One Last Swing Through The Midterm Election Map

A number of Senate and gubernatorial races are still too close to call. Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti partner Alex Vogel size up the races from Vermont to California.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Rampant debates, a head-stomping in Kentucky, stumping everywhere else. There's less than a week to go to the midterms. It's Wednesday and time for a countdown edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

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

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

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

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us, and in this case, Monday and Tuesday, as well. Ken, we should set up a bed for you maybe in here?

KEN RUDIN: I love when you talk dirty.

CONAN: Debates in Florida, where a texting scandal stole the show; in California, where the candidates found themselves under pressure to go positive; and finally someone who isn't running for mayor of Chicago.

In a bit, we'll focus on nail-biters, the toss-up races for Senate and the state house. Later in the program, the co-creator of Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men and the Hulk joins. You can email questions to Stan Lee right now: talk@npr.org.

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

RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, tonight begins the World Series, and so...

CONAN: Wait a minute. The Yankee season is over.

RUDIN: Well, the trivia question was: What great team from the Bronx will not be in the World Series this year? Okay, that's a very tragic, and I'm very sensitive about it, I don't want to talk about it.

Okay. Since we didn't have a winner last week, we're going to have two winners for this question. Since World War II, there have been two baseball teams who every time they have won the World Series, control of the House has switched parties. Name the two teams.

So obviously, anyone who calls in will have to just give one, but we'll have two winners.

CONAN: There are two correct answers. So 800-989-8255 if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question. Or email us, talk@npr.org if you think you know the identities of the two baseball teams who, since World War II, every time they've won the World Series, control of the House of Representatives has switched parties.

So, Ken, more than ever, we want to hear Ken's election scorecard.

RUDIN: Well, I guess the headline is it's going to be a good night, Tuesday, November 2nd, for the Republican Party. How good is the real question.

I went through every race, every House race, all 435 House races. And while a lot of people are talking about Republican gains of 50 to even 60 seats, and that certainly is a possible in a blowout election but right now and the Republicans need a net of 39 seats to take control, to make John Boehner speaker. I have the Republicans picking up 45 House seats but losing four for a net gain or Annette Funicello, as we call it a net gain of 41 seats, which is lower than most people.

And I guess the reason is because NPR is liberal, and that's why we're rooting for the Democrats. I think that's the real reason.

CONAN: Of course.

RUDIN: No, but I think, I mean, it could be a big blowout. It's just hard to see some of these Democrats who are suddenly finding a very competitive race losing, but it could happen. But right now, I'm limiting it to 41 seats.

CONAN: And that would be a razor-thin majority.

RUDIN: It would, and that's kind of like the numbers we saw during much of the decade of the 2000s, when the Republicans had control after '94. But really, they only had it by eight seats, 10 seats. It's very narrow, certainly much less, much more narrow than it is now with the Democratic blowout.

But it's interesting. We saw a Democratic blowout in '06, a Democratic further blowout in '08, and now we may see a Republican blowout in '10.

CONAN: We're going to focus on governors races and Senate races in the next segment of the program. But basically, right now, do you see Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate?

RUDIN: I don't, though it's doable. And I think one of the things you have to look for is what's going to happen, you know, election night, obviously - 7:30 p.m., for example, that's one of the signs to watch for on election night. That's when the polls in West Virginia close.

If the Republicans win that Senate seat long held by Robert Byrd - this is the one where Governor Joe Manchin, the Democrat, is running to win that seat - if the Republicans win that seat, and I don't think they do, but if they do, then anything is possible.

But right now, I have the Republicans picking up seven seats, which gives not including Harry Reid. I think Harry Reid survives in Nevada but giving them a total of 48. And if you count the two independents, it'll be 52 Democrats, 48 Republicans, and if you think nothing is getting accomplished now with a big Democratic lead, imagine what it's going to be like in 2011.

CONAN: And a setback for the Republican senatorial candidate in California.

RUDIN: Yes, that's a personal setback, a health-related setback. Carly Fiorina was hospitalized and still is in the hospital. She basically has an infection, the result of a follow-up operation. She had breast cancer surgery in February of 2009. This infection resulted from a follow-up surgery.

