Is There A Sarah Palin Effect?

In Alaska, a young upstart, Joe Miller, is close to unseating incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Former Gov. Sarah Palin has endorsed Miller, a Tea Party favorite. Political analyst Tom Rath, political reporter Michael Barone, Alaska Public Radio's Libby Casey and NPR's Ken Rudin discuss Palin's influence on the GOP nationally.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

An outsider upset in Florida; an out-of-the-blue, too-close-to-call in Alaska; and in Arizona, Quayle spells victory. It's Wednesday, and time for another holy-moley edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (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.

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

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

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. Two wealthy outsiders shook up primaries in Florida this year. One triumphed yesterday; one didn't.

Incumbent Senators John McCain and Pat Leahy sailed to re-nomination, but the shocker of the day remains undecided. Upstart Joe Miller leads Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, with absentee ballots yet to be counted. Much more on that later, as we focus on the Palin effect.

But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: You said holy moley. Absolutely, what a day yesterday with primary results and shockers.

Okay, trivia question. Dan Quayle's son, Ben Quayle, won the Republican nomination for Congress from an Arizona district yesterday. Other than Quayle, who were the last vice presidents whose children - son or daughter - ran for the House, or ran for the Senate.

CONAN: Got to get them both.

RUDIN: Got to get them both.

CONAN: That's a real hot potato. If you think...

RUDIN: How do you spell potato?

CONAN: With great difficulty. If you think you know the answer to our trivia question other than Quayle, who was the last vice president whose children, son or daughter, ran for the House and ran for the Senate. One each.

RUDIN: Two different people.

CONAN: Two different people. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Got to get them both. And let's go straight to Florida, Ken, and two well-heeled outsiders made the primaries pretty interesting yesterday.

In the race for the Democratic Senate nomination, congressman Kendrick Meek faced billionaire Jeff Greene.

RUDIN: Yes, and for a long time we thought that Jeff Greene had a good shot at it. He spent millions and millions of dollars. Kendrick Meek, an African-American congressman from Miami, whose situation with his mother, his mother former congresswoman...

CONAN: Almost left him that seat.

RUDIN: Not only left him that seat, but also became an issue in the campaign. There is a developer who did favors for Corrine(ph) Meek not Corrine Meek. What's her name?

CONAN: Now you've made me forget

RUDIN: I can't remember her name. Okay, Carrie Meek.

CONAN: Carrie Meek.

RUDIN: Carrie Meek - Carrie Meek back to Old Virginny. Right, and she became an issue in the campaign, but Jeff Greene...

CONAN: So did Jeff Greene's yacht.

RUDIN: Exactly, Jeff Greene's yacht, Jeff Greene's past, and the Democratic establishment basically backed by Bill Clinton, Kendrick Meek won a resounding victory, and it's now a three-way race for the Senate. Charlie Crist left the Republican Party because he had no chance of beating Marco Rubio in the primary. Charlie Crist is an independent. Rubio is the Republican nominee.

CONAN: And last night, congressman Meek acknowledged the fact that he is, at least at this point, in third place.

Representative KENDRICK MEEK (Democratic Senatorial Candidate, Florida): I may not be Goliath before November 2nd, but when November 2nd gets here, ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to still be comfortable playing David.

CONAN: And good - citing biblical passages to provide him hope. Republican primary was - well, at one time thought to be a barn-burner. It turned out to be a yawner.

RUDIN: For the Senate, exactly. Marco Rubio is the Republican nominee. And a lot of people are saying that now with Kendrick Meek as the Democratic nominee, African-Americans staying home in the Democratic primary, that may not be good news for Charlie Crist, and it could help Rubio win the Senate race.

CONAN: Rubio spoke yesterday. He's the former speaker of the Florida House, the Tea Party favorite, and he got 85 percent of the vote against two other candidates.

Mr. MARCO RUBIO (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Florida): This election is nothing less than a referendum on our identity as a people and as a nation, and that's what's at stake these next 70 days.

CONAN: And that's Marco Rubio and of course, some people suggest that maybe the guy who won yesterday was a guy who wasn't running, and that's Charlie Crist. He is the former Republican and current governor.

Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Independent Senatorial Candidate, Florida): If you want somebody that's on the hard right, you have a candidate now. If you want somebody on the hard left, you have a candidate. You have an alternative, and that's what we offer in this race, and I'm excited about it, and I look forward to it.

CONAN: And that's in an interview yesterday because he didn't have a primary to celebrate or bemoan.

RUDIN: You also have a three-way race, a three-way contest in the race for governor, and in that race you also had a millionaire outsider, Rick Scott, who was not supposed to win the primary. The party establishment had rallied behind Bill McCollum, but the Florida Republicans had a lot of problems.

