Negative Campaigning: How Low Can You Go?

It's still early in the 2008 campaign for president, but already senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama find themselves slinging mud. In part two of the series, "So You Want to be President," guests focus on negative campaigning.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

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

We're still 10 months away from the Iowa caucuses and 20 months from Election Day, and a spat between Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dominated the Sunday morning talk shows. The dust up - excuse me.

The dust-up centered on negative comments about Bill and Hillary Clinton made by music mogul and Obama donor David Geffen. The candidates' digs at each other were oblique, but signals that presidential contenders are beginning to wonder: How low do we go?

Attracting less attention was news that former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, the first Democrat to formally announce his bid, became the second Democrat to drop out of the race. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner decided not to run before an official candidacy, and Republican hopeful Mitt Romney has started to run television ads.

To catch up on what's happening within the Democratic and Republican campaigns with fundraising, with scheduling and with message-building, we're bringing you another edition of our occasional series with campaign consultants Anna Greenberg and Ed Rogers, So You Want to be President?

Later on in the show, the Opinion Page, and parents square off over toy swords in the sandbox.

But first, what's happening on the nuts-and-bolts level in the race of president? Is it time to decide whether to attack opponents, and if so, how? If you're in an early primary state, which candidates are gaining credibility where you live? Our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And with us again, two strategists who have worked on presidential campaigns. Anna Greenberg, a partner with the firm Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner. She worked on Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 92 and Al Gore's in 2000. Ed Rogers worked on George H.W. Bush's campaign in 1988. He's now chairman of the firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers, and both of them join us here in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. ED ROGERS (Republican Strategist; Chairman, Barbour Griffith & Rogers): Good to be here.

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Democratic Strategist; Partner, Greenberg, Quinlan, & Rosner): Thanks for having us.

CONAN: Anna, let's start with you. How significant is this spat between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

Ms. GREENBERG: I don't think it's that significant. In fact, I think it probably got more attention than it warranted. I think it's interesting as a symptom of what has become a very accelerated process, a primary process that seems like it's going to happen next week, not in 10 months. And it's a symptom of the fact that you have a lot of candidates who are trying to differentiate themselves from each other, both in terms of personal style, but also in terms of fundraising and their level of support from different folks.

So I don't think the actual incident itself is that important, but it's interesting what it says about how this process is going to work this year.

CONAN: Well, let me take it a bit further. Of course, this involved a spat that involved a major donor, David Geffen, previously a supporter of Bill Clinton's. And this had been following reports that Hillary Clinton's campaign had been very protective - if that's the right word - over its supporters, and particularly its financial supporters.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think - and we talked about this last time we were here - right now what matters almost more than anything is fundraising, and both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and obviously others in this race are fighting very hard for the major donors in the party. And so it is not surprising at all that there would be people in both camps upset about what happened, and certainly in the Clinton camp upset, because he represents a major donor.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let me turn to you, Ed Rogers. From the other side of the debate.

Mr. ROGERS: It's been fun to watch.

CONAN: Exactly. Republicans look at this and say, woo-woo!

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah, more of the same out of the two frontrunners on the Democrat side would be good. I mean, this was sort of uncalled for. It was sloppy on both sides, didn't particularly flatter anyone. I assume they're both smart camps, and they knew exactly what they were doing. I figure that Hillary figures she didn't have anything to lose, and she probably won in the exchange by making Obama look typical.

The one thing he can't do is look typical. She has high negatives anyway, and so I assume what they did was pre-meditated. At the end of the day, it's not going to make much of a big difference, but it does show you how fragile and how hair-triggered the race already is.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now when you say this was deliberate, every campaign, as far as I understand it, has a squadron of people out looking for everything anybody says about them so they can respond to it quickly, correct?

Mr. ROGERS: Sure. And in this case, they've both got good people. Now I do think you had a unique fusion of - The New York Times is where this was published.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. ROGERS: And you combine that with the power and the sort of how interesting it is that it was Geffen - a Bigfoot in Hollywood - and then you have a story that the other news media want to repeat, want to react to, etc., etc.

