The Political Junkie Takes New Hampshire
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Concord, New Hampshire. Sharron Angle waters the tree of liberty on the radio. Alvin Greene claims a word-of-mouth mandate on cable TV. Carly Fiorina's gaffe in the green room. It's Wednesday and time for a...
Ms. CARLY FIORINA (Republican Senatorial Candidate, California): So yesterday...
CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.
Vice President WALTER MONDALE: ...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: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us for a look at the week in politics. We're in Concord today to focus on the New Hampshire primary. No, not that primary. We'll talk with Republicans who hope to replace Judd Gregg in the United States Senate. Plus the pundits pan the president's oil speech, a congressman grabs a conservative activist on video, Meg Whitman shoves into the news in California, Harry Reid hits the air in Nevada, and Sarah Palin answers the most embarrassing political question on camera since boxers or briefs.
Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us today at the studios of New Hampshire Public Radio here in Concord. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Ken?
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal, and first of all, let me thank the folks at New Hampshire Public Radio. As always, they have been delightful to us. And how come you don't have that nice woman reading the trivia question you had last week?
CONAN: Well, I guess she couldn't make it.
RUDIN: Okay, well, that was thank you for doing that. Anyway, BP - you may not know this, Neal - BP has been in the news lately.
RUDIN: Yes. There was a spill in the Gulf. So here's a BP-related trivia question: Name the last people elected senator and governor with the initials BP. You need to name them both.
CONAN: And they will be the last ever.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to our trivia question, the last people to be elected senator and governor who have the initials BP, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And, of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for the promise of taking a digital picture of themselves so we can post it on the wall of shame.
So Ken, let's talk about - one of the most extraordinary developments is the number of people who either capture themselves in saying something ridiculous on radio or television or are captured by others doing the same thing.
And we have to begin with a Congressman, little-known Democrat Bob Etheridge, who got involved with a number of people on the street. These were - a couple of kids came up to him and confronted the congressman, and this was the exchange that followed.
(Soundbite of video)
Representative BOB ETHERIDGE (Democrat, North Carolina): Who are you?
Unidentified Man #1: Please let go of my arm, sir.
Rep. ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
Unidentified Man #2: Sir, sir, sir, please.
Unidentified Man #1: Congressman, please let go of me.
Rep. ETHERIDGE: Who are you?
CONAN: Who are you? Well, that's still a good question. We don't exactly know who they are. But the congressman has apologized.
RUDIN: Yeah, I thought the question was to Admiral Stockdale: Who am I? What am I doing here? Look, first of all, regarding your opening statement, saying that people should know better than to say anything -things embarrassing on radio - well, we can exclude us immediately.
CONAN: Of course.
RUDIN: But here's what happened. Bob Etheridge, who in North Carolina is pretty well-known actually, he was the guy the Democrats wanted to run for the Senate this year against Richard Burr. He's walking down the street on Capitol hill, and two guys, you know, approach him with a camera saying, Congressman, how are you? What do you think do you fully support the Obama agenda?
And it seems like again, this could be an edited video, we don't know for sure, but Etheridge seems to go berserk, as they say, as they wrote out in the video. He grabs one of the cameramen by the wrist, later by the neck, and say, Who are you, who are you, what are you doing here, who are you? And ultimately the guys say we're just students and we're doing a project.
Now, you said they're conservative activists. We don't know that from the video that they're conservative activists.
CONAN: Well, it came out through a website that was associated with the ACORN stunt a couple years ago.
RUDIN: Yes, it's on their website, but as far as we know, we just see these two guys interviewing Etheridge, and Etheridge just goes absolutely ballistic and really gets very physical, and finally he lets go.
But it was a very embarrassing moment. You know, look, Michael Moore pulls these stunts all the time, and you don't see anybody slugging Michael Moore, though there are probably a lot of people who would like to slug Michael Moore.
But anyway, Etheridge gave a complete apology, and he said, look, you know, I had a tough day, and after all these years in politics, it's not something I would react - the kind of way I would react.
CONAN: Meanwhile, in the green room, apparently not understanding that the camera and the microphone were on, Carly Fiorina, who is of course running against Barbara Boxer, she's the Republican candidate, Boxer the incumbent Democratic senator in California, and, well, describing her November rival to, well, everybody.
Ms. FIORINA: Laura(ph) saw Barbara Boxer briefly on television this morning and said what everyone says: God, what is that hair?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. FIORINA: So yesterday.
CONAN: Well, her campaign is not quite so yesterday, but this doesn't help.
RUDIN: That's right. She may no longer be the hair apparent in California.
RUDIN: But here's the thing though. You know, we celebrated, or many people celebrated, the June 8th primaries as a great day for female candidates. Women were winning in California and Nevada, in Iowa and Maine, and perhaps in South Carolina.
And to have anybody criticizing a woman's hair, you just don't do that in politics. And to have a woman doing it, it just brings up the old, unfortunate and perhaps incorrect stereotypes, but stereotypes nonetheless of a cattiness.
Now, of course, if a man said it, it would be, you know, sexist. So either way, you lose. But Fiorina should know better, and again, you should always know better what to say, you know, with an open microphone.
CONAN: And it raised suggestions of mean girls and all of that sort of stuff, and this is going to - but her running mate, the candidate for governor, it turns out, settled a court case some years ago that involved shoving.