Jim Greer, the former state chairman, has been indicted. Of course, Charlie Crist was forced out of the party because of ideology.

CONAN: Forced himself out of the party.

RUDIN: Well, also his own ideology, and his dare to embrace President Obama when he came down to Florida for the stimulus really turned off a lot of conservatives.

But so Bill McCollum was this, you know, establishment figure, state attorney general, former congressman, ran twice for the Senate. But Rick Scott, who is, again, a millionaire, spent about $50 million of his own money there's a lot of money being spent in gubernatorial races this year, as Meg Whitman will tell you in California and - but Rick Scott has his own problems. He was a CEO of a hospital chain that was - paid $1.7 billion in fines because of Medicare fraud. And this could help the Democratic nominee, Alex Sink. She'd be the first female governor of Florida.

But as in the Senate race, there was a third candidate running - Lawton Chiles, the last Democratic governor of Florida. His son, Lawton III - or Bud Chiles, as we call him - is running as an independent, and that could hurt the Democrats.

CONAN: So we'll have to see how that works out. Quickly to Arizona, before we get to people who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. And in Arizona, thought for the Republican gubernatorial bid, well, that might have been a contest earlier. It turned out not to be: Jan Brewer.

RUDIN: Right. Jan Brewer won big. Once she signed the 1070, the controversial anti-illegal-immigration law, the Republican opposition to her basically disappeared, and she is now the clear favorite in November against Terry Goddard, the state attorney general, son of a former governor.

CONAN: And she outlined some of her campaign platform last night in her victory speech.

Governor JAN BREWER (Republican, Arizona): This general election is going to be about very simple choices. Either you are embraced and supported by organizations who boycott our state, or you work for the people of Arizona and the right for the truth to be heard.

CONAN: And that, of course, referring to the boycotts of Arizona that have been sponsored by some, and of course if you're opposing her, that means you're supporting - anyway, you get the picture. It looks like this could be a tough race.

RUDIN: It could be, and obviously illegal immigration, or immigration, will be a key issue, as it usually is in Arizona. And of course, you have the Senate race now, which is basically, the whole issue was whether John McCain would be vulnerable or not. It turned out he was not. He beat J.D. Hayworth, the first challenge of McCain's long Senate career, beat him easily in the primary.

And of course there's some congressional races as well. Ben Quayle, the son of Dan Quayle, won the nomination in Arizona's Third Congressional District. Very important race in Arizona's First Congressional District. Paul Gosar is a dentist, a wealthy dentist who won the Republican nomination. I understand he had to take a leave of abscess to run for Congress.

CONAN: Oh, Nehemiah. You pulled that joke on us at this point. Now, let's see if we can get some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Again, we've just mentioned Dan Quayle's son, Ben, won his primary. Who were the children of who were the vice presidents whose children last ran for Congress and for Senate?

RUDIN: House and Senate, right.

CONAN: Two different former vice presidents; 800-989-8255 for the right to wear the coveted Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt. Let's see if we can go first to Guy(ph). Guy's with us from Miami.

GUY (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi, go ahead, please.

GUY: Well, I just realized I told your screener something that was impossible because I thought about your question some more. So I guess I don't have both of them. I do believe that one of them was the son of George Herbert Walker Bush. Our last president was the son and he initially did run for Congress but was defeated, I believe.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: That is correct. George W. Bush ran for Congress in Texas in 1978. He lost to Kent Hance. And actually, nobody's heard from George W. Bush since.

CONAN: Kent N. Hance(ph). That was his middle initial.

RUDIN: Exactly. But that is half of a T-shirt. We now need to know the name of the last vice president whose son ran for the Senate.

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

ANDREW (Caller): Yeah, hi. I think Vice President Humphrey's son, Skip, ran for Senate in Minnesota.

RUDIN: And that is correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: In 1988, against David Durenberger. He was the Democratic nominee. So it was Bush and Humphrey - those two vice presidents.

CONAN: Two for two: Two callers, two correct answers. Andrew, hang on, we'll get your particulars and send you a no-prize T-shirt in return for your promise to take your picture and digitally mail it to us so we can post it on our Wall of Shame.

In the meantime, Ken I didn't think we'd have an answer that quickly. In the meantime, Ken, there were some other primaries yesterday. In Vermont, no big surprise on the Democratic senatorial side. Patrick Leahy sailed to re-nomination, no big surprise there. But a tight race there for the gubernatorial nomination.

RUDIN: One quick thing about Pat Leahy. It was interesting. When he was first elected to the Senate in 1974, he was the first Democrat ever elected to the Senate from Vermont. Now he's seeking his seventh term. It's just amazing how things in politics have changed over the decades in Vermont.

In the gubernatorial race, the Republican governor, Jim Douglas, is not running again. His lieutenant governor, Brian Dubie, is running again, is running for governor. But there in a five-way race...

