Primary Voters Send Anti-Establishment Message

Rep. Joe Sestak i i

Rep. Joe Sestak (D) celebrates his victory in the Senate primary in Penn. with his family. Michael Perez/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Perez/AP
Rep. Joe Sestak

Rep. Joe Sestak (D) celebrates his victory in the Senate primary in Penn. with his family.

Michael Perez/AP

Both political parties expressed their discontent with the status quo in primaries on Tuesday.

On the Democratic side, five-term incumbent and party-switcher Sen. Arlen Specter lost to Rep. Joe Sestak in Penn. And on the Republican side, first-timer Rand Paul swept away his opponent, Sec. of State Trey Grayson in Ky.

Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln and challenger and state Lt. Gov. Bill Halter split the vote in Ark., so they face a run-off in June.

Guests:

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR

Don Gonyea, national political correspondent, NPR

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.

Rand Paul and the Tea Party ride to victory. Arlen Specter stumbles. Richard Blumenthal misspeaks. Mark Souder can't abstain. It's time for an anti-establishment edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

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

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

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

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics, and after yesterday's whirlwind of primaries, a lot of ins were out. In Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak beat five-term incumbent Arlen Specter. In Kentucky, Rand Paul scored a landslide over establishment Republican Trey Grayson. Senate incumbent Blanche Lincoln survived in Arkansas but will have to fight another day, another primary day, in a runoff. And do Oregoners even remember who they voted for? We'll tell you, and don't worry, we've got plenty of scandal in the show, too: abstinence, affairs and copious misstatements.

Later, we focus on Pennsylvania with NPR's Don Gonyea, plus NPR's John Burnett on the drug war in Ciudad Juarez and whether that fight is rigged.

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, as he does every Wednesday. As usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, what a big day yesterday.

CONAN: Big day.

RUDIN: We'll talk about it. Okay, here's in the event Rand Paul wins in November, we will have for the first time ever a father serving in the House and a son serving in the Senate. It's more common to have a Senate father and a House son or daughter serving together.

Okay, here's the question: Who was the last Democratic father in the Senate and son in the House pairing, as well as the last Republican such pairing. You need to name both.

CONAN: Our number here in Washington, if you think you know the last Democratic father-Senate, son-House and Republican father-Senate, son-House pairing, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And of course, the winner gets probably the most fabulously designed T-shirt ever.

RUDIN: It is, it is.

CONAN: Quite a night last night.

CONAN: It was remarkable. I think the headline, of course, is that Ron Wyden won a re-nomination in Oregon. No, seriously, it was just the anger that we've been talking about all along. I'm not sure it's anti-incumbency because, of course, as it turned out, only one incumbent, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, was defeated yesterday.

But there is an anger against the establishment. We saw that in Pennsylvania. We saw that in Kentucky with Rand Paul beating Trey Grayson, who was the choice of the Mitch McConnell establishment. He is the establishment in the Republican Party. And in a sense, we saw that in Arkansas, too, with Blanche Lincoln forced to a June 8th runoff.

CONAN: And that turned out to be a dead heat. Everybody thought she had a pretty good lead.

RUDIN: The polls had her up by seven. It was 45-43. It was only about a 6,000-vote difference. And again, now the Democrats have not only do they have another three weeks to beat each other up in Arkansas, and Bill Halter, the lieutenant governor, sure has a shot of doing it. He has labor money. He has the net-roots money. But the Republican candidate, John Boozman, the congressman, basically got 53 percent of the vote.

CONAN: In an eight-way race.

RUDIN: In an eight-way race. So he can just sit back and watch the two Democrats, you know, beat each other up for the next three weeks.

CONAN: And it's interesting. In Pennsylvania, we mentioned, yes, anti-incumbent except in the special election for the congressional district.

RUDIN: Well, that almost is the biggest story of the day or at least the most closely watched race of the day. One, it's the only one where a Democrat was running against the Republican. Everything else was primaries. But two, this is one of the races, even though it was a two-to-one Democratic majority, it's culturally conservative, the kind of district Republicans say they can win, and if they do win it, they take control of Congress, the House, back in November.