So if this would have happened with some county chairman someplace being reported in Seattle, well, it never would've been any news at all. But it was Maureen Dowd, a big opinion leader, reporter, columnist at The New York Times, and somebody kind of interesting with a Hollywood connection in David Geffen, and that's the perfect storm to get the candidates to react.

CONAN: Let me go back to you, Anna Greenberg. Are campaigns at this moment looking, sizing up their opponents - and this is still within the party, you're still trying for the nomination here - sizing up their opponents and figuring out, how do we go after this person? And, if it comes down to it, if it's going to be involving attacks, how low do we go?

Ms. GREENBERG: I think the larger issue is that primaries are very difficult, not just presidential, all primaries. Because what candidates have to do is figure out how do I differentiate myself from the other candidates, when there aren't a lot of ideological differences? General elections are much easier. There's real differences on policy and a whole range of issues, but in primaries, there tend to be, you know, many fewer differences among the candidates.

So they're sizing each other up and trying to figure out how in terms of style, in terms of the issues I talk about, how I present myself. How am I going to differentiate myself? That's what they're trying to do now. It's a little early. That's why probably this was sort of surprising.

It's a little early for them to start thinking about how am I going to go after the other candidates. We've got 10 months. You know, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are well known, but the other candidates need to do a lot of work to introduce themselves to voters. They want people to know who they are and what they care about, what their values are before they hear them attacking other candidates.

So it's a little early to be trying to figure out how you're going to attack other folks, but it's not too early to figure out how am I going to differentiate myself? How am I going to stand out?

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And that point that Ed Rogers was making a moment ago. Hillary Clinton has very high negatives to begin with. She already knows that there's a certain percentage of the American public who says we're not going to vote for you no matter what happens. Therefore, is he right in suggesting that, you know, she risks little driving up her negatives a little bit if she can drive up her opponent's negatives?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think we have to look at the primary electorate, and it's not the case that she has high negatives in the primary electorate. Democrats like her, and they like the other candidates.

Again, this goes to whole point of how is she going to stand out? How is Barack Obama? How is Chris Dodd? How is Bill Richardson? How are they going to present themselves? How are they going to stand out? She has - she's well known, and she's well liked among Democratic primary voters.

CONAN: Let's go back to the Republican side of the race and you, Ed Rogers. Republican candidates are obviously trying to figure out the same thing. And right now a lot of conservatives are trying to figure out who, if anybody, can we support?

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah. With the demise of Frist and Allen on the Republican side -Senator Frist and Senator Allen - there's a geographic and somewhat of an emotional vacuum, hole, in the party right now, and different people are trying to get there.

McCain, Giuliani, Romney, Brownback, Duncan Hunter - they all want to be sort of the favorite of the Dixie Republicans, the - not necessarily the cliche old Christian Right, but the Republican Party suburban church-goers are very much in play.

CONAN: And the problem being that the frontrunners, as far as the true conservatives say are…

Mr. ROGERS: They have an uneven history. They all have an uneven history, or they are not well known to that group.

CONAN: And the true conservatives aren't very well known and are not given much of a chance.

Mr. ROGERS: That's right. That's right. So it sort of perpetuates itself.

Ms. GREENBERG: And the same differentiation process is happening on the Republican side, too. It was not reported on, but there was a little spat between McCain and Romney about abortion and who's more pure on abortion. So you have the same kinds of internal fighting going in the Republican primary candidates, as well as the Democratic candidates.

CONAN: That was Anna Greenberg. Also with us, Ed Rogers, both campaign consultants - Ed for the Republicans and Anna for Democrats. If you'd like to join our conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's turn to Jay. Jay's calling us from Madison - excuse me, Fort Madison in Iowa.

JAY (Caller): Yeah. This is really going to matter someplace like here, and I know a lot of people that are going to caucuses. I think your panel's really great. What I want to say is this creed Geffen wrote up was way over the top and it was way out there, but there was a grain of truth.

