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The Big Issues Of The 2010 Elections

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The Big Issues Of The 2010 Elections

The Big Issues Of The 2010 Elections

The Big Issues Of The 2010 Elections

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Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Alex Vogel, partner, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti

There's still another major round of primaries left in 2010, but the true political junkies have their eyes locked on November's midterm elections. And the top issues seem clear: the economy, tax cuts, Afghanistan, health care, gay marriage and immigration.


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

Senator Murkowski bows out, Fiorina and Boxer come out swinging tonight, the Gallup tea leaves foretell dark days for Democrats, and the Magic Eight Ball says concentrate and ask again. It's Wednesday and time for a soothsayer edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. In Anchorage, Lisa Murkowski surrenders to the remorseless arithmetic of the recount. In Jacksonville, Jeb Bush endorses a candidate he recently called weird. Jim Traficant is back on the ballot. Primary hiatus after no surprises in Louisiana and West Virginia.

In a bit, we'll focus on the Republican surge, the biggest lead ever by either party in a midterm Gallup poll, and later in the program, we'll turn pages on Iraq with Tom Ricks, the best books to emerge from the war.

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

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal, well, we're talking about Lisa Murkowski's defeat, and this is perhaps the most fascinating midterm election I can remember, and yet the Lisa Murkowski defeat is something I did not see coming at all.

CONAN: Neither did she.

RUDIN: Neither did she, exactly. Okay, the trivia question is: Before Lisa Murkowski, who was the last elected woman, elected governor or senator, to lose in a primary?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to the question, the last woman to be elected governor or senator to be defeated in her party's primary, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us,

And we've got a new shipment of T-shirts in, so you'll actually get one in return for a promise to email us a digital picture of yourself to be posted on the Wall of Shame.

But let's get back to that primary in Alaska. The recount went ahead. Senator Murkowski thought maybe the absentee ballots would be in her favor, but the margins stayed about the same.

RUDIN: Well, there are about 16,000 either uncounted absentee ballots or provisional ballots that were not counted on the August 24th primary, when Joe Miller came away with about a 1,900-vote, 1,800-vote lead.

But a lot of the counting came yesterday in Anchorage, which is supposed to be big Murkowski country, and she might have gained a little, a few, a couple of dozen votes but certainly not enough to beat Miller.

And a lot of the uncounted areas, the bush areas of the state small B, bush areas of the state were supposed to be Miller country, and she said look, I just don't have the the votes are not there for me to win.

CONAN: Might as well hang it up. Interesting, the Republican Senate campaign had sent somebody from Washington to help her. After Joe Miller complained, they called her back.

RUDIN: Right, exactly. I mean, Miller's complaint from the beginning is that and maybe this is what hurt Murkowski from the beginning, as well, that the she was the establishment candidate, the Republican Party establishment in Alaska, whatever was left of it with the passing of Ted Stevens, things like that, were helping her but to no avail.

And, you know, we talked about this in the past, the fact that John McCain had the same, similar problems that Lisa Murkowski had, but he learned, he knew from the beginning how to deal with it.

It was attacks from the right. He preempted that by going on the offensive. Lisa Murkowski basically sat back, even though she had much more money than Joe Miller, and basically said look, here's what I've done for Alaska. That was not what conservative voters wanted to hear.

CONAN: But she lost with money in the bank unspent.

RUDIN: Exactly because she'd never until it was too late, she just felt that she had the election won. All the pollsters said that she had it won. The only people who know that she didn't have it won was perhaps Joe Miller, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party supporters.

CONAN: And Sarah Palin comes out of this as, well, her image is burnished by this.

RUDIN: Well, it's hard again, as Libby Casey said on this program a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact it was last week, that once she endorsed Joe Miller, then the Tea Party folks came out with a lot of money, with, like, $600,000. And in a state like Alaska, $600,000 goes a long way. And again, for the most part, Lisa Murkowski's ads were just, you know, pabulum.

CONAN: Let's get to the results in Louisiana and West Virginia, where, for once, everything predicted happened.

RUDIN: Right, exactly, and it's two states who first of all, one state was expected, on the calendar, at least, Louisiana, David Vitter, the first Republican senator elected since Reconstruction.