But they were unable to do it. This is the one that John Murtha had for 36 years. The Democratic candidate there, Mark Critz, was very adept in the fact first of all, he said I would have voted against the health care bill. I would vote against abortion rights. I would vote against gun control.

So he's not the kind of Democrat you want unless you...

CONAN: For gun oh, against gun control.

RUDIN: Control, right, unless you just want more Democrats in the House. And what he also said, I thought was very significant, is while the Republican Tim Burns was trying to link him with President Obama, who's unpopular, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Critz would say I care more about Washington, Pennsylvania, than I do about Washington, D.C. And that's what the real issue is.

CONAN: All right. On this program, Rand Paul, the ophthalmologist and now the Republican senatorial nominee, said after he won the primary, as he expected to do, there would be a unity rally in Frankfort, the capital of Kentucky, and he expected Mitch McConnell to be there.

RUDIN: Well, actually, Mitch McConnell, it's my understanding that Mitch McConnell is the guy behind this unity rally because even though the primary was not close Rand Paul got 59, 60 percent of the vote against Grayson, there is bad feelings.

Now, of course, the Democratic race was extremely close. It was 45-44 percent, Jack Conway beating Dan Mongiardo, for those of you at home who are writing these things down.

CONAN: They'll show up in trivia questions later.

RUDIN: It will, for a T-shirt. But even though the Republican race was not close, there were bad feelings. Polls show that the Paul people do not like Grayson and vice versa, and if the Republicans are going to keep that seat, they're going to have to unite in time for November.

CONAN: Well, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, it is the last Democratic and the last Republican father-son Senate-House combinations, the last ones, 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. Pat's(ph) on the line from Des Moines.

PAT (Caller): Hi, I hope I'm not making a fool of myself. Was it Henry Lodge and his son also named Henry as the Republican?

RUDIN: Well, first of all, I never worry about making a fool of myself. So you don't have to worry about it either, Pat. But also, no, Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., served in the turn of the century, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., served afterwards in Massachusetts, but I'm thinking of something far more recent than that.

PAT: Oh, I thought the son also had a son that served in the House. Perhaps not.

CONAN: No, I don't think so.

RUDIN: No, no, neither one served in the House. Both were in the Senate.

CONAN: Thanks, Pat. Let's see if we can go next to this is Andrew(ph), Andrew with us from Richfield in Minnesota.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi, I'd like to guess the Republican version of Connie Mack III and IV.

RUDIN: Well, they did not serve at the same time. That's the key here. The key is they have to serve at the same time. Connie Mack left the Senate in let's see, '88, '94, 2000, and his son was elected to the House afterwards. The key here is they had to serve simultaneously with each other.

CONAN: Did either serve as bat boy with the Phillies?

RUDIN: Well, Connie Mack, the senator, was the grandson of Cornelius McGillicuddy, who...

CONAN: The great Connie Mack, the owner and manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. Anyway, Andrew, thanks very much for the call.

ANDREW: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to this is Steve(ph), Steve with us from San Francisco.

STEVE (Caller): Hey, Neal. The simultaneous may have thrown me, but I was thinking Thomas Dodd and then of course Chris Dodd.

RUDIN: Right, the simultaneous did throw you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Tom Dodd, Sr., Tom Dodd was defeated in 1970 by Lowell Weicker. Chris Dodd came to Congress in 1974, four years later.

STEVE: All right.

CONAN: Thanks, Steve.

STEVE: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Bill(ph), Bill with us from Kansas City.

BILL (Caller): Hi. Okay, let's see. For the Democrats, it would be Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

RUDIN: That is correct. That is the most recent Democratic pairing.

BILL: And then for the Republicans, it would be the Carnahans, I believe, the late Senate Carnahan, replaced by his widow, and then Congressman Carnahan.

RUDIN: Well, two things. The Carnahans were Democrats, and so that wouldn't be the right choice.

BILL: Oh, that's right.

RUDIN: And Jean Carnahan was defeated in 2002. Her son Russ Carnahan wasn't elected to the House until two years later in 2004.

BILL: Okay, can I take another guess at the Republicans?

CONAN: No, no, no, we've got to give somebody else a chance.