CONAN: There's a pun - it couldn't be dumpy(ph).

RUDIN: No, it's Dubie. And you know, there's a song - I think Frank Sinatra had a song about him.

CONAN: Did.

RUDIN: Dubie, Dubie, do.

CONAN: Exactly, yes, it's his campaign theme.

RUDIN: Exactly. Peter Shumlin, who is the president of the state senate, leads by 182 votes over the second-place finisher, Doug Racine. And the third-place finisher, Deb Markowitz, is down by 738 votes. Anytime you want to know whether your vote counts, it certainly did yesterday in Vermont's Democratic primary.

CONAN: And I think Shumlin has declared victory. The others have yet to concede.

RUDIN: That is correct.

CONAN: So it looks like there may be a recount. When we get back, we're going to be back to what could be a lengthy recount, and that is in the state of Alaska. But briefly, Ken, that is going to be one of the stunning political events of the primary season.

RUDIN: You know, I mean, we talked from the beginning; there's this guy, Joe Miller. Nobody ever heard of him. He was a Gulf War veteran - he is a Gulf War veteran, Tea Party favorite. Sarah Palin endorsed him. But again, Lisa Murkowski had the money, had the establishment, and basically the feeling in Alaska was what we the fact that we get so much more largesse from the federal government than we give in, that's the way Ted Ted Williams...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Ted Stevens did it. That's the way Murkowski did it. That's the way we like it. And nobody thought that Joe Miller had a shot. And right now, he's leading by 1,960 votes.

CONAN: More on that in a minute, but here's an interview, a clip from an interview that Miller gave, obviously before the election. Nobody's spoken after because nobody's declaring or conceding. But he is talking about the importance of the endorsement by the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin.

Mr. JOE MILLER (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Alaska): Well, it's absolutely definite that her endorsement of this campaign has helped us. It's certainly given us national recognition. Really, in Alaska, what makes campaigns work, though, is the sweat equity that people put into the volunteer networks.

CONAN: That - Joe Miller, who may be the Republican senatorial candidate from the state of Alaska. More with Political Junkie Ken Rudin in a moment.

And when we get back, we'll focus on Alaska and on the Palin effect. Has Sarah Palin and the Tea Party changed the way you vote? Republicans, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Or email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. Late night for political junkies last night, with all the primaries out West, but it takes more than sleep deprivation to slow down Ken.

You can also get a fix at his blog, and try to solve his ScuttleButton puzzle. That's all at npr.org/junkie.

We want to use the rest of our time today to talk about a key player for the Republicans, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Love her or hate her, she's had quite an influence on the GOP nationally. But while she was able to deliver a string of victories early, then there was a string of -well, not so good though overall, she had a really great day yesterday.

We want to hear from Republicans today, especially. Has Sarah Palin and the Tea Party changed your vote? Does the endorsement matter; 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Libby Casey, the Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Radio, has given this some thought, and she joins us here in Studio 3. Nice of you to come in, Libby.

Ms. LIBBY CASEY (Washington Correspondent, Alaska Public Radio): Good to be here. Thank you.

CONAN: And this, Joe Miller. Who is Joe Miller?

Ms. CASEY: Who is Joe Miller? This is the question of the day. He, as Ken mentioned earlier, is a Gulf War veteran. He went to West Point. He has a Yale law degree. He has a degree in economics from the University of Alaska, so some hometown representation there, and he's a Tea Party guy.

He doesn't call himself, though. He calls himself a constitutional conservative. And he has tried to corner this vote in Alaska of the right wing, the - we don't want the government money, we need to solve the fiscal crisis. We're headed down a bad road, and I am the guy who can change this.

And he attacked Lisa Murkowski on the earmarks, on the big Washington thing. And even though it didn't seem like Alaskans had pegged Murkowski, necessarily, with the big Washington identity, he managed to paint her with that brush, and he has succeeded. Whether or not he wins, he has succeeded in framing the debate in Alaska.

Senator Murkowski just did not go on the attack. She was put on the defensive, and even though Miller didn't have a lot of money going into this race, he managed to use what he had to go onto conservative talk radio, to blanket the airwaves with the message of: I am the conservative guy.

CONAN: And Lisa Murkowski, of course, the scion of a political dynasty in Alaska.

Ms. CASEY: Absolutely, daughter of Frank Murkowski, who was a senator. When he left the Senate to become governor, he gave her the job of senator, and Alaskans really were upset about that, initially.

But Lisa Murkowski faced a tough race a couple years ago in the last campaign, six years back - won. And it seemed to show people, no, she's here. You know, she's been elected on her own merits, and she we describe her as sort of a new kind of Alaskan Republican, not this bluster and intensity of Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski.