RUDIN: Well, that's right. When Meg you know, we talk about these women who have great business backgrounds, Carly Fiorina with Hewlett-Packard, Meg Whitman with eBay. There was a case a while ago where Meg Whitman apparently shoved an employee, and there was an out-of-court settlement. But again, not a great day for Republican women or Republican candidates in California.
CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get some callers on the line who think they know the answers to this week's trivia question. Again the last senator and the last member of governor to be elected - who have the initials BP, and let's see if we can go next to Steven(ph), and Steven's with us from Newport, Rhode Island.
STEVEN (Caller): Yes, hi. I'm thinking, well, all I have is the governor - North Carolina, Bev Purdue.
RUDIN: That's correct. That is the last governor with those initials.
CONAN: But you have to get both. You have to get the governor and the senator.
STEVEN: Sorry about that. Well, I did my best.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Well, thanks very much.
STEVEN: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's see if we have a slightly different phone system here. Hey, that worked pretty well. Let's go next to Steve. Steve's with us from San Francisco.
STEVE (Caller): I'm going to go with Bob Packwood.
RUDIN: Bob Packwood, boy, how does that grab you? Oh, sorry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: Bob Packwood is the correct answer. The senator from Oregon, won his last term in 1992. So it's Bob Packwood, senator, and Bev Purdue.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, you are the winner, absolutely. So Steve, we're going to put you on hold and get your information. So we're going to be able to get you a no-prize T-shirt in exchange for that promise of sending us a digital picture of yourself. I thought the answer was Barack Pobama.
RUDIN: Well, I was also going to say, BP also stands for beautiful prize.
CONAN: Beautiful prize, how about that. Anyway, let's see if I can figure out how to put you on hold. I think I can do that. And - oh, I see, somebody in Washington picked up the phone, I hope. If not, call back. We'll get it to you somehow, somebody claiming to be...
CONAN: Anyway, let's see if we can continue with the potpourri here, and this is an astonishing moment. The issue all along this year in Nevada was thought to be the incumbent, Harry Reid, the...
RUDIN: Senate majority leader.
CONAN: Senate majority leader. And he was thought to be in big trouble, and whoever was going to be running against him as a Republican, well, Harry Reid was going to be the issue. Maybe that's not the case any longer. This is the now Republican candidate, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, speaking to Lars Larson, a radio talk-show host in Portland, Oregon, in January.
(Soundbite of radio broadcast)
Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Nevada): You know, our founding fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government.
In fact, you know, Thomas Jefferson said it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that's not where we're going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They're saying: My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? And I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.
CONAN: And Second Amendment remedies, and take Harry Reid out. Even the most charitable reading of those comments is going to make Sharron Angle the story in this race and her affiliations and her beliefs, as opposed to whatever it is that Harry Reid has done in the past in the U.S. Senate.
RUDIN: Well, we still can't count the Republicans out. There is still a deep dislike for Harry Reid in Nevada. But having said that, that is a very incendiary quote by Sharron Angle, and not to compare what Rand Paul has said in Kentucky, but this is the problem with first-time candidates.
And also, you can compare that to Fiorina in California as well, that they should know better, but they do have a tendency to say impolitic things, and when you have this angry, conservative Tea Party group feelings out there, sometimes the incorrect things will be said.
And to say Second Amendment rights and to take Harry Reid out in the same sentence, whatever she meant, and of course she meant we want to defeat him in November - I'm making giving more credit...
CONAN: Second Amendment remedies.
RUDIN: Yeah, exactly, and it's just so it's just once again, the Republicans thought they had a very interesting nominee - they do have an interesting nominee, but it may not be a successful one.
CONAN: Well, speaking of first-time candidates, the Democrat who won the U.S. Senate nomination to run against Jim DeMint in South Carolina, this is Alvin Greene, a man who ran a campaign so lightly he did not have so much as a lawn sign put up anywhere in the state.
He was on the Keith Olbermann MSNBC show and told him that his victory was no fluke.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Countdown with Keith Olbermann")
Mr. ALVIN GREENE (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, South Carolina): I think that, you know, I think that they saw I think that they no, I just think that they recognized I think they heard of my name when I was campaigning across the state, you know, just to pass the word on, just by word of mouth. But I just got the word around, you know. It was not luck. I had 60 percent of the vote.
CONAN: Ken, you give me a hard time because I love to use the word tantamount. Would you accept that Jim DeMint is now tantamount that he's going to be elected?
RUDIN: Well, I would've said that from the beginning. Alvin - I have a feeling there are a lot of Democrats in South Carolina who would wish that Alvin Greene would take a stroll down the Appalachian Trail.
But look, Alvin Greene, not only he had no campaign staff, he had no money, he didn't even have campaign buttons, okay?
CONAN: Okay (unintelligible)
RUDIN: There you go. And anyway, he won 60 percent of the vote against Vic Rawl, who was the establishment choice, although very few people have heard of Vic Rawl either.
But I mean, and Alvin Greene just you know, the scary part is that back in November, Alvin Greene was arrested for apparently showing a college student pornographic materials. He didn't have enough money to hire a lawyer. So they got a lawyer for him. And yet he managed to spend $10,400 to file for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate to get on the ballot. It just doesn't make sense why somebody with no money could do that and no questions be asked.
CONAN: It's Wednesday. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. When we come back, we're going to focus on New Hampshire, as indeed we are for the rest of the hour, but we're going to focus specifically on the Republican race for the U.S. Senate nomination.