BILL: Oh, darn it.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Bill. Let's go to Dick(ph), and Dick with us from Milwaukee.

DICK (Caller): Okay, I'm going to go with Kennedys for the Democrats and the Goldwaters for the Republicans.

RUDIN: And that is the correct answer, Barry Goldwater.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, you're a winner.

RUDIN: Senator Barry Goldwater, Arizona. Barry Goldwater, Jr. I dont' know where he got that name from from California.

CONAN: AuH2O, we remember that.

RUDIN: They served together in the House and Senate.

CONAN: Dick, congratulations. We're going to put you on hold and take down your information and send you off a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to take a digital picture of yourself, to be posted on the wall of shame.

DICK: You got it.

CONAN: All right, you're on hold. There's a couple of other things that we need to talk about, and that of course includes we mentioned the Senators Dodd. The second of them is retiring this year. There is a Democrat in the state of Connecticut who was thought to be a shoo-in for not just the Democratic nomination but eventually election until the New York Times ran a story that said, well, even though he had said he'd served in the war in Vietnam, it turned out he hadn't.

State Attorney General RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (Democrat, Connecticut; Senatorial Candidate): We have learned something very important since the days that I served in Vietnam.

Now on a few occasions, I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that, and I take full responsibility, but I will not allow...

(Soundbite of applause)

State Atty. Gen. BLUMENTHAL: I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: And that applause from a group of veterans that Attorney General Blumenthal had gathered behind him there in West Hartford, Connecticut.

RUDIN: Right, who support him anyway. First of all, the issue is whether they were just, you know, inopportune words, or he was lying, and I think the New York Times article seemed to suggest that he was lying.

There was an article today in the New York Times by Chris quoting Chris Shays, the former Republican congressman.

CONAN: And a friend of his.

RUDIN: And a friend of his who is hardly a Republican ideologue or a partisan who said that many times, Blumenthal has talked about his service in Vietnam. As a matter of fact, I don't know if you know this, but his bumper sticker when he's running for the Senate this year says Dick Blumenthal, let Saigons be Saigons. And I think that gives it away right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But no, but seriously, he is he still should be favored, but it's the kind of thing when you tell, when you try to sell yourself as a veteran when you're not, Wes Cooley, the former congressman from Oregon, paid the price, said he was a Korean War veteran, was drummed out of the race. George W. Bush also had the thing about the Alabama National Guard.

CONAN: And that clip, that first clip, is going to be played over and over and over again if, in fact, Blumenthal, as expected, gets the nomination at the party convention on Friday.

Indiana may have to have a special congressional election, as well. Mark Souder is planning to resign also on Friday, after he disclosed that he'd had an affair with a part-time staff member at one of his offices in Indiana, at his home office, and well, she had helped him produce videos on one of his favorite subjects: abstinence.

Ms. TRACY JACKSON (Staffer, Representative Mark Souder's Office): What did you think of this hearing?

Representative MARK SOUDER (Republican, Indiana): Well, I personally feel I should have probably abstained from the hearing, that...

Ms. JACKSON: Okay.

Rep. SOUDER: ... it was arguably although I've seen Chairman Waxman has done some pretty biased hearings.

Ms. JACKSON: Oh, yeah.

Rep. SOUDER: But this was arguably the most biased hearing we've been. First off, from the topic: How has abstinence education failed? Rather than...

Ms. JACKSON: So you knew you were going to be fighting from the get-go.

Rep. SOUDER: ...how hard is it to get kids to abstain from sex regardless what program you give them would have been a fair title.

CONAN: And that staffer, Tracy Jackson, announced today that she has resigned.

RUDIN: And the problem, of course, is not so much the sex, it is that Mark Souder is a religious conservative elected on family values who is married, and she is married, and again, it's part of the hypocrisy that many people see with those who profess certain values and then practice something completely different.

CONAN: Big turnover coming in Indiana this fall.

RUDIN: It is. I mean, you have some retirements. You have a new senator obviously elected because Evan Bayh is retiring, and but the Republicans should keep this seat. Marvin Stutsman, the guy who came in second to Dan Coats in the Republican Senate primary, may be the GOP candidate there.