And she was really carving out her own identity. She's the only woman on the Republican Senate leadership team, and she is amassing some power: top Republican on the Energy Committee; she's on Appropriations. And those mean something in Alaska. That says a lot of power.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And remind listeners what happened to Frank Murkowski.

Ms. CASEY: Oh, now Frank Murkowski was running for his second term when a little lady called Sarah Palin entered the scene. She challenged him as a fellow Republican - which is kind of a no-no, you know, attacking your own party.

She beat him in the primary. That left some bad blood between the Murkowskis and the Palins, and when Governor Palin stepped down from her job as governor last year, Senator Murkowski came out.

She's been very reticent to talk about Sarah Palin, but she basically said that Sarah Palin abandoned her job, and abandoned the people of Alaska. That bad blood has continued.

CONAN: Nevertheless, when she first declared that she would run again, who popped up on the donor list but Sarah Palin.

Ms. CASEY: A lot of people thought that Palin might throw her name into the Senate race and actually run against Murkowski. Palin put that aside and said, no, in fact, I'm going to support her. And then Joe Miller came along.

And back in June, Sarah Palin endorsed him on Facebook, did a big push. She hasn't talked publicly about it, but she did some robocalls in the last minute, had some kind of attack-oriented messages on Facebook in the past week, saying that he is the true conservative choice, vote for him over Murkowski, watch these debates from public TV last week, and you'll see who the real choice is.

And she really stepped in. And you know, Murkowski did not really fight back. She's taken the high road through all of this, and that may end up being the undoing.

RUDIN: A lot of people are saying - a lot of people are talking about the difference between what John McCain did. He recognized the challenge from the right from the beginning and moved to the right, to whereas Lisa Murkowski didn't.

But why did we get it so wrong? First of all, it's probably very hard to poll in Alaska, but we all thought this was going to be a slam dunk -Lisa Murkowski, the largesse from Washington, they love it in Alaska. We were wrong on that.

Ms. CASEY: And I talked to one guy who's been watching politics, grew up in Alaska, has been watching for politics for 60 years. And he said: If Miller can pull this off, I will eat my not my tie because it's Alaska. I will eat my lumberjack suspenders. I mean, this is going to be a total shocker. And so we're all reeling today, all of us who have been watching this.

I think a couple things happened. One, there was a ballot issue that voters had before them yesterday regarding parental consent of teenage abortion. That brought out the conservative vote. Murkowski supported that, actually.

But she has a more liberal stance on abortion than Joe Miller does. He's lock, step and barrel, bottom line pro-life. And the other thing is that, you know, half a million dollars that the Tea Party poured into the race in Alaska goes a long way in a small place like Alaska.

This is not Massachusetts. This is not Pennsylvania or California. They were really able to get out an effective messaging campaign.

CONAN: And I will remind our listeners in the 49 states that she was the one who called Alaska a small place.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEY: Oh, never. Large, huge, huge, bigger than life. And we're going to see this have an effect. I mean, the big question is: What does this mean for the Tea Party's influence? People in Alaska were not expecting them to have this much power.

And the question, of course, is: Is it Sarah Palin's endorsement? And what a lot of us are thinking is, Sarah Palin's endorsement led to the Tea Party money. So Sarah Palin said, I endorse this guy. The Tea Party Express out of California said, we're in; we're putting money in.

And so it may be less her actual endorsement than the snowball effect that it created.

CONAN: And we are asking: Who is Joe Miller? I guess we also have to ask: Who is Scott McAdams?

Ms. CASEY: Who? Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEY: Scott McAdams is the Democratic nominee. It looks like he's locked that up. He'll be running against whoever wins the Republican nomination. Scott McAdams is the mayor of a little town called Sitka, Alaska. Last night, instead of being out celebrating and partying his win, he presided over a council meeting, a borough assembly meeting.

So he's not someone who's raised a lot of money. He hasn't really hit the campaign trail a whole lot. He will now have some big shoes because the dynamic changes. If Miller wins, if the Tea Party guy wins, Scott McAdams has a totally different strategy ahead of him. And the question we're all asking is: Will the national Democrats get involved in any way?

CONAN: Do they see this as a winnable race now?

Ms. CASEY: I don't think anyone sees Alaska as turning any - I guess more purple. It's a pretty red state. But you know, who knows? We're watching what has happened in Nevada with Sharron Angle and - with the race with Harry Reid, so...

CONAN: Well, clearly, the mayor of a small town in Alaska could never rise to national prominence. Libby Casey, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Ms. CASEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Libby Casey is the Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Radio, joined us today here in Studio 3A. Joining us now is Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Examiner newspaper in Washington, also a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. MICHAEL BARONE (Senior Political Analyst, The Examiner; Fellow, American Enterprise Institute): Well, it's nice to be with you today.