So if you're a Republican in New Hampshire, you're going to vote in that primary, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.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 Concord, New Hampshire, today. With us is NPR political junkie Ken Rudin. If you're not getting enough of him on this program, you can go to our website at npr.org, where you can read his blog and download his podcast and, of course, solve the ScuttleButton puzzle.
It's a special road-trip edition of the Political Junkie. We're in Concord, New Hampshire, today, trying hard to hide our Yankee hats. And when you think New Hampshire, you think primary. Right now, we're going to focus on the Senate, where Congressman Paul W. Hodes is unchallenged on the Democratic side. He hopes that we will stick nickname this state Blue Hampshire after November, but there are five Republicans who hope to change that.
We're going to speak with three of them today, and we want to hear from the New Hampshire Republicans. Tell us how the primary race is shaping up where you are, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation at our website. Thats at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.
First up, Ovide Lamontagne is here in the studio. He's a New Hampshire attorney running in the Republican primary for Senate. Thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. OVIDE LAMONTAGNE (Attorney; Republicans Senatorial Primary Candidate, New Hampshire): It's great to be with you today.
CONAN: And can you tell us what distinguishes you from your rivals in the Republican race?
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Other than the fact that I have the most challenging name in politics? We can start with that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Oh, come on, everybody knows probably pronounces it Ovid for the Roman poet.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: There we go. It is Ovide Lamontagne, and I am the authentic conservative in the race here in New Hampshire. There's a lot of good, fine people running for United States Senate on the Republican side, but I'm the only one with a track record, who's actually run for office before, served in the Republican Party, led the conservative movement on a number of fronts over the last 20 years.
And I don't have to go to Washington to figure out where I stand. I know where I stand now, and I've run before. I've organized grassroots campaigns, and we're going to have a team that's going to help win not only in the primary but in the general election and then serve the people of New Hampshire when I actually go to Washington, only to be there, by the way, during the session and coming back home and living really at home here in New Hampshire as much as possible to avoid getting caught up in the trappings and the culture of Washington.
CONAN: The culture of Washington that's - well, a lot of people are running against the culture of Washington. You're hoping to at least spend a considerable amount of your time in the capital city.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Absolutely.
CONAN: And when you say you're the true conservative in the race, what's the marker we should measure by?
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Well, a number of things. First of all the track record I have. As a candidate for office, I think it's important that people are able to look at what you've done and to confirm that what you say is what you believe and who you are.
I've been a party platform chairman back in 2004, a vice chairman in 2002. The party platform is what I stand on.
I'm an independent person. I'm not the party establishment candidate. You'll probably have Kelly Ayotte on. She's been supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and recruited by them. And I'm not the establishment candidate this time out. I wasn't I've never been.
But I'm not independently wealthy, either. I believe in the old-fashioned values of New Hampshire politics, which is grassroots and people helping people to get the word out. We'll have enough money to go up both on television and radio, but in the meantime, I'm going to do the right thing in terms of organizing the people.
I stand on the three legs of the stool of the conservative movement: social, economic and national security conservatism. I think we need to reverse course 180 degrees in Washington.
I believe, as a former chairman of the state board of education here in New Hampshire, unlike the other candidates, that we need to repeal No Child Left Behind, dissolve the...
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Repeal it, dissolve the U.S. Department of Education and fully fund the federal commitment under special education but allow the states and the local communities to continue to design, free them up actually to continue to design and operate elementary and secondary education in our country.
I think doing that is going to put us closer to a path of solvency, free up the marketplace in other ways and make sure government focuses on what the Constitution provides.
RUDIN: When I grew up following politics, New Hampshire was always seen as a Republican state. You had the Manchester Union Leader. You had Senator Norris Cotton, Mel Thompson(ph), all those guys.
In 2006, New Hampshire seemed to make a dramatic turn, at least enough to the left towards the Democrats. John Lynch, biggest landslide for any governor. You had both houses of the state legislature going Democratic for the first time since 1874.
If New Hampshire is indeed going more to the Democratic side, and I want to see if that's correct, why would they elect somebody who is an unabashed conservative?
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Well, this election cycle, I think, Ken, is going to be on very core, fundamental issues. The question for voters in New Hampshire, like around the country, is going to be, do you want to continue to have more government control out of Washington, more of a socialist agenda being implemented, and I say that quite sincerely? Or do you want to restore the decision-making for domestic issues at the state and local level and free us from the grip of Washington and the incredible debt we're building?
It's going to be on fundamental issues that we're going to be able to distinguish my campaign from Paul Hodes, and I think the people of New Hampshire are going to reject the big government approach, the liberal approach that Paul brings.
I mean, he was opposed to the House version of health care because it didn't fund abortions, it didn't have a public option or single-payer system. He is a big-time, big government liberal, and we will be able to I will be the starkest contrast to him, giving the voters from New Hampshire the clearest choice.
CONAN: We want to hear from some New Hampshire Republicans or people voting in the Republican primary today, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Alice(ph) is on the line from here in Concord.
ALICE (Caller): I'm in Beau(ph), actually.
CONAN: Okay, sorry about that.
ALICE: Thats okay, right next door.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Hi, Alice.
ALICE: I am a Democrat, but I plan on changing my affiliation to Republican, and for a strategic reason, I am planning to vote for John Stephens.
CONAN: For governor.
ALICE: Hopefully so Kelly Ayotte will not win because I think she probably is the frontrunner for the Republicans, and I would like not to see her beat out Paul Hodes.