CONAN: Ken Rudin may be the only incumbent in Washington whose job is safe for now. We'll talk more with the political junkie in just a moment. Up next, yesterday's super, mini-Super Tuesday. If you've in Pennsylvania, Kentucky or Arkansas, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or zap us an email, 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. Im Neal Conan in Washington. You're listening to our regular Wednesday visit with the political junkie. You can also see Ken Rudin's blog on our Web page at npr.org. Download his podcast and solve that pesky ScuttleButton puzzle.

Today, a post-primary look at Arkansas, Kentucky and of course Pennsylvania, where Senator Arlen Specter's five-term run in the United States Senate is just about over.

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Democrat, Pennsylvania): And it's been a great privilege to be in the United States Senate, and I'll be working very, very hard for the people of the commonwealth in the coming months.

CONAN: Senator Specter lost the Democratic nomination to retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, who was jubilant.

Representative JOE SESTAK (Democrat, Pennsylvania; Senatorial Candidate): This is what democracy looks like.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rep. SESTAK: A win for the people over the establishment, over the status quo, even over Washington, D.C.

CONAN: Don Gonyea is freshly back here in Washington, D.C., from Pennsylvania, where he covered the Senate primary and joins us in a minute. We want to hear from you. If you're from Pennsylvania, Arkansas or Kentucky, tell us how it went down yesterday, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website, npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea is with us here in Studio 3A. Don, welcome back.

DON GONYEA: I feel like I haven't gone to bed yet. Perhaps I haven't.

CONAN: Perhaps you haven't. In the meantime, in a way, having won now, Joe Sestak could not have asked for a better formula. He now looks like the insurgent, the outsider, the underdog.

GONYEA: He sure does, and even though he is a member of Congress, a two-term member of Congress, he's a giant-killer. And you know, if you look at where he was in the polls just a month ago, I mean, for the longest time, double digits he trailed by, 20 points at one point, and that surge came on, and it it's been a question as to whether or not he would match up in the fall against Pat Toomey, the Republican, as well as Senator Specter would have, and the early indications, you know, before this past week, were that Senator Specter had a better shot. But even now, the polls show that to be essentially, you know, a toss-up at this point, long ways to go between now and November.

But Sestak proved that he's got some excitement, and he does know how to campaign.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, the Toomey ranks are taking credit for not just of course, their man won very easily in the Republican primary, but nevertheless, they're also saying he chased Arlen Specter out of the Republican Party.

RUDIN: Well, yes, because Arlen Specter, had he stayed a Republican, would have certainly lost to Toomey in the primary. As it was, he barely beat him six years ago and only because he had the famous endorsement of President Bush and Senator Santorum. And the only reason I say famous endorsement and Don covered the race is that Joe Sestak put that picture of Bush endorsing Specter all over the airwaves.

GONYEA: It was 2004 tape of President George W. Bush saying Arlen Specter is a good man. He deserves to be back in the U.S. Senate, and he's an important ally, and that ad this go-round, I think, really did hurt Specter.

CONAN: And apparently, the endorsement of President Barack Obama, obviously not enough to overcome that.

GONYEA: Exactly. It never felt that this race was about President Obama up there. It felt like it was more about Arlen Specter and the party switch. But the Obama endorsement sure...

CONAN: Did it feel like in the last few days of the race, the White House was peddling away from Arlen Specter?

GONYEA: They could see where the polls were. They knew where they might have to be today, the day after. So they definitely were prepared for the worst and backing off a bit.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And one thing we have to remember is we oversell the importance of presidential endorsements, especially when the president himself is not on the ballot.

We saw that with Ronald Reagan in 1986, when he tried to save the Republican control of the Senate. We saw that with President Obama in New Jersey, in Virginia, in Massachusetts with Martha Coakley.

I think it's overrated. Of course, the president is popular with a lot of rank and file, but whether he can change minds, change the vote with candidates who when he's not on the ballot himself remains a question.

GONYEA: In this case, it seemed to be just more reassuring. It was President Obama saying folks, yes, he's a real Democrat. I know he was a Republican forever. But again, Sestak used it really effectively against him, the party switch.