Of course, he did have some ethics problems with his phone number appearing on the D.C. madam's list. But he has righted his ship, apparently. Republicans have backed him from the beginning. He easily won a Republican primary against an opponent that some Republicans thought might prove embarrassing to Vitter. The Democratic nominee is Congressman Charlie Melancon. And the Republicans look like they're going to keep that seat in November.

Now, one seat that was not expected to be on the schedule is West Virginia. But that's when Robert Byrd died in June, the Democratic governor there, Joe Manchin, is the Democratic nominee, and the Republican nominee is John Raese, who ran for the Senate twice, lost to Robert Byrd in 2006, Jay Rockefeller back in '84. And the Republicans think they have a shot there, but it's very unlikely. Joe Manchin has run seven times statewide, very popular.

Of course, Raese is trying to tie Manchin in with the Obama administration, and that is not popular in West Virginia.

CONAN: And we should also note that we keep trying to write the political obituary of Jim Traficant, and we just can't.

RUDIN: Well, a few months ago, a couple of months ago, he was ruled that his bid for an independent candidacy in Ohio's 17th District, which he used to represent before going to prison in 2002 for corruption, that's he was not supposed to be on the ballot. But now they found some errors, and they found that some of the signatures did match up. They were really from people from Earth, which is interesting with Traficant, and he will be on the ballot in the Ohio 17th.

Tim Ryan is the Democrat who succeeded him in 2002. Ultimately, it may not make much of a difference, but when he was running from prison in 2002, Traficant got 15 percent of the vote as an independent back in '02.

CONAN: Okay, we should note there is, as we mentioned, a hiatus in primaries, not until the middle of the month.

RUDIN: I know. I know. It's so sad. What are we going to do.

CONAN: It's terrible. But there is still one undecided, and that's the Democratic nominee for governor in Vermont.

RUDIN: Right. It looks like it's going to be Peter Shumlin, who is the state Senate pro tem president. Right now, he has a 197-vote lead over Doug Racine. And Racine says look, I'll back Shumlin unless the recount shows that I won it. But there's not the kind of anger you saw coming out of Florida in 2000. Democrats seem to be on the same page. They'll rally behind whoever wins, ultimately wins.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, if you think you know the name of the last woman to be elected senator or governor to lose in her party primary, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email Let's start with Jeff(ph), Jeff with us from Tulsa.

JEFF (Caller): Hello. Hello?

CONAN: Go ahead. Yes, you're on. Go ahead.

JEFF: Yes, is one of them Senator Kirsten Gillibrand?

RUDIN: Well, I think you're a little premature here. No, she was appointed last year, when of course Hillary Clinton became secretary of State. But Gillibrand has not not only did not lose a primary, the primary isn't until September 14th.

JEFF: Oh, I put the cart before the horse.

RUDIN: You did. But she has no she is in absolutely no danger of losing not only the primary but the general election, as well.

CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much for the call.

JEFF: Thank you.

CONAN: You may turn out to be prescient, but who knows. Let's see if we can go next to this is Mary(ph), Mary with us from Bonner Springs in Kansas.

MARY (Caller): Yes, is it Elizabeth Dole?

CONAN: Liddy Dole lost in the last general election.

RUDIN: She did. Elizabeth Dole was elected 2002, defeated in 2008 by Kay Hagan in North Carolina, but she did not lose the primary. We're looking for the last female elected Senate or governor to lose in a primary, not the general election. She lost in the general election.

CONAN: Mary, thanks very much. Let's go next to this is Ken, and Ken's with us from Cleveland.

RUDIN: Hi, oh, not me?

CONAN: Not you.

RUDIN: Okay.

CONAN: Unless you're in Cleveland. Ken, go ahead.

KEN (Caller): Hi, I'm guessing Dixy Lee Ray in Washington state.

RUDIN: That is correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Dixy Lee Ray was the Democratic governor of Washington, elected in 1976, defeated in the primary in 1980, and the Republicans won the seat. By the way, the last female senator to lose in a primary was Hattie Caraway in 1944, losing to William Fulbright.

CONAN: That was the seat of a lot of political results after that, the Caraway election, yeah.