CONAN: And so who will you vote for on the Senate side of that primary?
ALICE: For Paul Hodes, I will switch back.
CONAN: You will switch back to vote for Paul Hodes when that's in November, but in this primary, who are you going to vote for if you're registered as a Republican?
ALICE: John Stephens.
CONAN: John Stephens. He's running for governor, though.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Right, he's running for governor. Well, Alice, I hope I can earn your support.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALICE: I'm sorry.
CONAN: Even if temporarily.
ALICE: Oh, anybody other than Kelly Ayotte.
CONAN: Anybody other than well, you would qualify then.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: I would qualify. That's a start. Let's continue the conversation, Alice. Ovide2010.com is our website.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Thank you.
CONAN: Name recognition, always a big issue.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Yes, and in my case, it's name pronunciation, as well.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: You know, that is one of those hurdles you take on when you run. But in our case, name - recognition is going to continue to be an issue because I haven't run for office in 14 years. But I think over time, people are going to come back to saying, you know, we know Ovide. We can count on where he stands. We may not agree on all the issues, but on the core issues, we know he'll be where he'll be, and it'll be generally where we want him to be.
CONAN: Ovide Lamontagne, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. LAMONTAGNE: Happy to be here. I'm looking forward to the next time we have a chance to chat.
CONAN: Ovide Lamontagne, a Republican candidate for Senate here in New Hampshire. Joining us now, Bill Binnie, also running in the New Hampshire primary here for the United States Senate nomination, a New Hampshire businessman. He's with us on the phone. Nice to have you with us today.
Mr. BILL BINNIE (Republican Senatorial Primary Candidate, New Hampshire): Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me today.
CONAN: And we're going to start with the same question to you. What distinguishes you from your rivals in the Republican field?
Mr. BINNIE: Well, I'm the only candidate in the field who has created thousands of jobs. I've spent my life in business. I've been a New York Stock Exchange CEO by the time I was 32.
I come from humble roots. My dad was a janitor, my mom was a maid. I worked my way through college on a scholarship, working nights as a mechanic. In fact, I'm proud to say I have absolutely the best Snap-On toolbox in the state of New Hampshire.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BINNIE: But I'm a business guy. I got involved in this race because I think our country is going broke. Our company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the sea coast, ran a very simple ad. We should have had 10 or 15 applications about a year ago. We were absolutely overwhelmed. We got hundreds and hundreds of applications, over 350 applications for one job a year ago, when we shouldve had a fraction of that.
And when I looked at the other candidates and I looked at, frankly, my own life's journey of having built businesses, having hired and created companies and having done billions of dollars worth of transactions because of my background in business, I understand the problems of small businesses, as well as large businesses.
And I spent six months of my life working in China, three years in Europe. I've worked in Latin America, South America, as well as lived on the sea coast of New Hampshire with my wife and four kids for over 20 years.
I think what people in New Hampshire need and want now more than ever is are not ideologues, but they want serious, practical human beings that will fix the problems that our country faces and the citizens of New Hampshire face. And that's really what my focus is, to get people back to work and to address this extraordinary economic anxiety that I think we see all around our state and all around the country.
You know, we all have friends and neighbors who are looking for work.
CONAN: Bill Binnie, I didn't mean to interrupt, but we talked to Ovide Lamontagne about name recognition. He admitted, well, he hadn't run in 14 years, it's a problem for him. You are a political unknown, a businessman in the state, though introducing yourself with a large number of television ads.
Mr. BINNIE: Right. I think you will find in the state that my name ID is as good as anyone's running in the race or very close to it.
I do expect, by the way, that by the time September rolls around that many of the candidates will have significant name ID so the voters will be able to make a choice. And the voters are going to have a real choice between business-as-usual folks or politicians, people who have been in public life, or in practical, common-sense businesspeople who just want to go to office, change things, fix things and make them work for ordinary folks. And that's how I would classify myself, in that latter group.
RUDIN: Mr. Binnie, there's some criticism of the National Republican Party in many states, including New Hampshire, that they seemed to have rallied behind an establishment figure, in this case Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, or former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, before the primary field was established. What do you say to the Republicans in Washington and perhaps, you know, perhaps around the country when they pick a frontrunner before the voters have had a say in the race?
Mr. BINNIE: There's an element of truth in that. I'll tell you my own personal experience. I'm pretty well-known in the Seacoast at New Hampshire. There are not many New York Stock Exchange CEOs around or people that have built businesses. I'm - when I was thinking of running, I wasn't in the front pages of the largest papers in this state, The Union Leader and others. I called down to Washington to introduce myself and say that I was considering running. And it took them three months to call me back, three months, when I called the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
They certainly know who I am now. I mean, I'm, you know, the union leaders called me a dual frontrunner. I'm up in the polls. I'm certainly in this hunt. I'm certainly working hard. I'm traveling around the state. I'm shaking a lot of hands and meeting a lot of people. And they know who I am now. It's a very different conversation.
CONAN: One last question - and I don't mean to be too flip, but you'd think the two things would be unpopular in this particular place and in this particular time in this country's history would be New York and stock exchange?