CONAN: And another good night for Sarah Palin last night.

Mr. BARONE: That's right. She hasn't had total success in her endorsements. She endorsed Karen Handel in the Georgia governor primary, and Handel lost that race to Nathan Deal, former congressman.

So Palin hasn't been batting a thousand but last night, Joe Miller's apparent win in Alaska - he's leading, pending the counting of some absentee ballots.

She endorsed a woman named Pam Bondi for attorney general in Florida. That primary, 1,200,000 people voted in that Republican primary. Bondi won a three Pam Bondi won a three-way race with 38 percent of the vote, beating the current lieutenant governor and another candidate that started off better-known.

So a pretty good night for Sarah Palin, and I guess we're assuming that she was for John McCain in the Arizona primary.

CONAN: She actually did campaign with John McCain, and it's interesting, the Tea Party candidate without her endorsement did not win. That's J.D. Hayworth.

Mr. BARONE: Yeah, I mean, you know, we say Tea Party candidates. As you know, there are lots of Tea Party organizations. There's no central clearinghouse or, you know, commander-in-chief of the movement and so forth.

But certainly, Joe Miller was identified with many of the Tea Party people. And as your previous correspondent noted, they raised a significant amount of money for him in his Alaska race.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Michael, a lot of the Sarah Palin endorsements consist of either a Facebook entry or a Twitter tweet. Is the media too fixated on what Sarah Palin does in these little musings? Because it's not that she's out campaigning with Joe Miller. I mean, she did campaign with Karen Handel, and she did campaign with other candidates, but for the most part, it's just a Facebook or a Twitter feed, and that's we all go crazy over that.

Mr. BARONE: Well, we probably do overemphasize that a lot, but I think, you know, a lot of voters out there are at least paying some favorable attention to what Sarah Palin does. I don't think you can say that there are lock-step Sarah Palin voters. And you know, one of the fascinating phenomena of this cycle - and it's more accentuated; we've seen a move in this direction - is that it's not just money that makes a difference.

Money can make a difference in some races. Clearly, Rick Scott, the Republican who won the governor primary, spending something on the order of $50 million of his own money...

CONAN: In Florida.

Mr. BARONE: ...would not have been a strong candidate without money. But then you go look at Alaska and Joe Miller, you know, by those kind of money standards, he wasn't spending huge amounts of money. Lisa Murkowski is an incumbent senator, was able to raise a lot more. But she wasn't able to translate that, it appears, into 50 percent of the votes.

CONAN: We're asking our Republican listeners today: Does the endorsement of Sarah Palin, does Tea Party activism, change your vote?

Here's an email from Nancy in Mount Pleasant, Michigan: No, it doesn't affect my voting for a candidate, but it amazes me how the national press inflates the influence of Sarah Palin - just to reinforce the point made there by our guest, Michael Barone.

Here's another email, this from Jim in Fort Mill, South Carolina. As someone who's been involved in Republican politics since 1976, literally working on the bus with Ronald Reagan in that year and in 1980, I'm ashamed of the Tea Party's effect on today's GOP. The current congressional leadership and the Tea Party crowd, well, they're squandering the legacy of Goldwater, Reagan and Kemp. In my opinion, the crowd Sarah Palin reflects is more in line with Jesse Helms.

And I wanted to ask you, Michael Barone, there's a strain of thought that obviously, the energy of the Tea Party is helping Republicans and conservatives. But are there drawbacks, too? Is this an unalloyed plus?

Mr. BARONE: Well, I think there are some drawbacks, too. One of my columns in the Washington Examiner, I compared the Tea Party movement, and its influence on the Republican Party, with the peace movement of the late '60s and early '70s - and, one might add, the environmental movement that came into existence at that time - and their affect on the Democratic Party. Like the Tea Party people, they started off saying, you know, we're not necessarily tied to one political party. But almost all of the energy and participation went to one party - in the case of the peace movement, environmental movement, to the Democratic Party.

And what we saw happen in the late '60s and the early '70s was, peace candidates won some big victories. They knocked off some incumbent Democrats in primaries. But in some of those cases, they then lost the seats to Republicans. They proved to be, you know, too left-wing or unacceptable to some voters.

And so when you get a movement that energizes a whole lot of people who haven't been previously involved in politics, when you get an inrush of hundreds of thousands or millions of previously uninvolved people into political activity, you get two things. You get a lot of good citizens who are - and some of whom turn out to be smarter and politically more adept than you ever would have guessed. And you also get a few people that strike most voters as whackos and weirdos, and turn off voters.

So it's a mixed effect, and I think the Tea Party movement, like the peace movement, balance is energizing the party and is a plus for the Republican Party, as the peace movement was for the Democratic Party. But there are some offsetting problems.