RUDIN: But actually, so exactly, the answer there, correct - that's the correct answer, Dixy Lee Ray, 1980 in Washington.

CONAN: Ken, hang on, we're going to get your details and send you a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt, again, in response for your in a promise for a digital picture of yourself to post on our Wall of Shame.

KEN: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Hold on. In the meantime, let's see if we can get to this week's general issue because, well, we've got two guests here in the studio, and we really want to get to a lot of different issues.

Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, she worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. She's with us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back.

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Senior Vice President and Principal, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And Vin Weber can't be with us today, but filling in is Alex Vogel, co-founder and partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a lobbying firm in Washington. Did I get the last name right?

Mr. ALEX VOGEL (Co-founder, Partner, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti): Pretty close.

CONAN: Pretty close. He also served as chief counsel of former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also with us here in the studio.

And what we're trying to get to this week is the issues that are playing out in some of the tight races and how the general outlook is for the Senate and the House of Representatives in this year's midterm elections.

How are these issues playing out where you live? 800-989-8255. Email What are candidates running for? What are they running against? Ken?

RUDIN: Speaking of this, I thought it was very - struck by President Obama's speech on Iraq last night. Once upon a time, Iraq was the key issue in the country. It helped bring the Democrats to power in the 2006 elections, probably helped Barack Obama get elected president in 2008.

And yet when people are asked about Iraq right now, it's not on the top 10, either because the economy is so poor or the president has fulfilled his promise and gotten us, you know, out of that quagmire in Iraq.

CONAN: And Anna Greenberg, that's the first point. We turn to you. Normally, keeping a major campaign promise like that, a plus.

Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely. But I think that, as Ken said, the economy is such an overwhelming issue and has been for such a, you know, really since September of 2008, if not, you know, earlier, I think it's hard for any other issue to get any oxygen.

But I'd also say that, you know, in terms of the front pages, Iraq was much of kind of front-page story a few years ago, and really in the last couple years, it's really been on the back pages. If anything, Afghanistan is the much bigger story than Iraq, and it's kind of fallen out of people's consciousness.

CONAN: And let's turn to you, Alex Vogel. The war clearly not an issue for Republicans, but they do have the economy to run on.

Mr. VOGEL: There's no doubt that it's economy, economy all the time. I mean, the larger issue for Republicans running is one of the upsides, if there are any, about being out of power is you don't need to you're not running on your agenda. You're running against the president, against Congress.

CONAN: We're not them.

Mr. VOGEL: We're not them. So for most Republican candidates, that is really where they are, and the issues are the ones that the president's framed.

CONAN: But a lot of Republicans, and indeed some of the PACs, also, are associated with issues on immigration and the mosque and issues like that. Those are certainly rallying cries.

Mr. VOGEL: Right, the gift that keeps on giving. I mean, some of these, the mosque in particular, regardless of how you feel about that as a substantive issue, why you would inject that at the White House at this point, I just, I don't understand.

CONAN: Stay with us. The ideas and issues likely to determine big winners in this year's midterm elections: Democrats, Republicans, what are you voting for or against? 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION. 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. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, NPR's political editor, our political junkie. No Gallup poll for Ken, but you can always get your fix on his blog at, where you will find his ScuttleButton puzzle and his All Things Politics podcast, as well.

Our focus today, on the looming midterm elections, roughly two months away, and, well, one more month of primaries away.

The platforms and the major issues for both parties seem clear. We want to hear how things are shaping up where you live. What issues are you voting on or against? We want to hear from Republicans and Democrats, 800-989-8255 - and of course, independents. Email us,

With us here in the studio, Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner; and Alex Vogel, partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti. Does it G...?

Mr. VOGEL: He does Castagnetti.

CONAN: Castagnetti, okay. All right, well, in any case, he's former chief counsel to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

And I need to ask you both about the poll that came out in the Gallup. This is the midterm Gallup poll and the largest spread in any midterm election ever between the two parties, giving the Republicans a 10-point advantage: If a general ballot, if the election were held today, which party would you vote for in congressional elections?

Mr. VOGEL: Right, and I mean, look. There's no way to argue it's not significant. It's obviously the biggest advantage Republicans have had since 1942.