Mr. BINNIE: Well, I think that there's nothing wrong. I'm very proud of the fact that I built a business. I'm very proud of the fact that my head has been - my hands and my head hade been engaged in building businesses. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I think that what we need now are jobs and economic growth. And, you know, it's been my life's journey, as I said earlier, to have built a business. I'm very proud of it. I built it from scratch. You know, nobody gave it to me. I'm part of the American dream and I want to make sure that every person in New Hampshire, every kid has the same shot at it that I did. And the concept that it's bad to have built a business, I don't buy it. And I don't think the people in New Hampshire buy it at all.
CONAN: Bill Binnie, thanks for your time today. Good luck to you.
Mr. BINNIE: Thank you very much. You take care.
CONAN: Bill Binnie, a Republican candidate for Senate here in New Hampshire. He joins us today on the phone. And you're listening to Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And now joining us is Kelly Ayotte, the former attorney general of New Hampshire, also running for the Republican primary for Senate, as we mentioned a couple of times the frontrunner or at least perceived to be in this race. Thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. KELLY AYOTTE (Senate Republican Primary Candidate, New Hampshire): It's great to be here with you today. And I'm going to tell you something my grandmother told me. Actually, my last name is Ayotte. It's a boat, not a yacht. It's a yacht, not a boat.
CONAN: It's a yacht. I apologize for mispronouncing it.
Ms. AYOTTE: Oh, no. No problem. I just - something my grandmother always told me. It's great to be here with you today. Thank you for having me.
RUDIN: Can I just say something? Neal got Lamontagne right, but he didn't get Ayotte right.
Ms. AYOTTE: I know. I know.
CONAN: Montagne is something you learn how to pronounce, yeah.
Ms. AYOTTE: Lamontagne is usually - Lamontagne is usually harder. But it's so great to be here with you.
CONAN: Well, Kelly Ayotte, is it fair to say you're the establishment candidate in this race?
Ms. AYOTTE: No, that's actually not at all. I've never run for a political office before, so, you know, I'm someone who really has training and background as a prosecutor, not a politician. This is my first run for office. And if you look at someone like Ovide, he has run a couple of times before. And so - and I haven't - I've been really working in a different sector as the attorney genera. I was an appointed attorney general in New Hampshire. I was the first woman appointed to that position. And I have a different profile, too, having been first appointed by a Republican governor, reappointed twice by our Democratic governor.
CONAN: And you do have the blessings though of what's seen as the Republican Party establishment in this state.
Ms. AYOTTE: Well, I have support from people here in New Hampshire, which is what matters. And all of our elected sheriffs and a whole host of law enforcement, and a majority of our - we have 400 state reps in our state so we believe in democracy. And over a hundred of them have endorsed me, and over 2,400 New Hampshire donors. So that's what matters. And I'm working hard here in New Hampshire to build support and going to events and meeting people.
CONAN: All right. Let's get a caller on the line. This is Danny(ph), Danny calling us from Nashua.
DANNY (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Danny.
DANNY: How are you?
CONAN: I'm well today, thanks.
DANNY: I just have a question for your first person, Lamontagne. I heard him - once again, like you hear most fiscal conservatives bring up the boogeyman of socialism and how this administration is pushing socialism. I would just like to ask him how - if he could explain how a corporate-run government bailing out giant businesses and cutting schools is socialism. I am a socialist. Barack Obama is not.
(Soundbite of phone hanging up)
CONAN: Well, in any case, he has left us. But we'll have to go with the guest we've got and that's Kelly Ayotte and...
CONAN: Ayotte. Ayotte. Ayotte.
Ms. AYOTTE: Oh, that's just fine. I will answer to anything, how is that?
CONAN: Okay. Kelly Anything is with us on the phone. And you - as you've mentioned, you've served in Democratic - under Democratic governors as well as Republican governors.
Ms. AYOTTE: Yes.
CONAN: Is this era of partisanship something that you're going to be looking to follow up on if you'd go ahead and run in the fall against Paul Hodes?
Ms. AYOTTE: Well, you know, I think what people want is for us to put ideas first and to get results and leadership and to solve the great challenges we face right now as a country, and that's what it comes down to. And, you know, we've got some huge challenges when it comes to our $13 trillion debt and where that's going to put us long term for the - I am a mother of two children. And I'm very concerned about where we're going at. We're not on fiscally sustainable path, and that's why I decided to run for Senate.
We're also, you know, my family, we're a small business family. My husband has a landscaping and snowplowing business. So I've very much have seen, you know, the impact also of things that can happen in Washington and how it can impact small businesses.
RUDIN: Mr. Lamontagne before said that he's the true conservative in the race. Do you find - and we've seen this with the Republican candidates in other states - that conservative opponents pull people like you further to the right and then have to get back to the center for November? Do you have that fear?
Ms. AYOTTE: No, I don't because the positions that I'm running on - I'm a common-sense conservative, and I'm running on the issues of cutting spending to make sure we have a government that has a balanced budget to getting control our $13 trillion debt and also to get our economy back on track. And I think the way to do that is through pro-growth, lower taxes, policies that really put people to work. And so really the issues...
CONAN: Kelly Ayotte, I'm afraid we've run out of time. But thank you very much and good luck to you in the primary.
Ms. AYOTTE: Hey, thank you for having me. Take care.
CONAN: Former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, running for the Republican primary nomination for U.S. Senate. More with Political Junkie Ken Rudin and more on the Granite State, we're going to broaden our focus a little bit and talk about the other primaries and look ahead to November. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Here in New Hampshire, just about everybody waits to see if the state will continue the strong blue trend of the last two election cycles and what will happen in the other statewide races. Joining us now is New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers. Also here in the studios of New Hampshire Public Radio in Concord, Arnie Arnesen, a regular on WGBH's "Callie Crossley Show."
