Week In Politics: Upsets, Upstarts and Scandals

Juan Williams reviews the year in politics with Noah Adams and Madeleine Brand.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

In a few minutes, sculptures in New Orleans are stolen for scrap metal.

BRAND: First, we take a look back at the year in politics. We are joined now by NPR senior correspondent, Juan Williams, as we are on most Fridays. And Juan, the last Friday of the year - hi.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, looking back, Iraq obviously dominating the year in politics.

WILLIAMS: Without a doubt, I think it's the defining issue that led to, in many ways, what would have been the defining moment in terms of the year, which is the midterm elections, and the Democrats getting control of both of the House and the Senate, which sets the table for 2007.

ADAMS: Juan, do you think anybody was predicting, let's say, a year ago, predicting a Democratic takeover of both the House and the Senate?

WILLIAMS: No. No, I don't think so. You know, there were lots of people who look at money early on, and the Republicans had the edge in terms of being able to raise the campaign funds, and it looked as if, certainly, they were going to retain control of the Senate.

There were some who, looking at the numbers, especially after scandals began to break thought that the Democrats would have a chance. You might remember the culture of corruption charge coming from the Democrats. But even there, I don't think many people thought that it was a done deal that the Democrats were certain to take control of the House. So upsets on both fronts.

BRAND: And of course, you had the scandals not helping things. You had the Abramoff scandal, and also, the George Allen problems.

WILLIAMS: George Allen, I think, if there was a meltdown as some say, this, year, I think it would have to be George Allen and the whole macaca incident, as they call it, his use of that word, and then, all of his strange feelings about the revelation of his Jewish ancestry.

So I think he's a top - he began the year as a top contender for the presidential nomination '06, challenging John McCain from the right. Then came a remark at a campaign stop in rural Virginia.

(Soundbite of a political campaign speech)

Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): So welcome, let's give a welcome to macaca, here -

(Soundbite of applause)

Sen. ALLEN: Welcome to America, and the real world of Virginia.

WILLIAMS: Well, now that moment, I think stands - it was going to stand in political history. I think people will remember it for all time because, literally, George Allen was a shoo-in in a red state, and suddenly, George Allen has no political future. It is an amazing turnaround for a guy who, according to Washington insiders, was the pick to challenge John McCain for the nomination.

ADAMS: Now, let's talk about the Democrats, the other side of the ledger here for the year, what were they up to?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that if you look at the - what goes on inside the Democratic Party, there was lots of anger over the failure of Democrats to properly challenge the president in the eyes, especially of the blogosphere, Noah.

So you had people like Joe Lieberman, under lots of pressure in Connecticut. In fact, he was, you know, losing. He lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut.

And so I would think that that whole challenge, and the fact that he was able to come back, and then win the general election as an independent, really, tells, the story of what happened inside the Democratic Party.

But if you wanted to talk about the winners, I think you have to look at people like Howard Dean, Rahm Emmanuel - who ran the campaign that resulted in the capture of the House and Senate. And then, of course, Nancy Pelosi, who's going to be the new speaker of the House. Truly an amazing story. So the new Speaker of the House will be Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat): Today, the American people voted for change, and they voted for Democrats to take our country in a new direction.

(Soundbite of cheers)

WILLIAMS: And without a doubt, Noah, the theme again comes back to the war in Iraq. That was the driving issue. Democrats, Rahm Emmanuel, in particular, selected candidates who were strong on national defense issues who spoke out aggressively and were willing to challenge President Bush and the policies there. And according to exit polls, that really did determine the outcome of the election, particularly among swing voters.

ADAMS: And we have former Senator John Edwards, a Democrat, announcing, first on his Web site, and then, in New Orleans later in the day - what does that look like?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think he's interesting because obviously, you've had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the Senate as the frontrunners on the Democratic side. John Edwards enters as kind of labor's candidate, and he enters with very populist themes.

If you saw him yesterday, he was down in New Orleans, in the lower 9th ward, working with people. No big entourage, just John Edwards, shoveling, working, surrounded and saying that poverty is going to be his issue.

So he, kind of, he's trying to, now, challenge both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton from a more populist left-leaning position. The question is will it work for John Edwards.

BRAND: NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams. Juan, Happy New Year.

WILLIAMS: Happy New Year, Madeleine. Happy New Year, Noah.

ADAMS: Thanks, Juan.

More coming up on DAY TO DAY, from NPR News

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