It comes coupled with another Gallup poll that I think just came out today, which shows Republicans with an issue advantage on seven of the nine key issues. In fact, the only one they were tied on was health care.

The look, where this really makes a difference is there will be those seats that are not competitive one way or the other. There will be those seats in the middle.

CONAN: There's about 170 for both parties considered absolutely safe.

Mr. VOGEL: Right. At the margins, if you have a generic advantage, and let's just say it is as high as 10 points or even between five and 10 points, that's going to make a real difference.

I mean, this is why, you know, Nevada, for example, which a lot of Republicans wrote off, if Harry Reid's only a point or two up on Sharron Angle going into the election, if the generic really is five to 10 points, he very well could lose that race.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, let's just say it was more fun to do these shows in 2008 and 2006 than it is this year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENBERG: Obviously, those are sobering numbers. It's a challenging election for Democrats. A couple things I would say: First, the real ballot tends to be tighter than the generic ballot because real candidates have - some of them at least - have real relationships with their constituents.

CONAN: And real opponents.

Ms. GREENBERG: Real opponents, some of whom are sort of unacceptable and unelectable. Some of these incumbents have a lot of money. There's actually been very robust fundraising on the Democratic side.

So while, you know, I would it would not be plausible for me to say that these we should dismiss, you know, these numbers, I do think the real number is probably a little tighter than this, and certainly it is in the polling that we're seeing at the district-by-district level.

CONAN: And Ken, the number that we just heard mentioned by Alex Vogel, the race in Nevada within the margin of error, and that is that's a stunning result.

RUDIN: Well, it is stunning because from the beginning, or at least since the primary, all the Democrats said that we got the Republican we wanted to run against, Sharron Angle, backed by the Tea Party, made some controversial statements on some positions and things like that.

But the fact that she's still dead even with Harry Reid, with 62 days to go before Election Day, is not good side - good news for the Democratic Party, no.

Mr. VOGEL: One of the arguments I've made to some of my Democratic friends about the Angle/Reid contest is if she's only a point or two down, admitting that she started out as a not-perfect candidate, she only has upside, right? So if she improves a little bit as a candidate, and she's basically even with Harry Reid, well, then, he's got a problem.

Ms. GREENBERG: But this is a case where, I mean, first of all, if we'd had one of the other ones, he'd probably be down. So it's still, for most Democrats, this is actually a decent result, right? Because we think that the alternative would have been worse.

But this is a case where the fact that he had a lot of money, is running a highly professional and sophisticated campaign, is going to have a serious ground game, all is going to make a huge difference.

You have labor, you know, which is very big, especially in Las Vegas. So, you know, obviously it's challenging, and it's disconcerting, but I like his odds.

Mr. VOGEL: And to be fair to Reid, he will not make the Murkowski mistake of leaving money in the bank on Election Day.



RUDIN: Right, and everybody although one thing to be said about the Republicans, even though there's a lot of comparisons to 1994, when Gingrich and company won control of the House and Senate, there's also comparison to 1980, when some lesser-known, lesser-qualified Republican candidates like Jeremiah Denton in Alabama or Mack Mattingly in Georgia, people who were not supposed to win, even though their resumes may not be perfect, if there is a tidal wave, if there is a tsunami, these guys can be swept in. And that's why a Sharron Angle victory, a Rand Paul victory, but a Sharron Angle victory is not out of the cards at all.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Stephanie(ph) in Anchorage: In regards to Lisa Murkowski's loss, I don't think it can be attributed to anti-incumbent sentiment. Indeed, the probable reasons are: One, Proposition 2, a parental permission, anti-abortion prop that brought out a number of conservative voters, not Lisa's base; two, infusion of Tea Party money; three, only 10 percent of the eligible electorate voted, and that 10 percent was strongly skewed because of Prop 2; and four, Republican closed primary; five, Lisa's insistent on taking the high road.

And, well, that's Alex Vogel, taking the high road, not attacking your opponent, taking things for granted.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, I mean, there's no doubt. I think you saw, if you contrast the McCain experience in Arizona with the Murkowski experience, go ugly, stay ugly, spend all the money. You know, if there's a little blood on the floor, so be it.

You know, and again, as far as resources, leaving money in the bank before an election is like runway behind you in an airplane: It's of absolutely no use.