And we want to hear now from New Hampshire listeners in our audience. How do the primaries shape up and how does it look ahead for November? 800-989-8255. Email us: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is still with us. Josh, why don't we turn to you? When we were talking with the Republican Senate candidates - or three of them anyway. There are five in the race, so we invited the others, they didn't get back to us. But in any case, is Kelly Ayotte - I hope I'm getting it right this time - is she still the frontrunner here?
JOSH ROGERS: I think it's pretty - I think it's tightened. I think Bill Binnie, the polls indicate that it's tightening, that all of them - all the leading candidates stand a good chance in the fall should they, you know, whoever emerges from the primary. You'd have to say she's the frontrunner, but, you know, the polls at this point are hard to tell. Bill Binnie spent a lot of money on ads. He's been out there. It seems he's having a good time on the campaign trail.
Kelly Ayotte can be a bit wooden. Ovide Lamontagne is, you know, kind of toiling in the, you know, conservative vineyards and says he's the man who, you know, real Republicans will trust when they have to make their decision. And, you know, we'll see. It's pretty wide open. All of them look like they stand a good chance in the fall against Paul Hodes.
CONAN: Yes. The polls I've seen shows that any of them would have - at least in the case of Binnie and Ayotte - a double-digit lead over Paul Hodes.
ROGERS: That's what they show at this point. You know, Hodes would have you believe that once he gets out there and starts, you know, making his pitch that it's time to complete the work of the president. And once people - you know, he's been - he says he wants to make - he was early getting out in favor of health care and said that he wanted to make, you know, that he was willing to run on that, you know, despite a lot of criticism of that.
Lately, he's been hammering on offshore oil. I mean, he's looking for issues on which he has purchase. There has been also a, you know, some criticism of Kelly Ayotte from both Hodes and from a couple of her GOP rivals on a Ponzi scheme that was - failed to be detected by state banking securities regulators. And the attorney general's office, when she was at the helm, she testified last week in legislative hearings on that matter. It'd be interesting to see how that issue plays out. But it's pretty wide open.
CONAN: And, Arnie Arnesen, broadly, this was a Democratic stronghold the last two times around. Is it turning red?
Ms. ARNIE ARNESEN (Political Analyst): Well, I think stronghold is a wrong word. We should call ourselves the home of the undeclared. And the reason I say this really, I went to the secretary of State's office just before coming here. And just to let you know, we have 267,725 Democrats, 266,777 Republicans and a whopping - are we sitting down - 388,220 undeclared. And that number keeps growing and growing and growing.
And that really, I think, is more of a statement about the fact that this is a state that is not going to be reliably blue or reliable red. So don't make those assumptions. And I think thats one of the reasons why Mr. Binnie is looking at the state saying, wow, Gordon Humphrey bought his seat, Benson bought his, Governor Lynch bought his. Well, this is an opportunity for me to use my cash in this senatorial campaign.
RUDIN: But expanding on what Neal just said, I mean, we saw in 2006 record-breaking numbers and wins for the Democrats. Is there an ideological sea change in New Hampshire in the intervening four years?
Ms. ARNESEN: Is there an - how do I say this? I think Josh...
RUDIN: Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid.
Ms. ARNESEN: No, no, no, no, no. I'm not sure there is an ideological sea change. What I do know is, is that Republicans have the perfect storm - I hate to use that hackneyed expression, but they have a fragile economy, they have Democrats in charge everywhere and they have Papa Sununu. And what do I mean by that is that Governor Sununu, the former chief of staff of Bush I, is a pit bull. And he is like the energy bunny. And so what you have is...
RUDIN: He's the Republican state chairman.
Ms. ARNESEN: He's the Republican state chairman. And so he has enthusiasm, he has opportunity, he has a real conflict within the Republican Party for the voice, but that's going to get people attention. And people are not wedded to Democrats, they where wedded to change.
Ms. ARNESEN: And that's the difference. And now, the question is, does change mean Democrat or does change mean the Republican du jour?
CONAN: And let me get back to Josh. And Josh Rogers, there's incumbent Democrat running again for governor.
Mr. ROGERS: Yes. Well, John Lynch is - he's in a slightly different position than he was the last two go rounds where he was running against, you know, very marginal candidates and candidates of such weakness that a lot of prominent Republicans refused to endorse them.
And those two elections he, you know, racked up record-breaking win, 30-plus point victories. And, you know, his coattails were long and swept a lot of Democrats into the state legislature. You know, the Democrats have been in charge. Theres been infighting, there have been, you know, budget difficulties, as there been across the country. There been some ethical issues within his administration. And, you know, he maybe would seem a little bit shop-worn. I mean, his poll numbers are still pretty high.
And the likely Republican candidate running against him is, you know, an experienced candidate, not a successful one. He's lost twice in GOP primaries for the first congressional district. John Stephen, he was the Health and Human Services commissioner. He at least knows government and can make the argument and with Chairman Sinunu as a back stop, the notion that John Lynch can just kind of roll ahead unscathed and free of criticism, that's just not the reality anymore.
Ms. ARNESEN: And there's something important to remember. New Hampshire is a relatively unique state. Vermont and New Hampshire are the only two states left in the nation that still elect governors every two years.