CONAN: Let's get Sam(ph) on the line. Sam's with us from Philadelphia.

SAM (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Sam, go ahead.

SAM: Yeah, well, I'm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and I voted for Joe Sestak yesterday.

CONAN: And why was that?

SAM: Well, I mean, I'm a younger person, but I just remember my parents always talking about what Arlen Specter did to Anita Hill, you know, back during the Clarence Thomas hearings, and you know, that really upsets me. And I think he voted, you know, with George Bush so much of the time when he was a Republican, and it was only when he switched to the Democratic side that he, you know, really started voting with the Democrats. So I don't think he's predictable enough for what I want as far as, you know, what I want as a vote in the Senate.

CONAN: Thanks very much for that Sam. Appreciate it. And of course, the Republicans, he would have had a lot of trouble in the Republican primaries, saying he wasn't Republican at heart, either. This is the problem for people who are independent or moderates, however you want to say, in either party, Ken Rudin, that they're going to be able to be labeled on the left in the Democratic Party or people on the right in the Republican Party as out of step with the party mainstream.

RUDIN: Well, as Don said earlier, this was about Arlen Specter the Republican. The Democrats never liked the fact that he voted for Judge you know, Roberts and Alito, and the Republicans hated the fact that he was pro-choice and loved to tweak the Republicans on so many different issues. So he had enemies in both parties, even though he would win re-election five times. Some of them were very, very close.

CONAN: Don?

GONYEA: I talked to a lot of voters in Pennsylvania over the last couple of days, and Anita Hill's name came up as often as anything else when you're talking to people who were voting for Joe Sestak and against Arlen Specter.

CONAN: Arlen Specter was, at the time, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and, of course, played an important role in that hearings as perhaps the chief inquisitor, and I don't think thats too strong a word, for the grilling of Anita Hill.

RUDIN: He wasn't chairman. There was still Democratic control, but he was the leading Republican.

GONYEA: Right.

CONAN: Ranking member, excuse me. Anyway, let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go next to this is Jean(ph), Jean with us from Little Rock.

JEAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead.

JEAN: Well, I'm just horrified by Blanche Lincoln's record, and I think that that's why she was challenged so readily. I really found her belief in who Arkansans may be to be somehow wrong. So that's how I feel.

CONAN: And did you vote for her opponent?

JEAN: I certainly did.

CONAN: And will you again in the runoff?

JEAN: Yes, I will.

CONAN: And do you think she or her opponent has a better chance of victory in November?

JEAN: It's hard to tell. I think she's putting a lot of money in her campaign, and she's saying she's someone she's not. Her voting record is terrible in terms of any kind of doesn't please me at all, and her behavior is deplorable, in my opinion.

CONAN: Her voting behavior.

JEAN: Yes.

CONAN: Yes, okay. Jean, thanks very much for that, and again, this is a right-wing Democrat having trouble with the progressive wings in Arkansas, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, I wouldn't call her a right-wing Democrat. I certainly would call her a centrist, and on issues like the public option and card check and things like that, she did vote or side against the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, whereas the Republicans and John Boozman are saying she's too liberal for the state. Either way, she seems to be forced out. I would not be surprised if she lost the runoff on June 8th.

CONAN: Let's go next to David(ph), another caller from Philly.

DAVID (Caller): Yes, hi, Neal, great show.

CONAN: Thank you.

DAVID: I just wanted to ask your kick this over to your guests. I'm in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia in the suburbs. And really, how much can you make of a primary race where the turnout is approximately 12, 13 percent of your election? And really, you know, how does that change the dynamics once these candidates move into the general?

CONAN: Well, that was, Don Gonyea, Arlen Specter's thesis for leaving the Republican Party and going into the Democratic Party. A minority of Republicans, he said, would have conservatives, typically the activist vote in the primary, and he thought he would survive much better in the general than he would in the Republican primary.

GONYEA: And with all of the traditional Democratic endorsements on his side. Again, here we go with endorsements again, but the AFL-CIO, which is not just an endorsement. That's a lot of foot soldiers who presumably can turn out the vote and pour energy into a campaign.