CONAN: Here's an email from David(ph): While Miller and other Tea Party candidates have done well in recent primaries, is it possible they are too far to the right to be successful in general elections?

That's what we were talking about with Sharron Angle. The same situation applies in other places: Kentucky and Colorado, Anna.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think it depends on the state and the political culture of the state. So I could imagine in a place like Kentucky, you know, Rand Paul, you know, possibly winning, even though he is not just right wing but has said some pretty crazy stuff.

But I think in other places, I think it's much more challenging. And so I think for example in a place like Arizona 8, which is, in full disclosure, I work in that race, but the Republican who won that primary is sort of, is a Tea Party candidate. And he is pretty out of step with the district, including the fact that it's a majority pro-choice district, for example, and he opposes rape- and incest-, I mean abortion in cases of rape and incest and the life of the mother.

So, you know, I think that it depends on where you are, but in some cases, they will be too far to the right.

CONAN: Just to clarify, you're polling. You're not running.

Ms. GREENBERG: No, I'm polling.

(Soundbite of laughter)


RUDIN: Now look, the Tea Party did make a stand in places like Utah, where Mike Lee is now the nominee and will likely win. And of course, Rand Paul could very well win, and, you know, Ken Buck could win in Colorado.

But they're also backing a challenger, Christine O'Donnell in the Delaware primary on September 14th against Mike Castle. Delaware is much different than the states we've mentioned.

If O'Donnell should pull a Joe Miller and win that primary, I can't see any way how she could win the statewide. And this is a great opportunity for the Republicans to take away - this is the old Joe Biden Senate seat, but they could probably only do it with Mike Castle, not with a Tea Party candidate like Christine O'Donnell.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. We'll start with Jerry(ph), Jerry is with us from O'Fallon in Missouri.

JERRY (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

JERRY: In my local races, as far as the state rep, I noticed that all of the candidates on the Republican side all had some form of the word constitutional in their literature, as if you know, I know that was kind of a code word when people were campaigning against the health care, that it's not in the Constitution.

And unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to engage with any of these people, but I would've liked to ask them, you know: Where is the FBI in the Constitution? Where is air traffic control? Where are a lot of things that essentially are provided by the government and, you know, obviously have worked to move us ahead?

But that seemed to be, as I said, the code word that meant that they were going to be the true conservatives.

CONAN: Indeed, Joe Miller the constitutional conservative in Alaska.

Mr. VOGEL: Right. Yeah, there's no doubt that a lot of the Tea Party discussion has injected conversations about the Constitution, in a constructive way, I think, back into the national debate.

We've seen this even in the non-political side in the Supreme Court. There are real debates going on over what the limits are of Commerce Clause authority of Congress.

So it's true, that is discussed a lot more than it certainly was four or eight years ago.

CONAN: Anna, you would think that Democrats would love to run against somebody they could say this person doesn't think Social Security or Medicare is constitutional.

Ms. GREENBERG: Right. But let me go back to the issue of using this word. It is code word. It's sort of far-right code word. I think it has much more resonance among primary voters and activists.

I think when people start talking about the Constitution in this manner, which is, you know, not really about the Constitution, in my view, I don't think your average voter really sort of understands what it is they're talking about exactly because, again, it's sort of code.

On the issue of Social Security, I mean, this is an area where I think there is a lot of potential around defining, you know, the Republican challengers.

And you can - even if you have a Republican challenger who himself or herself hasn't said I want to privatize Social Security, if they are supporters of, you know, Paul Ryan's plan, or if they are getting money from John Boehner's PAC, if any way they're associated with the leadership of the Republican leadership of the House, then they in essence support privatization of Social Security and Medicare.

And it is a very, very strong attack, especially in the midterm when you a disproportionately older electorate.

CONAN: An issue in the Senate race in Pennsylvania, as well, where the Club for Growth candidate on the Republican side has had some - being attacked on that question by the Democrat, Joe Sestak.

So let's here's an email that we have from Florida, and Scott(ph) in Orlando: Please ask your guests what effects Charlie Crist courting Democrats will have on the Senate race and what effects will Bud Childs dropping out of the governor's race and throwing his support to Alex Sink, the Democrat?