Ms. ARNESEN: So, now we've got John Lynch, whos looking for his fourth term. But that only means he's been here for six years. But like everyone else knows, you know, you keep shoving stuff under the rug by the time you get to that third election, stuff is coming out the other side of the rug.
So I think John Lynch does have some problems, but I don't think the Republican candidate for governor, any one of them that's running, will actually be a formidable candidate against him.
His problem is going to be everything else that's happening around him, and that's the senatorial races and the congressional races. If there's a pull-down for John, it's not going to be the Republican candidate. It's going to be the swamp around him.
CONAN: And we should mention the other Republicans Jack Kimble and Karen Testermen(ph), theres also a Libertarian on the race. John Babiarz(ph)?
Mr. JOHN BABIARZ: Babiarz.
CONAN: All right. I'll get to mispronounce every candidate today here.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Let's see if we can get the caller on the line. Kevin(ph) is calling from Manchester.
KEVIN (Caller): Good afternoon.
CONAN: Good afternoon.
KEVIN: I called to make a point originally that Arnie just made that Bill Binnie is known because he has the money to be known, but I really want to point out that the GOP - I mean, there's a race to the right that is just alarming. They're really pandering to this Tea Party movement.
Kelly Ayotte has always been a pragmatist. She is somebody that Democrats have been able to get behind in the past. I don't recognize her. It seems as though there is a tremendous race to the right with the Obama-bashing, and they're trying to ride that into the Senate. And I'm hopeful that Paul Hodes is able to get his message out clearly once the Republicans square away who they're going to put forward.
CONAN: Ken, this was the point you were making with Kelly Ayotte earlier that in a lot of races around the country, the influence of the Tea Party and conservatives in this year's primaries have pulled all the candidates to the right.
RUDIN: Right. I'm not sure - as Kelly Ayotte said, I'm not sure if she's moved further to the right because of it. She denies doing that. But I don't know how the Democrats have rallied behind her in the past if she's ever run for office before.
ROGERS: Well, no, she's never run for office. She was re-nominated to serve as attorney general by Democratic Governor John Lynch, twice actually.
RUDIN: Was she indentified as a Republican?
ROGERS: No, not really, sort of an independent. And people didn't really know where she stood on a lot of issues. I mean, as attorney general, it's, you know, a nonpartisan job here. She did do some things that she, you know, appealed - a parental notice law on abortion that was struck down.
ROGERS: You know, two U.S. Supreme Court - which the Democratic leadership and the governor did not support that decision. She went ahead and did it. She, you know, it was pretty butch on the death penalty and pushed forth the only conviction where there's, you know, a guy whos shot a policeman whose, you know...
Ms. ARNESEN: But Jeanne Shaheen and John Lynch, two Democrats of outstanding reputation, are both very pro-death penalty. So, it's not necessarily a partisan issue.
CONAN: Let me ask Kevin. Are you still on the line?
KEVIN: I am.
CONAN: Where - you say you don't recognize Kelly Ayotte. How has she changed?
KEVIN: She's always been a pragmatist. She's always been about solutions. When I see her advertisements now, she's - she is saying -she's making a big point about deficit spending and how she wants to do what all dyed-in-the-wool Republicans want to do, which is lower taxes and pay down the debt.
It didn't work under Reagan. It's not going to work now. And it's a simple answer to a complex question. Id really like to ask her what common sense spending she's talking about.
CONAN: Well, she has left us as well, so...
KEVIN: What would she have done when we had the economic crisis of late 2008, would she just vote no? Would she have bailed out GM? Would she have let those tens of thousands of jobs leave?
CONAN: All right, Kevin, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
KEVIN: Thank you.
ROGERS: Well, she - I mean, she has ran in to some criticism, in that when she was attorney general, she was the eager recipient of money from the stimulus bill and then deployed that money and never did she criticize that.
And they set up a cold case unit, the attorney general's office, with some of the funding. And now she says, well, you know, I was in a different role then. Now, you know, if I had been there, I wouldve voted against it because I think it's wasteful.
Ms. ARNESEN: But there's another - the reason I started the discussion by talking about the number of independents or, in this case, undeclareds in New Hampshire. Undeclareds can pick up either ballot in the September primary. And the question then becomes: There's no reason to pick up a Democratic ballot. No offense. There's only one competitive race and it's not even really that competitive. But on the Republican side, there's such variety and such opportunity that if you are an undeclared and you still want to participate in politics, you're going to pick up a Republican ballot.
I'm looking at the candidates in the first, second congressional district, as well as the Senate and trying to say, who's going to appeal to them? And Kelly Ayotte is between a rock and a hard place. If she is the anointed from Washington then she has to sort of sound lockstep.
But if she is a little more independent, she could frame a message. Given the fact she was appointed by a Republican, appointed by a Democrat, she really is that bridge to somewhere. And hopefully, maybe even be able to make an appeal to those independents. The problem is she's made the assumption she has to tack so far to the right. And the question is, does she step on Ovide, who is also on the right, and Binnie, who can spend so much money he can be right, left and middle because he can afford to do it?
RUDIN: Well, the answer is that September 14th comes before November 2nd.
Ms. ARNESEN: Exactly, I know.
CONAN: Let's get Steve on the line, Steve calling from Portsmouth in New Hampshire.
STEVE (Caller): Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.
CONAN: Sure, go ahead, please.