And Governor Ed Rendell is also certainly someone who knows a little bit about getting the vote out.

But, you know, despite having those institutional advantages, the energy was on the other side. If there had been a larger turnout, I don't know that we'd be talking about an eight-point Sestak win here. But it is what it is.

CONAN: And Ken, broadly speaking, did more people turn out in the primaries yesterday than typical in a primary year? Was the anti-incumbent surge evident in the numbers going to the polls?

RUDIN: Well, the weather was bad in Pennsylvania yesterday, and as Ed Rendell said, the turnout was disappointing.

In Kentucky, on the other hand, the turnout was much larger than usual, much larger than expected, and a lot of that very well could have been the Tea Party enthusiasm for Rand Paul.

CONAN: David, thanks very much for the call. Let's go we've got another David(ph) on the line, this David with us from Columbia in Kentucky.

DAVID (Caller): Hello, Neal, thank you very much.

CONAN: Sure.

DAVID: Well, I was just calling because I'm a recent transplant to Kentucky, and I was having a hard time getting any coverage at all of the Democratic senatorial primary. In fact, I got most of my information off Wikipedia. And I was kind of shocked this morning to hear a 10-minute report on the local NPR affiliate talking all about Rand Paul - in fact, not even mentioning Conway once except for to have a Republican pundit claimed him to be one of the most liberal people in Kentucky. I was kind of shocked by the coverage.

CONAN: Conway and Mongiardo was the - his opponent and a nail biter of an election, Ken.

RUDIN: He was. It was like 6,000 votes and Mongiardo was still talking about, perhaps, asking for a recount. He has a couple of days to do that. Part of it is that we can fault the media for this. But at the same time, the real story seemed to be the divisions in the Republican Party, the outside or the Tea Party candidate and the establishment choice. It was such a delicious dialogue conversation there, that it did cloud out the coverage of the Democratic debate.

CONAN: But...

DAVID: I haven't heard how close it was until you just told me.

CONAN: It was very close.

RUDIN: Forty-five-43 right now. Very close.

DAVID: Wow.

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

DAVID: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next - another caller from Kentucky. This is Matt(ph), Matt with us from Lexington in that state.

MATT: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Go ahead.

MATT: I voted yesterday to Dr. Mongiardo and I just want to sort of say I'm very - first of all, I do wish him luck on his recount. I think that the total number was - only 3,200 votes. And I just want to say I'm a little disappointed in my fellow Kentucky Democrats that we didn't elect someone who had such a firm grasp of working people's issues. I don't believe that Attorney General Conway will be a strong candidate for us in the general election, because he is, you know, a career politician. And I just wish Dr. Mongiardo the best of luck for the recount and I hope that he stayed in politics.

CONAN: Matt, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And Ken, as we look ahead towards that race, the issue, again, is going to be not so much the Democrat but the Republican nominee, Rand Paul. The Democrats are going to try to paint him as an extremist.

RUDIN: Well, they've already started. The ads have already come out. They've already said things that Trey Grayson could not say. By the way, in French Trey Grayson means very Grayson. I just want to report that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But the thing is Rand Paul, if you listen to his speech, yesterday -last night, he did not seem like he was reaching across the aisle. He did not say, please, you disaffected Democrats come over to me. He has his point of view and he's sticking with it, and he's just going to see whether that works or not. Democrats are enthusiastic, think he could be the - he's probably the weaker candidate to run against. But they said that about Ronald Reagan, too, in 1980, that he was too extreme to be elected. We'll see if that's the case with Rand Paul.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail from Tony(ph) in Portland. Oregon is nil, nil, nil, with Oregonians tsk, tsk, tsk, L-O-L. Well, hey, everybody gets mumbled now from time to time including the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION...

RUDIN: Well, I didn't say that.

CONAN: ...from NPR News. Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday. Also with us, Don Gonyea, NPR national political correspondent, freshly back from the battlefields of Pennsylvania. Let's see we got another caller on the line. This is Karen(ph), Karen with us from Chester County in Pennsylvania.