CONAN: We're talking with Michael Barone, a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. And also, of course, with us, Political Junkie Ken Rudin, as he is every Wednesday. Republicans: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Does the endorsement of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party change your vote? You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's get a caller on the line. This is David, David with us from Virginia Beach.

DAVID (Caller): Hi, I just have a quick comment, and I would say that Sarah Palin absolutely has not affected my vote. I'm a Tea Partier and a former Republican, and now I'm registered as an independent, but I more associate with the Constitution Party. I'm also an economics major, and the - well, I was in college. And now I'm much more associated with the Tea Party. But the problem with Sarah Plain, to me, is that she endorses - or endorsed John McCain, and John McCain has flip-flopped from a fiscal liberal to a - now feinting to be a fiscal conservative, and has also flip-flopped on the immigration issues. So...

CONAN: And when you call yourself a supporter of the Constitution Party, that would be a party - correct me if I'm wrong, and I don't mean to put words in your mouth - but a party that believes that the government only has the power specifically enumerated in the Constitution.

DAVID: Well, of course, there were - we do believe that there are - I don't mean to speak for the party. I'm just speaking for myself. I do believe that there was some issues with the original Constitution - of course, you know, the three-fifths clause, of course, was a big mistake.

CONAN: We'll throw in the amendments, too.

DAVID: Pardon me?

CONAN: We'll throw in the amendments, too. That was...

DAVID: Yeah, all of them, except maybe the 14th.

CONAN: Ah.

DAVID: So - but yes, we - well, I won't say we. I will say I interpret the Constitution conservatively, and I believe that we need to respect it for the authoritative document that it is.

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

DAVID: Sure.

CONAN: And Michael Barone, he might have been making your point for you. There are some within the Tea Party - and indeed, the conservative and Republican cause - who think that the Constitution is only what exactly it says it is; therefore, things like Medicare and Social Security are unconstitutional.

Mr. BARONE: Yeah, there are also arguments that, you know, I think they prevail that, you know, Medicare and so forth and Social Security are premised on the commerce clause, and the tax - there certainly are taxes involved there. And the Congress does have power to, under the Constitution, to enact taxes and to regulate commerce. There's arguments around the edges - have the courts given Congress too much power over Congress? There's some decisions in the last 15 years that have limited - that have struck down laws that Congress passed purportedly under the commerce clause and the Supreme Court said, hey, that goes too far, you know, that the...

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BARONE: ...that's not covered. So, you know, I don't regard people who say that the commerce clause is limited. There's fringe people, but I do think there's a strong claim that Social Security and Medicare, for example, are part of the - are allowed. And, of course, you know, the Constitution contains provisions allowing for the Constitution itself to be amended, as it has in 27 different amendments. So it does contemplate the possibility of change from the original structure that came out of Philadelphia in 1787.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And one quick thing about what David just said. He's not happy that Sarah Palin endorsed John McCain, but if you looked at John McCain's campaign in the last couple months, he veered far to the right on many issues, including immigration - a lot of the things that the conservatives wanted him to do much earlier in his career.

CONAN: And when I think he referenced the 14th Amendment, he was also talking about the clause which grants U.S. citizenship automatically to anyone born on American soil. Anyway...

Mr. BARONE: Anyway, I'm going to speak up for the 14th and 15th Amendments - 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, too. I think abolishing slavery was a good thing to do.

CONAN: And a Republican - flank in the Republican platform. Michael Barone, thank you very much for your time today.

Mr. BARONE: Thank you.

CONAN: Michael Barone, senior political analyst for the Examiner newspaper here in Washington, also a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," on the phone with us here in Washington, D.C.

More Political Junkie when we continue in a moment. We're going to be speaking with Tom Rath, a political analyst and a former attorney general in New Hampshire. How does this affect Sarah Palin's prospects for a presidential run? If that's going to be a real prospect, she's going to have to go through New Hampshire. So stay with us for that.

Republicans, we'd like to hear: Does Sarah Palin's endorsement change the way you vote? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now, a supersized edition of the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is here for the long haul, NPR political editor. When he's not hamming it up with us on the radio, you can find him on his blog. That's at npr.org/junkie.

Our focus this hour is the Palin effect, and we especially want to hear from Republicans. Has Sarah Palin and the Tea Party changed your vote? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And joining us to discuss the so-called Palin effect is political analyst Tom Rath, Republican Party National Committee leader for New Hampshire from 1996 to 2000, and 2002 to 2007, with us on the line from Concord. And nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. TOM RATH (Political Analyst; Former Republican Party National Committee Leader, New Hampshire): Thank you. It's good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And is Sarah Palin making any inroads in New Hampshire?