And right now, she is trailing Barbara Boxer by single digits. But again, all that money and all that attention that's spent on California, looks like both Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown win in California, the way it looks right now.

CONAN: Well, regarding the gubernatorial race, Jerry Brown is in that one -there was a debate last night where the moderator, Matt Lauer, challenged something the candidates may not have been prepared to talk about go positive. Here's the response from Democrat Jerry Brown.

Former Governor JERRY BROWN (Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate, California): Well, first of all, we have to remember: Sometimes negativity is in the eye of the beholder. So assuming we can agree...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. MATT LAUER (Host, "The Today Show"): Governor Brown, if it smells like negativity, it's negativity.

Former Gov. BROWN: Well, there's a spectrum.

CONAN: And Meg Whitman then said there's a difference between negative ads about issues and negative ads about personalities.

Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, California): So here's what I'll do. I will take down any ads that could even be even remotely be construed as a personal attack. But I don't think we can take down the ads that talk about where Governor Brown stands on the issues.

CONAN: So, well, neither one of them business as usual, it sounds like.

RUDIN: Of course, that wasn't personality she was talking about. She was talking about the record as opposed to personal attacks. But, you know, you cannot turn on a TV, and I've been to many states the last couple of weeks, traveling on behalf of member stations, and I'm there whether they want me there or not. But also, turning on the TV, and it's just one negative ad after another after another.

And we're talking about an energized turnout on Tuesday. But you wonder just how many people might be just so sick of the whole thing because it's gotten so ugly and so expensively ugly.

CONAN: Speaking of debates, there was one also for the Senate race and also for the governor's race in Florida. And this was an interesting moment because during a commercial break, the Democratic candidate was caught glancing at her personal device.

RUDIN: Right. This is Alex Sink, the Democratic nominee. And apparently during a commercial, she got a text message from a staffer who basically coached her with an answer. And, of course, they were not allowed to bring props to the debate. So that was a big hubbub, and she fired the aide. Of course, it was the aide's fault, not her fault for taking it.

But that is a very, very close and very key gubernatorial race because of redistricting. Florida will gain one, if not two, seats in the next census, and they will be redrawing the districts to support your allies and punish your enemies, and whoever becomes governor will have a big say in that race.

CONAN: In the meantime, we think we have some people on the line who believe they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Since World War II, two teams, every time they've won the World Series...

RUDIN: Every time.

CONAN: The House of Representatives has switched parties, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Kim(ph) is on the line calling from Trinity, North Carolina.

KIM (Caller): Dodgers.

RUDIN: Well, actually, the Dodgers have won a lot of World Series. I think they've won six World Series since World War II, starting with Brooklyn in 1955, going to '88, when that great - that great homerun.

CONAN: Kirk Gibson. I don't believe what I just saw.

RUDIN: But every time they've won the World Series, the House of Representatives did not switch.

KIM: Well, I gave it that good Republican shot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks, Kim, for the call. Let's see if we can go next to this is Steve(ph), Steve with us from San Francisco.

STEVE (Caller): I'm going to go with the Boston Red Sox.

RUDIN: Who?

CONAN: The team, they finished third this year.

RUDIN: Oh, right, they did win the World Series.

STEVE: Yes, they did.

RUDIN: No, they did. They did. They won it in 2004 and 2007, but neither of those years did the control of the House switch.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Steve. Let's go to Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa, and it's Tom(ph) on the line.

TOM (Caller): I would say the St. Louis Cardinals would be one of the two.

RUDIN: Well, thats a very good guess. We should not overlook St. Louis at all because the Cardinals did win the World Series in 2006, when the Republicans lost the House, and they won it in 1946, when the Republicans won the House. But they also won the World Series in 1982, 1967 and, tragically, because it was against the Yankees, in 1964, and the House did not switch in those times.

So, some of the times they won the World Series the House did switch but not all of them. Cardinals is a very good guess, though.

CONAN: Thanks, Tom.

TOM (Caller): Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go to this is John(ph), John with us from Rochester in New Hampshire.

JOHN (Caller): Hi. Is it the Detroit Tigers?

RUDIN: Well, the Detroit Tigers did win the World Series twice. They won it in '84 and '68, that amazing Denny McLain 30-game season. But again, the House did not switch either time.