KAREN (Caller): Hi, everyone. I was thrilled to be able to vote for Joe Sestak yesterday. I've been a committee person here for years. And two points, I guess, I'd make is - one, I was really disappointed that the Democratic establishment above us, at the state level, would choose for us and say, you know, we only have Specter to vote for and tried to dissuade Sestak from even entering in the race. And the second point is - if I may - this was not for me, by any means, a matter of throwing out an incumbent. And I know many fellow Democrats who felt the same way. It wasn't that we wanted to get rid of Arlen Specter because he was an incumbent, but because, really, he's not a Democrat, and he hasn't - hadn't a history for us. So, you know, that was sort of the main thing out here, I think.

CONAN: Well, Don Gonyea, the White House apparently did offer Joe Sestak a job in - if he would withdraw from the race.

GONYEA: Yes. There were discussions, early on, but he - and he's the reason, we know that. But he did not...

KAREN: Yeah. But Janet was taking that choice away from we, Democrats, who really knew things on the ground down here. We knew Sestak could get elected. We knew he was the best choice and I knew he will be.

CONAN: Let's see about that in November, but Ken?

RUDIN: And also, for all the talk about anti-incumbent feelings out there, 11 states have voted so far, only one House Democrat, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, has gone down, and only two senators, Specter and Bob Bennett of Utah. So if these were a real anti-incumbency, I think more people would have suffered. And I think I agree with the caller, that it was really about Arlen Specter, whether he was a true Democrat or not.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Karen.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: But in terms of the presidential endorsement and, indeed, the effort to get Sestak out of it, wasn't it the White House paying back Arlen Specter for changing the calculations in the Senate?

RUDIN: When he switched on April 28th, 2009, it's basically was that, and the recount in Minnesota was Al Franken, that would have given the Democrats the 60th vote. At the time, it was a major, major coup - something that the White House was very grateful for.

CONAN: And until, of course, there was an election Massachusetts.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: And we heard a lot more about something called the Tea Party (unintelligible)

RUDIN: Can I say one quick thing about that? No, I can't say anything about that.

CONAN: Chris(ph) is on the line from Owensboro in Kentucky.

CHRIS: Oh, yes. First of all, gentlemen, thank you for all your input, I enjoy it everyday.

CONAN: Thank you.

CHRIS: And secondly, I'd like to say, you know, from the time I was 16, I've been out handing out election material and knocking on doors. I'm very proud of all the Kentuckians that turned out to vote yesterday. I thought the percentages were very, very exciting. Secondly, I'd like to say, I do applaud Mr. Mongiardo for exercising his right for a recanvass. It's such a close number.

CONAN: And we're running out of time, Chris, if you've got a question.

CHRIS: Oh, yes. I - Do we really see this as anything more than typical midterm, you know, election sentiment, like we did in '86, like we did in '94, certainly after the 43's election? I mean, is it really anything that hugely sweeping or that unusual?

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, the primary is the more interesting if you quote, different years like 1994, the action there was November. Here, it's the primaries, and there are people in the left who don't like the establishment on the Democratic side, people on the right who don't like the Republican in the middle, so that's where the real action is in the primaries.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much. And we'll...

CHRIS: Understood. Thank you.

CONAN: ...see you come November. Quickly this email from Stephanie(ph) in Pennsylvania. As an involved Democrat, I can tell you the general feeling was Sestak was going to win. A lot of people kept their preference in the race private so as not to disappoint party leaders and out of respect for President Obama. But quietly, people were all Joe Sestak. And, well, that's the way it turned out.

GONYEA: The numbers do seem to bear that out. You know, I noticed something interesting, too, when I was up there. I talked to a number of voters - women voters who said that they had recently switched their affiliation, like Specter, from Republican to Democrat, but they did so to vote for Hillary Clinton and that they were on board with Sestak in a big way now. And that struck me as a surprise.

CONAN: All right. Don Gonyea, NPR national political correspondent with us here in Studio 3A, also Ken Rudin, NPR political editor, joins us as he does every Wednesday. Gentlemen, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking with John Burnett, NPR correspondent in Austin, Texas about an aspect of the drug war in Mexico that has thus far gone unreported, mostly in this country. It appears Mexico's army is taking one side in that conflict. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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