And it's rubbing the tar out of these people that, like Hillary Clinton or even, you know, that they're supporting her. The fact is, she is polarizing and they come up with these lame things like, well, polarizing means energizing. Well, we all know that's going to energize the right wing.

I want t - and people I talk to, want to start over with somebody like Edwards or Obama. We don't want to fight those battles no more. And we're looking to the future. This country desperately needs to go into the future on so many fronts, be it foreign policy, be it energy, be it environment.

And, you know, fighting that old battle again - and oh, the other point she made herself was, well, I thought my husband was a great president. Well, that - 90-something percent of Democrats think that, too. That's not the point. The point is we want somebody that has a lot of America listening to them, and 50 percent of America's going to stick their finger in their ears and they aren't going to listen to Hillary.

CONAN: Well, you could argue with Jay's figures there, Anna Greenberg, but nevertheless, I think he has a point.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think that one of the things that is exciting and interesting about the Democratic primary field this year is it's very strong. If you go beyond Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who are the two best knowns that have wanted to, you've got John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden - you have a bunch of very serious, very plausible people with very serious experience.

And 10 months is a long time from now. So I think that we need to - I think that part of the consequence of this accelerated process and the way the media has focused its attention on this race, you would think there were only two people in this race. But 10 months is a very long time. All of these campaigns are going to be interesting themselves in these early primary states, and I think that people are going to get a chance to know the other candidates. And it's going to be a different race in five, six months, and certainly by January.

CONAN: Don't leave out Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel unless you want to put your e-mail address on the radio. And going back to the Republican side, Ed Rogers, as you look at the race, everybody keeps saying, you know, we're going to have all this time to bring out our messages and see how we differentiate, yet those ferocious numbers that you raised the last time we did this show - those fundraising numbers - are already beginning to tell, are they not?

Mr. ROGERS: It's hard to imagine, given how topical all the coverage is and how intense it is that by my own calculation, 99 percent of what matters - 99 percent of what will drive votes in a caucus or a primary lies in front of us, not behind us. We're in the pre-game here, essentially. It's basically a few activists and reporters chasing each other around, with the voters largely disengaged. One thing that Anna said that's interesting to me - she mentioned some of the people that are running on the Democrat side that are, to me, credible, thoughtful advocates of their position - Chris Dodd, some others - that aren't treated as serious candidates at all.

When I think the Democrat frontrunners are their two weakest candidates. The Republican frontrunners are our strongest candidates. When you consider at the end of the day a lot of the race is going to be about who can best appeal to the middle. But I think Hillary and Obama are their weakest candidates, followed by John Edwards, where some other people, from Chris Dodd - you know, the person that I feared the most was Mark Warner. You know, we know what a winning Democrat nominee looks like. Looks like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. And Obama, Edwards, Hillary - they don't look like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

CONAN: Mark Warner, of course, the first to drop out - before he even entered the race. But anyway, we'd like to thank Jay for his phone call. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail, talk@npr.org. 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. In the second edition of our occasional series So You Want to be President, we're talking about what's happening inside the Republican and Democratic campaigns right now - attacks, the first commercials, the money and the messages. We have two veteran campaigns with us. Anna Greenberg worked on the presidential campaigns of both Bill Clinton and Al Gore - now a partner with Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, a Democratic political consulting firm. Also, Ed Rogers, campaign manager for the Bush/Quayle campaign in 1988, now a Republican strategist and chairman of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers.

Of course, you're welcome to join us with any questions about the nuts and bolts of the race for president. If you're an early primary state, which candidates are gaining ground where you live? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And before the last image of the last swift boat sailing off into the sunset receded from our brains, we see the first ad of the next presidential campaign.

(Soundbite of political ad)

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Woman: Everyplace that Mitt has gone, he has solved problems that people said were nearly impossible.

Unidentified Announcer: Mitt Romney, business legend, rescued the Olympics - the Republican governor who turned around a Democratic state.

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Governor, Massachusetts; Republican Presidential Hopeful): I believe the American people are overtaxed and the government is overfed. I believe we're spending too much money, and that's got to stop. I believe our laws ought to be written by the people and not by unelected judges.