CONAN: Nice try. Let's go next to this is Zazzelea(ph). Am I pronouncing that correctly?

STEVE(ph) (Caller): It's Visalia.

CONAN: Visalia in New York. And Steve is on the line.

STEVE: In California, actually.

CONAN: All right. Well, we'll get something right sooner or later. But do you have the right answer to the trivia question? That's the point here.

STEVE: Well, I sure hope so. My guess is the Philadelphia Phillies.

RUDIN: Well the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series, I guess they won it last year, they won it in 2008, and nothing changed...

CONAN: Last year, I think the Yankees won.

RUDIN: I'm sorry. Yeah, 2009 is two years ago, they won in 2008.

CONAN: And in 1950, the whiz kids.

RUDIN: Right, and they did not win it they have not won it when the House changed.

CONAN: Thanks. Let's go next to this is Joe(ph), Joe with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

JOE (Caller): Hi. I believe the answer is the Cleveland Indians, either that or...

RUDIN: Wait, wait, wait.

CONAN: You only get one. You only get one.

RUDIN: Boy, we jumped on him. But the Cleveland Williams is Cleveland Williams was Cassius Clay. Cleveland Indians is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

JOE: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: They only won the World Series in 1948, but that was the year the Republicans lost 75 seats in the House, lost control of the House in 1948. Cleveland Indians is the correct answer. That's one of the two T-shirts.

JOE: Okay, how about...

RUDIN: No, no, no, no.

CONAN: You don't get two. All right, you're going to be on hold.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I'm going to put him on hold so he can't possibly talk.

RUDIN: He's not getting two T-shirts.

CONAN: But somebody else could get another T-shirt, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: I've never heard these noises coming out of us in all the years we've been doing this segment.

CONAN: Sid's(ph) calling. Sid's calling from Columbus.

SID (Caller): Is it the New York Yankees in '52?

RUDIN: Well, no remember, it has to be every time they've won the World Series, and as you know, and thank goodness for this, the Yankees have won the World Series many, many times.

CONAN: Since World War II, and before, as well.

RUDIN: And the House did not change every time the Yankees won it.

SID: Oh, okay.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Sid. And let's see if we can go to this is Daniel(ph), Daniel with us from Northampton in Massachusetts.

DANIEL (Caller): Hi, guys.

CONAN: What's your guess?

DANIEL: The New York baseball Giants.

RUDIN: And that is correct, the Giants, who are in the World Series this time under the San Francisco moniker, Lewinsky is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: They won it in 1954, the New York Giants. That's in 1954, when the House also went from Republican to Democrat. And I feel so good we don't have to make that noise anymore, Neal.

CONAN: That's true, but we do have to actually give away three T-shirts because we did get a correct email response on the Cleveland Indians. I don't know who was first, either Joe in Minnesota or this Peter Young(ph), who's by email. So three T-shirts going out this week. Ding, ding, Daniel. We're going to put you on hold.

DANIEL: Thank you. Do you remember who won the World Series in 1994?

RUDIN: Yes, it was called a strike year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DANIEL: Good question, men.

CONAN: Stay with us. Ken Rudin, our political junkie, is going to be with us, and we're going to look at the toss-up races in the House excuse me, in the Senate and the four state houses. 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. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Six more days until the polls open. That's if you already havent voted in the midterm elections in early voting or by mail. A quarter of registered voters, in a recent Gallup poll, plan to cast those ballots early. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday.

If that's not enough, you can follow his election scorecard and his blog and solve the latest ScuttleButton puzzle on his website, also our website, npr.org.

RUDIN: America's website.

CONAN: America's website. And follow the political junkie, slash-political junkie. Everybody likes to do that.

Let's see, we have a couple of guests with us here in the studio with less than a week to go before the elections.

Alex Vogel is with us from Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti, a Washington-based lobby shop, and I'm probably mispronouncing that last name again.

Mr. ALEX VOGEL (Partner, Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti): Castagnetti.

CONAN: Castagnetti, okay. And also with us, Anna Greenberg, senior vice president and principal, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. And she worked on the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

We're already talked about the scorecard for the House of Representatives. We want to turn to close contests for governor and U.S. Senate.