Mr. RATH: Well, she endorsed the candidate - the leading candidate, probably, the front-running candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, the former attorney general, Kelly Ayotte. She's not been up here yet. She came once during her vice presidential run. We haven't seen her yet in the run-up to this election - maybe after the primary. Our primary's very late, on the 14th of September. We may see her then but, I mean, I think there are people who are paying attention to her. And I think she certainly managed to capture the attention of several people, including the Union Leader newspaper, when she made that endorsement.

CONAN: And anybody who's even remotely thinking about the possibility of running for president usually finds a dinner to address, or a Boy Scout meeting to attend, in New Hampshire at some point.

Mr. RATH: Wherever two or more are gathered, there they are as well. I mean, we welcome them all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And at this point, are people talking about Sarah Palin in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate?

Mr. RATH: Well, you know, New Hampshire is an equal-opportunity state. We're talking about them all. I mean, we had former Senator Santorum here last weekend. Governor Pawlenty's wife was in state. Former Governor Romney was in state last week. So she's in that list of people that I think people are considering. I think there's a lot of attention being paid to her because we haven't seen her.

And not to sound - overstate our own role, but it is a place that people tend to come when they want to run. So I think that she says that's a decision that she's going to make down the road; hasn't made it yet. And that's fine. I'm certain, at some point, she'll be up here.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Tom, we were talking about all these Sarah Palin endorsements around the country. In endorsing Kelly Ayotte - Ayotte is not the most conservative candidate in the race. Was that a surprise endorsement, as far as you're concerned?

Mr. RATH: Well, I think it - if you talk to the Ayotte people, it was. I mean, I think they had been hopeful, and there were - there are some friends of Ayotte who were friends with McCain, who were urging this to happen. When it happened, it happened quickly, and with little notice.

No. I mean, I think Kelly Ayotte is a solid, reliable, center-conservative, you know, who's attracting - who's running as a conservative. She's not running away from conservative values. What is interesting, really, was that when the endorsement did come, it was followed very quickly by a very tough, front-page editorial of the Union Leader, which is sort of the conservative paper of record here - and the statewide paper here - by its publisher, Joe McQuaid, basically saying to Sarah Palin, we don't really need your advice...

CONAN: Hmm.

Mr. RATH: ...up here. We'll make up our own mind. And I think people were surprised at the swiftness of that reaction and the - kind of intensity of it.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers in on the conversation. Let's go next to Vicky, Vicky with us from Salt Lake City.

VICKY (Caller): Hi, and thanks for having me. I just wanted to comment on - I was the GOP delegate for our state, and we just had a recent, pretty important election with the election for U.S. Senate, and Bob Bennett lost.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

VICKY: I think, along those lines, Sarah Palin, she and the Constitution Party are not - they're not - they were bad for our state, as far as the other candidates mentioned her name and kind of evoked that Sarah Palin power. And I think we lost a great senator when we lost Bob Bennett, and all because of this Constitution Party. And it's affected me as a Republican in that I don't want to be Republican anymore if that's the way it's going.

CONAN: And you were a delegate.

VICKY: Yes, uh-huh. Now, unfortunately, many of the delegates were from the Constitution Party. They had their Don't Tread on Me flags and booing Bob Bennett and Mitt Romney at the convention, and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

VICKY: ...to me, that's a negative effect on our party.

CONAN: We should remind listeners that in Utah, it's not a primary but a - sort of a poll of delegates within the Republican Party, and a relatively small number of activists help to sway that election. And Bob Bennett, the incumbent senator, was not even on the final ballot. So he was not even eligible for the - to be - to run again for Senate. Vicky, where are you going to go?

VICKY: You know, maybe just to independent. I may go Democrat. I don't know. My mom would not be happy if she heard that, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

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

VICKY: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: I just want to say, Sarah - Mike Lee, the guy who won the nomination, is one of those people that Sarah Palin endorsed from the beginning. And again, as you point out, Neal, that - Utah has this very unique situation - not just unique, but very unique...

CONAN: Very unique, yes.

RUDIN: ...exactly, where it's - the conservatives run the nominating process there. If it had gone to a statewide primary, I think Bob Bennett would have won.

CONAN: I wonder, Tom Rath, up there in New Hampshire, is there a strong Libertarian/Constitutional Party element?

Mr. RATH: Well, you know, two things. One, there is - we have a Libertarian Party. It has not been a major player. It fights each cycle for ballot placement. But I - there is certainly a Libertarian, I think, stripe to many Republicans here, particularly on social issues.

I do think that the point that the last caller brought up - about what the Palin endorsement means and for whom does she speak - is, I think, a very interesting question. I think everybody wants to see, or is trying to see, what is the unifying or clear vision of the Tea Party. My sense is one of the things that unifies it is, it doesn't want to be typecast. It doesn't want to be predictable. It has become a focus of people who have strong concerns about the direction of the country, but almost resists organization, and almost resists being said that somebody speaks for it.