We neglected to get to that earlier, Ken, but that's the political news out of the state of Florida.

RUDIN: Well, the latter staff, I mean, Bud Childs is the son of Laughton Childs, the late governor, the last Democrat elected governor of Florida. He was only polling about four or five percent. And if anything, he was going to be a spoiler for Alex Sink, the state CFO who was a Democratic nominee for the governorship.

So he dropped out basically because he didn't want to elect Rick Scott as governor. So there's more unity on the Democratic side, in the gubernatorial race, at least, in Florida than there is in the Senate race.

The Senate race is another story altogether because Kendrick Meek is the African-American congressman from Miami who is the Democratic nominee. If Charlie Crist can pull Democratic votes away from Kendrick Meek rather than split the Republican Party, which is what originally what we thought, if anything - if nothing else, it could send Marco Rubio to the Senate.

CONAN: Marco Rubio, of course, the Republican, and again, Tea Party favorite.

RUDIN: Tea Party favorite before there was a Tea Party.

CONAN: Before there was a Tea Party.

Mr. VOGEL: And I think Governor Crist might want to call Arlen Specter and ask him how well it works out when you try and, you know, switch around, court some new friends. I mean, I think he's going to have a really hard time suddenly convincing everybody that George Bush's best friend in Texas is now one of the Democrats. And, you know, you shouldn't vote for Meek, who's been with him for years, and instead, he should come over with me. I actually think all this intensity is, you know, do nothing but help Rubio at the end.

CONAN: And Anna Greenberg, if Crist does manage to eke out a victory, it's going to be interesting to see which party he decides to caucus with.

Ms. GREENBERG: I mean, all the scuttlebutt is that he's going to, you know, caucus with the Democrats, but who really knows. Maybe he'll, you know, sort of do a Joe Lieberman and have his vote be that kind crucial vote that everyone's sort of trying to get.

CONAN: In any case, let's ask a broader question. At this point, do you think there is enough swing to the Republicans for the Republicans to take over the House of Representatives, Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: I'm not going to make any predictions either way.

CONAN: We'll take that as a yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: I will make a prediction. Yeah, look, I think that simply the number of House seats that are in play, if this is a wave election, which obviously the Gallup numbers and other things indicate and if you look at a lot of the race-by-race data, I think the House is definitely in play. I think the real question now, in light of the generic numbers that have come out, is whether the Senate is actually in play or not. I, for one, have been saying for a long time it wasn't. That that kind of a pick-up was just, you know, impossible. Now, I think it's, while still not likely, is within the realm of the possible.

CONAN: And not likely, but we see people like - Wisconsin is in play, California is in play, maybe Washington is in play. Democrats control all those seats.

Ms. GREENBERG: Right. Well, if you read, if you read Nate Silver's analysis, he suggests that probably it's about a seven seat loss in the Senate, which is not enough to take over the...

CONAN: So that's what you would think?

Ms. GREENBERG: I'm just telling you what he says.

CONAN: Just telling you what he says. Okay. Our guests are there: Anna Greenberg, a senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner, worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, also with us, Alex Vogel, a partner at Mehlman Vogel and Castagnetti, former chief counsel to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Of course, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get James(ph) on the line. James with us from Morgantown in Kentucky.

JAMES (Caller): Hi, good afternoon, everybody.

CONAN: Afternoon.

JAMES: How are you all doing? I'm from Kentucky, and you all talking about who you're voting for. And I heard Dr. Paul mentioned and that's who I'm voting for, not really because I'm a Tea Partier or anything. I'm actually a registered libertarian in this state, which is a very rare commodity to find, and I'm just kind of excited about somebody running with my political beliefs on the ballot, you know?

CONAN: There's been no libertarians on the ballot there in Kentucky before?

JAMES: Not since I've been able to vote. I'm only 26. I haven't been able to vote in too many elections, but, yeah, every election that I've been a part of, it's a two-party system. And this state is pretty close because all the primaries in the state are close to your party, so I can't really go out and vote in anything else.

CONAN: All right, James. Thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JAMES: Thank you.

CONAN: Ron Paul, Rand Paul's father, the congressman from Texas, a previous Libertarian Party candidate for president, has certainly energized a part of the Republican Party that is - could we call it part of the broad Tea Party coalition?