What's making a difference in the run-up to Tuesday's midterm where you live? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And Nevada Senate, probably the most closely followed race in the country. The majority leader of the Senate, of course Harry Reid, is getting a very tough race from Sharron Angle. Which way do you see it going?

Mr. VOGEL: You know, my argument has always been if Reid can't get more than five points away, given both his status, the amount of money he's raised from someone who, by most Republican - myself included, she was not our ideal candidate, she wasn't really ready for primetime when she got the nomination, she certainly improved - but I've argued if he can't get farther away from her before the election, he's in real trouble.

CONAN: Real trouble, Anna?

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Senior Vice President, Principal, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner): Yes, real trouble, but I do think if the race is tied, there are some potential things working in his favor, for example the Get Out the Vote operation, especially coming out of Las Vegas, organized by labor there. That could be worth a point.

I don't know what kind of operation there is on the sort of Tea Party Republican side. So yes, very tough for him, but certainly possible for him to pull it out.

CONAN: Ken, you already said earlier you think he's going to survive.

RUDIN: I do, but it's so remarkable, and I'm picking up a little bit what Alex just said. The fact is that Sharron Angle, either her positions warrant negative coverage or just, you know, either way, there's been a tremendous amount of criticism directed and Sharron Angle, justly and unjustly.

But the point is, if the majority leader of the United States Senate can't pull away from someone who's perceived as such an extreme, fringe candidate, then he is in serious, serious trouble.

And even if he does survive, and even if the Democrats do keep control of the Senate, what kind of a leader can Harry Reid possibly be with a diminished Democratic majority?

Mr. VOGEL: I think it also points out just how hard it is to be majority leader of the Senate and run for reelection.

RUDIN: Especially in a conservative state, right.

Mr. VOGEL: Especially in anything other than an overwhelmingly blue or red state.

Ms. GREENBERG: I also would note that I think a lot of this is not about these individual candidates. And I'm thinking about Sharron Angle. There are a bunch of different races, whether it's Rand Paul, Paul LePage, there's a bunch of, you know, less-than-ideal Republican candidates, and people are really running against Democrats, running against Washington. And so it almost doesn't matter how nuts some of these Republican candidates are.

RUDIN: Well, without going that far, in 1980, we saw that with a lot of Republicans running for the Senate and winning Senate races with perhaps a less-than-stellar resume. But because it was such a Republican year, they won, and of course, they were defeated, most of them, many of them, six years later.

CONAN: And we have an update from California. One of our reporters in NPR West says that Carly Fiorina will get out of the hospital sometime today, probably, and plans to return to the campaign trail tomorrow. But she's got some work left to do, doesn't she?

Ms. GREENBERG: I think that we should put a fork in California, at least in the Senate and governor's races. I think both of those, Boxer will, you know, retain her seat, and Brown will become governor again.

CONAN: Alex, polls show a pretty substantial lead.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, there's no doubt California is tough territory, these days, for Republicans. The one thing, the dynamic changer, frankly, was Meg Whitman at the governor's level putting more than $100 million of her own money into what had been an anemic state party operation.

So no one really knows that's clearly moved the numbers. The question is, you know, what happens here at the end.

RUDIN: It's fair to say that California is tough for the Republicans, but look at Scott Brown in Massachusetts. You have to have the ideal candidate and the ideal timing for everything, too.

CONAN: And the ideal opposition sometimes doesn't hurt. Let's go to the phones, Matthew(ph), Matthew calling us from Denver.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi, thank you for having me on. I actually, I know the Senate race here is very polarizing. But I actually wanted to comment on the governor's race. As a registered Democrat, I have to say I was jumping up and down when Tom Tancredo entered the race because I figured it would split the Republican electorate.

What I'm now surprised at is the fact that he was so close to Hickenlooper in the polls, the Democratic candidate, and it's causing a lot of the Republican group to jump ship from Maes's campaign and join Tancredo that I think it's really going to be more of a contest between the Democrats and now this independent candidate.

CONAN: And Tom Tancredo, a third-party candidate; John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, had been, well, pretty much conceded that he would waltz into the governor's, the state house in Denver. But is that going to be close, Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: It could be close, and I will concede I was one of the people who thought that Hickenlooper had this going away and didn't really see Tancredo making a run. And now we're in the you know, people forget. There's an extremely activist group in Colorado.