STEVE: Yes. I don't know, I guess I'm one of those undeclareds. And I'll be voting in the Republican primary, but I just want to comment on something that, you know, some people think that the states changed to a blue state or a purple state. You know, I'm not sure but I know a lot of independents and we - in '06, there's a move against the Bush administration because they didn't exert much in terms of fiscal responsibility.
On the local side, you know, the previous governor had some ethical issues. So I think there's a - whole field kind of changed because people wanted to kick the bums out. And now, I know most independents, the core - you know, one thing we have in common is fiscal - a sense of fiscal responsibility. And I think it's going to make a huge difference in this upcoming election because I don't think there's any evidence of any fiscal responsibility right now in Washington.
And nor is there on the state's side either, we're running deficits in the state. And I think you're going to see a lot of independents say, you know what, the most important issue for me is the budget deficits and is fiscal responsibility, and theyre going to go in that direction.
CONAN: And if there was one candidate you say that you would believe would exhibit fiscal responsibility, who would that be?
STEVE: It'd be either Kelly Ayotte or Bill Binnie.
CONAN: Okay. Steve, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
STEVE: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking New Hampshire politics today on Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let me reintroduce our guests. They are Arnie Arnesen, a regular guest on Iowa Public Radio's "Talk of Iowa," but she lives here in Concord, New Hampshire. And she's also with Callie Crossley on the radio on...
CONAN: ...GBH in Boston. And of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is just there filling in for me, my thoughts and my brain spasms. And also with us is Josh Rogers, New Hampshire Public Radio's state house reporter.
We've been talking about the House - we're talking about the Senate and the gubernatorial race. There are, as we mentioned, two House races. Paul Hodes' district. He, of course, is running for the Senate on the Democratic side. There is a race for the Democratic nomination here.
Ms. ARNESEN: There is a race between Annie McLane-Custer and - oh, my goodness...
ROGERS: Katrina Swett.
Ms. ARNESEN: Katrina Swett - I apologize - Katrina. Katrina has run before. Her husband is the former congressman. Annie has never run before for office, but Annie has been running probably since she was in utero. And what do I mean by that is her mother was a very famous moderate Republican.
RUDIN: Susan McLane.
Ms. ARNESEN: Susan McLane - see, there you go - is Annie McLane's mother, and she was very, very active with her mother on so many levels. She was one of the first women to run for Congress as a Republican, and Malcolm was the mayor. So she's come from a very, very, very involved and engaged political family. Formerly moderate Republicans, they left the Republican Party and became Democrats. It's going to be a very, very interesting race. Katrina is a very, very savvy politician.
ROGERS: She's a hurricane.
Ms. ARNESEN: She - but her liability is interesting and that is, is that she was very involved with Lieberman's campaign. And one of the interesting things is I went to her bio and it's not even mentioned on her bio. So it's - she knows it's a tough sell on Democrats in the primary. So it's going to be a very, very fascinating race between Annie McLane Custer and...
Ms. ARNESEN: Katrina Swett.
ROGERS: Well, the Republican side in that race is also interesting because Charlie Bass is trying to reclaim his seat he was in for six terms. And he faces Jennifer Horn, who was the nominee last time around and Bob Giuda, former state lawmaker. And they're both fairly conservative. And, you know, Charlie has been running kind of a below-the-radar campaign. He's poked his head out briefly to say that I love the Tea Party, God bless every one of them, their views are my views.
RUDIN: That was not Charlie Bass in the old days. Charlie Bass was kind of a moderate conservative.
Ms. ARNESEN: You got it, Honey.
ROGERS: Well, yeah. But he's, I mean, part of the, you know, mainstream Republicans and, you know, very much, you know, perceived to be a moderate. And he made that noise and then sort of quieted down a bit on that score. But it'll be interesting to see there's a question about, you know, GOP primary voters - do they want to elect, you know, a guy that had been in for so long and is associated with, you know, some of the fiscal issues under Bush that they found distasteful?
CONAN: Carol Shea-Porter running unchallenged for the congressional nomination in the first district. Again, more on the Republican side, three candidates.
Ms. ARNESEN: Well, I think it's really kind of fun on that side because you have a candidate for everyone. You have the Gregg candidate, Rick Ashooh. You have the Sununu candidate, and that's Sean Mahoney. And then you have the former mayor of Manchester, Mr. Guinta, who is kind of the working man's conservative.
And there's an article in The Washington Post today that just said that he was endorsed by the Family Research Council, which everybody was surprised by because he was sort of Libertarian. But the Family Research Council assured us that he has evolved on the issues. So that should give you a sense of what's happening in the first district. It'll be fabulous.
RUDIN: But there are a lot of Republican candidates running: governor, senator Congress - show some kind of Republican enthusiasm here.
Ms. ARNESEN: Oh, tremendous enthusiasm. They have a pulse. I think the biggest mistakes the Democrats did was make sure there was no contest, there was no competition. I think primaries matter, not just about who wins, but getting people engaged and enthused.
Paul Hodes is going to have a difficult time even getting any kind of press because he is not the story until after September 14th, and that's very late.
CONAN: And there's not a long time between September 14th and election day. Looking ahead to November, as we mentioned, a couple of the Republicans at least in the Senate side seen to have advantages over Paul Hodes.
And, well, we're mentioning that John Lynch, the Democratic incumbent, might be his race to lose. Anyway, thanks to you both, Arnie Arnesen and Josh Rogers. Ken Rudin joined us here in Concord, New Hampshire.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.