junkies, Mara Liasson and Don Gonyea. We hope that Ken Rudin will be back with us next week.

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