Colorado Springs, in particular, has long been a real hotbed of conservative activism, and it's showing up this time, and I think it's going to make a difference.

CONAN: Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: It's just a sign of the wave that someone like Hickenlooper, who is so incredibly popular, no problem raising money, entire establishment, you know, for him could be, you know, having so much trouble.

CONAN: He's also run a very positive campaign. That could be a problem, too.

Ms. GREENBERG: Yes, there aren't a lot of Democrats running positive campaigns these days.

MATTHEW: I've noticed that. He's one of the few who actually has stayed away from some of the negative ads. I mean, I've seen some pretty nasty ones out there, and we've been kind of flooded with them here in the Denver market. But his are pretty docile in comparison.

CONAN: Let's switch to the Senate race in Colorado, where Ken Buck, that's going to be close.

Ms. GREENBERG: I think it's too close to call. I mean, and what's really remarkable is how stable it's been. I mean, it seems like about two months now, it has been absolutely stable, has barely moved. And I think it's going to come down to the ground game.

CONAN: What do you think?

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, I agree. I mean, it has been stable. I would argue it's been stable with Buck up a point or two, and that stability trends his way.

But again, it has not, like a lot of these races that are too close to call, he really hasn't swung at all. I mean, it's remarkably staid.

RUDIN: no, I agree. I mean, ultimately I do think that Buck wins, but it's like by the skin of his teeth. And yet we always talked about how Colorado was becoming more and more blue. We say it in '04, '06 and '08, when Obama was only the second Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to win the state.

But I kind of think it's moving to the Republican side. I think Betsy Markey loses - Congresswoman Betsy Markey loses - and I think Buck pulls it out in the Senate race.

CONAN: All right, Matthew, thanks very much for the phone call. Let's go to Pennsylvania. Let week, Democrats got excited about a poll that showed Joe Sestak out in front. There's a more recent pool that shows Pat Toomey out in front. Ken, what do you think?

RUDIN: Well, I think Toomey does win. That Sestak poll that had him up by a few points seems to be an outlier, the only poll I saw that has Sestak up.

You know, you wonder what who the Democrats would've been better off with, Arlen Specter, who had the appeal in both parties, you wonder about that, or Sestak.

But Toomey, again, if this weren't a big Republican year, Toomey might be seen as just too conservative to win statewide, as Rick Santorum was in 2006. But in 1994, Santorum, a very conservative, won handily. And I suspect that Toomey's going to win big, too, in a state that could go either way.

CONAN: Win big.

RUDIN: Well, at least win it won't be one of those nail-biters as other states will be.

CONAN: Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: You know, I think that Toomey probably wins, and I think you have the problem, as well, that there's really a very lopsided governor's race, so that...

CONAN: With the Republican clearly...

Ms. GREENBERG: Right, with the Republican clearly ahead. So your top of your ticket in Pennsylvania is just sort of dragging down, you know, the rest of the ticket.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, and there has been some tightening of that race, which I think got a lot of people on the Democratic side excited. And I would argue a lot of that's from the Philly suburbs. That's natural tendency towards the election.

We've seen this in the past in Pennsylvania elections, and but this time, again, because of the wave, it looks like Toomey's going to pull it off.

CONAN: Let's go next to Maya(ph), Maya's calling us from Dayton in Ohio.

MAYA (Caller): Yes, I'm calling just to say that I am a Democrat, and I'm so proud to let you guys know that there are so many this being a Republican state, there are so many people who have signs up at their homes for Democratic candidates.

CONAN: Are you talking about Ted Strickland, the governor?

MAYA: Yes, for Strickland, for Henney(ph) for state representative, or state House speaker, I'm sorry, and so many others. I can't recall their names. And I have voted already, of course Democratic. And there's a good chance that Strickland might be our governor, yet again, and...

CONAN: All right, Maya, thanks very much. The Senate race in Ohio, not believed to be close, but the governor's race is tighter than people thought.

Mr. VOGEL: It is. Actually, I should say to the caller: I'm just glad to hear that Ohio's an overwhelmingly Republican state. I thought it was really a swing state. So I'm glad she's got it firmly in our column.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VOGEL: You know, it's amazing that Ohio, Missouri, there were a number of races in the state-wide level, at the Senate level, that we all thought were really going to be nail-biters, and instead you've seen those not be the ones we're all sitting around gnashing our teeth about with a week to go here.