Unidentified Announcer: Mitt Romney.

Mr. ROMNEY: I'm Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.

CONAN: So the former governor of the State of Massachusetts and chairman of the Salt Lake City Olympics takes onto the airwaves. Ed Rogers, this is an introductory ad. He's obviously trying to introduce himself to the voters, but so early?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, if this were a ploy to get the news media to talk about the notion that he was running an ad and to get people like this show today to repeat it and play it and talk about it and point at it, I think it was a wise move, and I think it was effective. To spend any meaningful amount of money right now on an ad is sheer folly, and they will wish they had that money back come January of next year when there really is a shortage of resources and they really are having to put points on the board or buy more rating points, literally.

CONAN: So you and I and Anna may be paying attention to this ad, but voters are not is what you're saying.

Mr. ROGERS: There's just not a chance in the world that somebody's going to see an ad in February of 07 and somehow have it make some sort of meaningful contribution to how they're going to vote a year from now. What I said about the one percent and the 99 percent I really believe is true. And to be running a meaningful ad by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad at this stage of the game is not very prudent.

But again, as a ploy, to get people to talking about your campaign, to suggest that your campaign is well organized, sophisticated, up and running, and to get the news media to talk about you in the context of an ad that you put out introducing yourself, yeah. That's a smart thing, and it looks like they pulled it off pretty well, depending on what ultimately the truth is about the size of the ad buy.

CONAN: And as you look at ads, Anna Greenberg, people are going to be thinking about their advertising campaigns, and it's going to be different depending on who you are. Hillary Clinton does not need to introduce herself to the American voter.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, that's right. I think that you're going to see different kinds of advertising from the different candidates. You know, the bio ad - the typical bio ad that someone like Mitt Romney is running right now is not necessarily appropriate for Hillary Clinton. But I think the challenge will be how do they differentiate themselves from each other when - on the issues. And ideologically they, look pretty close to each other, and I think that they will do that through a discussion of what their values are, where they come from, how they've come to be the person they are. And so even though they…

CONAN: Their story.

Ms. GREENBERG: Their story. So even though people know Hillary Clinton's biography, she's going to want to reintroduce herself and tell her story, just like she did in New York when she ran for Senate.

CONAN: And how she became a Yankee fan after all those years rooting for the Cubs. Anyway, let's get seem more listeners involved in the conversation. Let's turn to - this is Chad - Chad with us from Chapel Hill in North Carolina.

CHAD (Caller): Hi. My question is about advertising. It seems like so much of the voters' opinions are formed outside of advertising in the media, so I just have sort of been questioning how much advertising money a candidate needs and where else their campaign money goes and how much a part of being thought of as a legitimate candidate is being media savvy to get coverage in the media.

CONAN: Free media is it's usually called, Ed Rogers.

Mr. ROGERS: That's a great question. And I do think the Number One requirement to be elected President of the United States this election is going to be to be good on live TV. People discount ads. They discount news media. They'll make much of their decision based on their own personal observations. Having said that, it's advertising where you can - in a more uninhibited way - point out the flaws of your opponent. So if nothing else, you'll see a lot of that type of advertising, and that won't go away. But I think what the caller says rings true, that people are smart - particularly primary goers are engaged. They make it a point to pay attention, and making their own observation after watching a candidate live on live TV is going to be very important.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. That includes, Anna Greenberg, these newfangled vlogs - video blogs - where candidates, in a seemingly unrehearsed situation, can put out a very positive image.

Ms. GREENBERG: True, I think that the way people are going to use the Internet not just for fundraising as we've seen in the past, but more for direct communication is probably going to be much more intense this year, though I would say that the people who go and watch the vlogs are a self-selected audience who are people who are activists or supporters. It tends not to be a good way to reach your typical undecided or swing voter.

But Ed's exactly right. Primary voters are more sophisticated than voters who vote in just general elections. They're highly engaged, especially in these early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire. Advertising tends to be much less effective in those states. They're doing retail politics. They're meeting people.