So I would be very careful to ascribe much more to that, other than that she is occasionally been able to speak and say the words and express the thoughts that lot of them do. But I think one thing that I sense out of that is they all pretty much want to talk for themselves.

CONAN: Let's get Ross on the line. He's in Mount Dora, Florida. And Ross, do you want to speak for yourself?

ROSS (Caller): Oh, yeah. Thank you. I'm a Republican, a long-term McCain supporter. I always consider him a great statesman. So when he chose former Governor Palin, I felt, you know, I needed to give her the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, I think we're becoming more and more aware that drill, baby, drill, also means spill, baby, spill. And I'm very concerned about the polarization that I'm seeing in both parties, and the inability of people to come to the middle without being ostracized. And I would like to ask your guest whether or not he feels that we're really paying as much attention to the bums we're voting in as the bums we're voting out.

CONAN: Tom Rath, what do you think?

Mr. RATH: Well, I - yeah. I mean, I think that's a very fair question. I think what we know is, and what I think that the mood is out there, is that what we have is unacceptable, and so that almost - the alternative is better just by definition because we're so upset with where we are. But, I mean - and that's kind of a replay of '06 and '08.

And I think there is a restlessness and a lack of certainty about where we would go in these elections. And I think the one who's going to really do well - or the party that will do well is the party that captures that. And that's one thing to win elections. It's quite another thing to govern. And if we're getting elected on the basis of who we're not as opposed to what we will do, it's very hard, then, to have a coherent form of direction in policymaking.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Tom, of course, we haven't gotten to 2010 yet, and we're talking about 2012. But having said that, everybody knows who Sarah Palin is. It's not like she needs...

Mr. RATH: Right.

RUDIN: ...to be recognized - you know, introduced like Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels, or anybody like that. So in effect, that - she really doesn't have to - if she's going to run in 2012 - and I'm not convinced she is - but if she does, she really doesn't have to go up to New Hampshire much - you know, that much in advance, correct?

Mr. RATH: Ken, I agree with you. I think that the first X amount of money that a lot of people would have to spend, she doesn't have to spend. I do think there is a fair amount of familiar with her - and I'm not being detrimental here - but familiarity with her as a celebrity and as a persona. I'm not sure yet there is a broad understanding of her policy positions. And I think one of the things she would have to do is begin to sort of outline those in greater depth than maybe we've seen to date.

CONAN: An email from Cindy: I used to be Republican. Now, I'm more independent. The Tea Party discourages me from ever voting Republican again. That's - obviously, there's a lot of energy in the Tea Party, but energy - there are some people it really does put off, too.

Mr. RATH: Well, again, I think that's because it's not trying to be a party. I really - I think a party tries to grow and be a force, you know, that sort of perpetuates itself. I think this has really become a series of people who feel very, very strongly about certain issues. But I think they resist because they find unpleasant and, you know, unsatisfactory, the structure that the party is giving them.

CONAN: Tom Rath, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. RATH: Nice to talk to you fellows.

CONAN: Tom Rath, former head of the Republican Party National Committee in New Hampshire; chairman of the election campaigns of New Hampshire's current senior U.S. senator, Judd Gregg; and an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Howard Baker, Robert Dole, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney and George W. Bush - with us on the phone in Concord.

And Ken, it seems these primaries go on forever. But in fact, they don't.

RUDIN: Oh, it's very sad. Well, we have two on Saturday. We had the Louisiana Senate primary. That's the one with David Vitter seeking re-election. We had also a special Senate primary in West Virginia. That's the Senate seat where Robert Byrd passed away. But both parties know their nominees for that seat. And then nothing until September 14th, when we get about a half a dozen or so states. And after that, September 18th in Hawaii, and that's it. It's on to the general election.

CONAN: So there is an end to the primary season, though you may not think so. Here's an email we got from Dallas - in Oregon, Depoe Bay in Oregon. Yes, I'm a conservative Republican. I am impressed with Sarah Palin's endorsements and recommendations. I think it's time we changed not our government structure, but those who represent and govern us. I'll vote against all incumbents. We need citizen representatives, not career politicians leading our country.

And, well, you know, the odd thing is, Ken, we talk about the number of people who have been upset, and there have been incumbents who have been thrown out. Still, I think about 90 percent of incumbents still have been renominated.

RUDIN: That's always a case, you know; it's always the case. But if Lisa Murkowski does fall in Alaska, she'll be the third senator after Bob Bennett and Arlen Specter. That is the most in any cycle since 1980. So I don't think it's really an anti-incumbency year, lot a like of people see. But there is an anger out there, and we've seen it in some primary battles.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, joins us every Wednesday. And Ken, thanks, as always, for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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