So it looks like it's pretty good at this point.

RUDIN: Re-election for Governor Strickland in Ohio?

Ms. GREENBERG: I think he can pull it out. He's one of those unique, uniquely popular and well-liked, you know, sort of governors that I think has his own sort of base and profile that helps him survive a year like this.

RUDIN: And President Obama has made it clear that he's nervous about Ohio. Obama Bill Clinton, Joe Biden made numerous trips out there to save Ted Strickland. Obviously the Senate race, which is Republican retention because Voinovich is leaving. So it's not a pickup for the Republicans. But that is gone.

But, again, Ohio is very similar to Colorado the last two couple of cycles were big Democratic waves, and it seems like a return to the fold into that (unintelligible).

Ms. GREENBERG: But one thing about Ohio is it - in terms of the ground game and the field operations and the grassroots in Ohio, that is so well-organized on the Democratic side dating back really to 2004. The ability of labor and others to mobilize Democratic voters in Ohio is quite high, much more so than in other places. It has a very strong party.

CONAN: So you would think turnout normally in a midterm election tends to be whiter and more conservative? You don't think that's necessarily going to happen in...

Ms. GREENBERG: No, of course, that's true. What I'm saying is that in some of these tighter races, it may be that the work on the ground that happens around Election Day - I mean, Ohio does have early vote, but it's also a place that culturally doesn't vote as early as other states. And so what I'm saying is in a really close race for governor, the ground game may be able to save him.

CONAN: Let's go next to John(ph). John calling us from Buffalo.

JOHN (Caller): Whoops, sorry, I had to turn the radio off. You've been citing poll after poll, and I wonder what the effect of the pollsters. They're only talking to people who still have a landline and don't have caller ID.

CONAN: I think the pollsters have switched their tactics. Anna, you're in that game.

Ms. GREENBERG: Yes, we - well, first of all, we tend to use voter file, in other words voter lists, instead of, say, random digit dials, so we do a much better job than a lot of the public polls do in terms of actually reaching real voters. But, moreover, we have incorporated a cell phone sample into our polls at both the national, state and even C.D. level in some places. So I think that some of the issues that have been raised in the past around accuracy, I think, are probably overblown.

CONAN: And we still have some surprises in the primaries. Well, we all think about Alaska, but, Ken, mostly, they were pretty good.

RUDIN: I mean, there were surprises like Alaska and, of course, like Delaware with Christine O'Donnell, but, again, you did see a trend building after a couple of - several weeks, if not, just a couple days. But, for the most part, the numbers have been pretty dead-on this year.

Ms. GREENBERG: And also primary polling is really different than polling in the general election. It's much harder, especially in these kinds of years where you have activists coming out to vote who may not have voted in the past. So figuring out what a Republican primary electorate looks like is actually pretty difficult. Figuring out what the electorate looks like for the general is much easier.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah, it's the voter intensity turnout model that's so hard to overlay. I mean, you saw that in the governor's race in Virginia, McDonnell ended up doing much better than we thought he was going to do based on the polls just because it's very hard to gauge that turnout.

CONAN: John, are you still skeptical?

JOHN: I'm still very skeptical. I think there's going to be a big surprise on November 2nd.

Ms. GREENBERG: I hope so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: But I don't think the wave is going to happen.

CONAN: All right, John.

JOHN: I don't know who all these incumbents are who haven't been working the district who haven't been going out and bringing projects home to their district and selling themselves for the last two years.

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

JOHN: Okay.

CONAN: We're talking politics. Of course, it's the Political Junkie segment. Ken Rudin is with us. Also with us, Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner, and Alex Vogel is also with us - former chief counsel to Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and partner at Mehlman Vogel and some other guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

You mentioned President Obama being nervous. Should he be nervous about his old Senate seat in Illinois? That looks to be razor thin, Ken?

RUDIN: It does. And both candidates are flawed. Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, his family's Broadway Bank has been accused of giving bad loans to bad people, shall we say, and that's a big issue...