What's going to be interesting is in these new primary states, with potentially four or five, you know, on February 5th, where people aren't used to having these early primaries. They're not used to the retail politics, and a lot of different candidates have to introduce themselves. I actually think you will see more advertising in these primaries than you've seen in the past.

CONAN: Chapel Hill, North Carolina - where's that in the primary cycle? Pretty late in the game?

CHAD: We're pretty usually late. We usually don't have much an effect on who gets nominated.

CONAN: Well, I think that's going to be true this time around, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHAD: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chad.

CHAD: All right, thank you.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can get - this is - Perry's on the line. Perry's with us from Virginia Beach in Virginia.

PERRY (Caller): Hi, my question is I'm a Joe Biden fan. I've been a Joe Biden fan for years - never from Delaware. He has - he's a candidate with a record - with a proven successful record. My question is: Is his biggest problem not getting press because he's from Delaware? Is that his problem?

CONAN: Small state discrimination, Anna Greenberg?

PERRY: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think that, actually, he's in the same boat as the other - as Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson. I don't see him having many different - I don't think…

CONAN: Well, states bigger than Delaware, but not a lot bigger.

Ms. GREENBERG: Not, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GREENBERG: …as a Connecticut native, not that much bigger than Delaware. So I think the problem is the oxygen is being sucked out for everybody but Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I don't think the issue is so much what state he's from.

CONAN: And…

PERRY: Will that change?

CONAN: Well, I was just going to ask Ed Rogers. Isn't the first primary always described as the money primary. And if Joe Biden can raise enough money to be a serious contender, he can stay in the race?

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah, I defer to Anna, but it is a mystery to me why Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, some others who I consider to be thoughtful advocates of their position - they make a good presentation, they look like credible presidents, commanders in chiefs. I don't know why they don't have more traction. I don't know what's going on inside the Democrat party that we would rather be for somebody we don't know anything about than one of these accomplished, serious party leaders, legislators.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think you have to be careful not to confuse the way the media is covering this presidential election and the Democratic Party. If you look at polls in individual states like Iowa, someone like John Edwards is - in a number of different surveys - is winning in Iowa. I think you're going to see what happens with the actual Democratic primary voters in the actual states where there are contests. It's going to look different than what happens in the national media. The national media and the party are not the same thing.

PERRY: Excellent. Thank you so much. Great show, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks, Perry. Here's an e-mail. This we got from Richard in San Rafael. I think he's in California. Your Republican guest keeps using the word Democrat when he should say Democratic. Could you please correct him on this? And this, of course, came up with the president…

Mr. ROGERS: I'm following my commander in chief's lead on that. Democratic, democratic.

CONAN: And Anna, is it something - do Democrats take this as a poke in the eye every time the opposition shortens their name?

Ms. GREENBERG: Ed has been nothing but respectful in all of this, and is very kind about all the candidates that I've said, so I am sure it's not meant as a subtle dig from Ed.

CONAN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROGERS: I'll work on it. I promise.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. But this is Sheila. Sheila's calling us from Dayton, Ohio.

SHEILA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

SHEILA: I find this an interesting discussion, and even more so because it was on the Internet this morning as well. And I think it's interesting that people are willing to make almost empirical statements that Hillary will not be the winner because she's the frontrunner now, or we know what a candidate looks like because we know what Jimmy Carter looked like and we know what Bill Clinton looked like.

But who would have expected Howard Dean to do what he did four years ago or, you know, with the Internet, or John Kerry to have been the candidate? So I think that it's a different world and a different time, and people are paying attention in different ways.

Certainly, I use the Mitt Romney ad as a way to remind myself that there are lots of candidates out there I don't know, and it's a good idea to get to know who they are.

Mr. ROGERS: I generally believe you're right. It's foolish to sit here this far out and make any kind of declarative statements and suggest that anybody's crystal ball is better than anybody else's. I do believe in American politics, what's supposed to happen tends to happen. And by that I mean history does repeat. Democrats have a very uneven history of how they treat their frontrunners. Republicans, somewhat different. We tend to nominate frontrunners. The Democrats, their history is much more uncertain.