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah. You know what's interesting about this is you hear this discussion about what impact the Tea Party candidates will have, and as I've pointed out, look, all of these people ran for the Republican primary. They all have Rs in front of their names, so it would be like calling Democrats, move on as opposed to Democrats. Look, I'm a guy who came up from within the party system, so as long as they have an R in front of their name, they're Republicans to me, as opposed to Tea Partiers or not.


RUDIN: But that's not what a lot - often, that's not what all the Republicans say as well. They said that Lisa Murkowski was not a Republican. She was a RINO. That Bob Bennett in Utah was not truly a Republican. These are pretty conservative people. They may not be as conservative as the Joe Millers and the Mike Lees of the world, but they are still conservatives.

Mr. VOGEL: But the difference is they - what they were saying was this person is not a Republican, not we're not Republicans, therefore we're rejecting this Republican. There's a key distinction.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I mean, one - you know, I sort of agree. I think if someone has an R, you know, next to their name, you know, most Republicans are going to vote Republican. We know that that's true from all kinds of academic studies as well. But there are some Tea Party candidates who are not running professional campaigns, who are not good at fundraising, who are going to be potentially outmaneuvered by their Democratic opponents. And so there are some people who are not ready for primetime running in these general elections where you don't have the benefit of the grassroots playing such a large role as you see in a primary election, for example.

Mr. VOGEL: One of the things that happens is when you've got a wave that's going your way, suddenly you were able to recruit candidates in every race, five or six deep, and you will get some that are not ready for primetime.


Mr. VOGEL: There's no doubt.

RUDIN: We saw that in '94. We saw that in 1980.

Mr. VOGEL: Right. It certainly beats the alternative.

CONAN: Let's go to Mike(ph). Mike with us from Jackson, Wyoming.

MIKE (Caller): Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MIKE: My question is it seems that the Democrats are getting painted with - and I'm an independent, by the way - are getting painted but blamed for the wars overseas and for the deficit and for the economic situation that they inherited. And I just can't conceive of why they are doing such a bad job of defending themselves on these issues and allowing themselves to be blamed for them, which doesn't appear to be their fault or at least to a certain extent. And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: All right, Mike, thanks very much. And Anna...


CONAN: ...that was some of the things that senator - excuse me, President Obama was talking about last night.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think it's an excellent question. I think that there have been a couple of issues, some of which are of the Democrats own making and some of which are not. I mean, I think that there was desire for change that swept, you know, Obama into office and also, you know, produced, you know, the majorities in the House and Senate. But the kinds of change that people want is not easy to achieve, and so I think there was bound to be - started to be some dissatisfaction particularly as it looks like we might even go into a double-dip recession. And I think that's beyond the control of Democrats.

But I think that it's hard to, A, talk about things that didn't happen so, you know, the whole perception of the stimulus didn't work. It's very hard to make the case that, we know the jobs that weren't lost, the state workers who weren't laid off, the teachers who weren't laid off, those are very hard arguments to make for people. And so I think that's part of the problem.

And then I also think there's understandably a desire for the administration and others to go out and talk about everything that we've accomplished. And, actually, if you'd look legislatively, there have been a huge number of accomplishments. In fact, most of his promises have been met.

But for people who are feeling a lot of pain right now, that sort of feels out of touch. They don't feel like lots of great things have happened. So I think there's a lot of reasons why we see this.

CONAN: And if four years ago or two years ago there was a lot of energy on the Democratic side, Alex Vogel, I know one of your points is: It's all on the Republican's side this time. Look at the numbers turning out in the primaries.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, it's true. I mean, you saw in Louisiana and Missouri which had primaries that weren't terribly contested, you saw more Republicans turning out to vote.

CONAN: Thank you both very much. We appreciate your time today.

Dr. GREENBERG: Thank you.

Mr. VOGEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, former chief counsel to former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Anna Greenberg - I'm not going to name that firm again.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner, who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore when they ran for president. Of course, Ken Rudin, with us here in Studio 3A, as he is every Wednesday, the Political Junkie. Ken, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Up next, the best and the worst books to emerge from the war in Iraq. Tom Ricks will join us. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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