CONAN: Tried to avoid loans to people with middle names Jaws.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Right. A little mobster bank is what the Republicans - and, of course, Mark Kirk did accentuate or exaggerate or lied, depending on who you're talking to, about his military record. But, ultimately, it will be very interesting to see a very close race. I think Kirk wins it, and I think the Republicans may even win the governorship. And, again, this is a state that also we saw after years and decades of Republican rule, the Democrats have come back with the honorable Rod Blagojevich in 2002. Senate seats, you know, the Obama Senate race, but I think Republicans take both the Senate and the governor's race there.

CONAN: Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: In a way, to me, this is much bigger than just this one Senate race. I mean, the fact that we're talking about the president's seat and - with, admittedly, a candidate who's had some issues this time, and I still think he's going to win. The fact that we're talking about the president's seat, the fact that the vice president's seat was well in play with Mr. Castle until...

CONAN: Until...

Mr. VOGEL: ...until. That shows you what the macro dynamic is.

RUDIN: Until Sabrina.

Mr. VOGEL: Yeah.

Ms. GREENBERG: But I think you have to be a little bit careful because, Ken, you keep talking about we thought these were reliably blue states and now they're shifting. I think when you're in wave elections and when you're in midterms where it's not just - it's about the wave, but there's also dynamics in these integral states, what these states do presidentially can be very different than what happens in the midterms, so...

RUDIN: Oh, absolutely.

Ms. GREENBERG: ...you know, I don't imagine that Illinois ends up, you know, voting for a Republican for president, for example. And I also think just going back to Obama's seat, actually, I think you would be careful. Giannoulias and Kirk is a very unique situation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VOGEL: It is.

Ms. GREENBERG: And it was very hard for whatever reason to find a really strong Democratic candidate to run for that seat. So, you know, I think that it's not a matchup that necessarily is indicative of anything about the president.

Mr. VOGEL: And, to be frank, the Blagojevich stuff definitely tainted the race from the Democratic side and depressed Democratic voters and just generally threw it into chaos.

RUDIN: And I agree. This has nothing to do with the presidential race. What happens in 2010 necessarily doesn't have anything to do with 2012, as we learned from '82 to '84, '94 to '96, but when I say blue state-red state, just the general makeup, not regarding the presidential race.

CONAN: Let me ask you for one more, and that's the Senate race in Kentucky. Is Rand Paul going to be the next senator from Kentucky, Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: I think he will. It's remarkable how ugly this thing has gotten down at the end. Usually, you know, you get to this point things tend to stabilize the last couple of days. It sounds like they're going to slug it out until the bitter end now that it's gotten to fisticuffs.

CONAN: Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: Yes, I think that Rand Paul will be the next senator from Kentucky. He made some missteps at the very beginning, but he really reined himself in a way that Angle and O'Connell didn't and got himself under control.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENBERG: And then I think that there was a misstep at the end of the Conway campaign with the Aqua Buddha ad that, I think, clearly backfired. So I think, you know, Kentucky is a very conservative state, so I think everyone was a little bit too excited when Rand Paul won that primary.

CONAN: And finally, any surprises, anything that you think we're going to be stunned by next Tuesday, Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: Democrats keep the House.

CONAN: You think? Well, that was a shrug you heard there on the radio.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Alex?

Mr. VOGEL: I think - well, I think Republicans are going to take the House. I'm not sure of, you know, what the number's going to be. I do think there will be some races that truly surprise people. I think the - you know, the fact that Republicans are even taking a look at being competitive in things like the Delahunt seat on Cape Cod, right, this is where the Democratic presidents go to vacation, it's where the Kennedy Compound is. The fact that we're even, with a straight face, talking about those tells you this is going to be an interesting night. So I think some of those will tell the tale.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, Anna Greenberg, thank you both very much for you time today.

Ms. GREENBERG: Thank you.

Mr. VOGEL: Thank you.

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin joined us in Studio 3A. You can read his blog and take a shot at his ScuttleButton puzzle at npr.org/junkie. Thanks, Ken, and we will see you next Wednesday for a marathon edition of the Political Junkie.

RUDIN: I'll be here.

CONAN: Up next, Stan Lee, the legend behind some of the biggest heroes in comic books. Well, Stan and I have spoken before some time ago. We have the tape to prove it. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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