CONAN: I think, you know, looking back at just recent history, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were not frontrunners entering their races.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, and John Kerry was not the frontrunner entering into Iowa. What I think is interesting about the Republican side of this is you had John McCain, who was considered the frontrunner and sort of the guy to beat now -and probably his position on Iraq, but probably other things as well, including that the fact that many conservatives distrust him at least on kind of, quote-unquote, "family values issues," that the national polls are all somewhat over the place.

And so, some of them Giuliani first. Some of them have McCain. Some of them have Romney, competitive or not competitive. In my view, there's not a clear frontrunner on the Republican side right now.

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah, and it's frustrating for Republicans. We like order. We like a certain hierarchy to things, and are very respectful or authority. Not having a clear frontrunner is frustrating for us.

CONAN: And are you down to the level of saying let's forget about those national numbers for a second if they're all sort of all mixed up together. Look at the battleground states. Who's ahead in Ohio? Who's ahead in Florida? Who's ahead in some of those Western states that might be critical next time around?

Mr. ROGERS: The polling that I've seen sort of jumps around. It is Giuliani, McCain, one-two, everybody else pretty far back. McCain, Giuliani, they swap places first and second, everybody else is pretty far back. Those polls are interesting at this stage of the game, but they're not particularly relevant just because they're not really in front of an informed electorate, and that's what campaigns are for.

CONAN: And they're not in front of an informed electorate, X number of days in front of the - the balloting is so far away, nobody's focused on how close it is.

Mr. ROGERS: That's right. And what's driving the polls is name, ID, some preconceived notions. Nothing about the campaigns has driven any voters yet.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call, Sheila.

SHEILA: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get - if I can find the right button. Got a new thing here, and the buttons are - I'm just an old person. Anyway, I apologize for that. Mike is on the line. Mike is with us, also from Virginia Beach.

MIKE (Caller): Hi. How are you guys doing today?

CONAN: All right.

MIKE: I just wanted to comment on Senator Sam Brownback from Kansas. I saw an interview on NPR where he answered questions very candidly, very honestly, and everything he spoke about matched up with the record that I'd seen from his voting record and his interviews. And I just wanted to know why he's not getting more press.

And I think if conservatives want a frontrunner and not a waffle like Romney, that they should really kind of look at this guy and give this guy a second thought.

CONAN: Sam Brownback?

Mr. ROGERS: Sam Brownback - clearly credentialed, a through and through conservative, makes a good presentation. He hasn't gotten sort of a big breakthrough. You know, Obama is largely a media creation. I mean, he's gotten hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free publicity from the covers of "Time" magazine to fawning coverage in all the national publications.

Well, if somebody did that to Sam Brownback, he'd be a contender all of the sudden. So does he get a breakthrough moment? Does he develop an emotional foothold in the party? Does he come up with the resources? Do one of the multi-candidate forums present an opportunity like a guy like that to break out of the pack? Maybe. We'll see.

CONAN: And he may have thought his breakout moment came when he was in Iraq and the day the president announced his surge campaign. And Senator Brownback said, wait. I'm not so sure about this.

Mr. ROGERS: Well, I don't know how Iraq is going to drive votes just yet. But his position is beginning to set a contrast with some of the other candidates. That could be a vote driver before it's all over with.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call.

MIKE: Thank you guys. Have a great day.

CONAN: We're talking with Ed Rogers and Anna Greenberg, both veteran campaign strategists. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And now let's go back to talk with Seth. Seth calling us from Rochester, New York.

SETH (Caller): Hi. I'd just like to make a quick statement to your guests and take the comments off the air. I guess I'm not entirely sure that Hillary's candidacy is necessarily a (unintelligible). I'm here in Rochester. She's done a good job as a senator. But I think it's sort of conventional wisdom now to look back to 1976 and find that that's the last time there was a presidential election that didn't have a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket. So here we are 30 plus years later, and we're looking at another Clinton on the ticket.

And it kind of makes our system a little bit like a dynasty or an oligarchy or a royal family. And we certainly, as Americans, kind of make fun of dynasties and other countries. And yet, in effect, we seem to have one emerging here, especially with the Bush Family now second generation, and potentially, a Clinton.

So I guess my perspective is maybe she kind of ought to stop as senator and let her career as, you know, stop there and let the field open to others. Again, this part comes back to the baggage issue, too. So I kind of wish she would recuse herself, frankly. That's my statement. I'll take it off the air.

CONAN: Okay, Seth. Thanks very much for the call. And let me ask you about it, Anna Greenberg. That's got to be a factor in Hillary's calculations in her staff's thoughts about this as they look into this.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I don't know that it's appropriate for me to comment on whether or not the fact that she's related to Bill Clinton means she should or shouldn't run. The one thing I would say is that often when you have these dynastic political families and the people who get involved, it's not always clear that everybody is qualified beyond their last name.

I think it's pretty clear that Hillary Clinton has significant qualifications, certainly equal to other people in the field. Not only is she, you know, had one term in the Senate, but she had significant policy experience both when she was the first lady, but also outside of that.

And so I think that she has the qualifications and the standing to run. If it's a liability that she is a Clinton, that's a different question. But I don't think that her last name should preclude her from running.

CONAN: Yet I've heard, Ed Rogers, people on the Republican side, they wished the former governor of Florida could change his name to Smith.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROGERS: Well, is there such a thing as Clinton fatigue or Bush fatigue? In the Bush case, it's a moot point. But on the other hand, come on. Hillary Clinton is where she is because her name is Clinton. So her name has been a big net. Plus, there may be some fatigue, there may be some negatives associated with it. But it's clear that her name has put her where she is.

CONAN: Her name has put her where she is. Well, she is a now a second-term senator from one of our larger states. She does have some credentials.

Mr. ROGERS: What was it that put her there?

CONAN: Well, there is that. Nevertheless, however she got there, she's going to be a formidable candidate.

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah, she's - yeah, by any standard.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some more calls in. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Twenty months before we first look at the presidential Election Day, 10 months before votes are cast in a caucus in Iowa, we're talking presidential politics because, well, that's the way it stacks up. The primaries have all been front-loaded for the 2008 campaigns. So once it gets started, it could get determined very quickly. And it's going to need a lot of money at the beginning to run simultaneously campaigns in any numbers of states, including some very big ones.

Excuse me. Anna Greenberg, Ed Rogers, we'll take a couple more calls after we come back from a short break. Also, I have the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page on the sandbox battle over boys and toys.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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

In just a moment, the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. But right now, we're continuing our conversation with campaign strategist Anna Greenberg and Ed Rogers about the presidential campaign. Yes, the one that's 20 months away from voting.

If you'd like to join us: 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's go to Joe. Joe's with us from Hickory in North Carolina.

JOE (Caller): Yes. I'm calling - I know he's not a declared candidate - but I wondered if you all would speak to what you think Al Gore's chances are if he decided to jump in. And how would he jump the hurdle of Hillary Clinton, the wife of his running mate?

CONAN: I'm not sure I'm going to go with that analogy, but let's turn to Anna Greenberg. Al Gore made a joke on the Oscars last night about not entering the race.

Ms. GREENBERG: I'm going to take him at his word and assume that he's not running. And I think part of what makes him so effective and well regarded at the moment is that he is committed to a particular issue, climate change, and has been working hard on it and has been effective and, you know, certainly, this documentary getting an Oscar just being one indication of the work he's done.

I don't know that he would be as effective or have the same kind of regard if he got involved in the present presidential candidate. It's a very different kind of way to present yourself. You have to get involved in the kinds of spats we saw between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And part of what makes him powerful is that he's deeply committed, and it's genuine and authentic on an issue and he's working hard on it. And that's what makes him, you know, powerful right now.

CONAN: And there's some lurkers in the Republican Party as well, who say they might run - maybe later. And primarily, you think of Newt Gingrich.

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah. I think it's unlikely for anybody to get into the race in the fall - even if you're somebody that has a big emotional call on the party, has a following, is well known. I think that everything between qualifying deadlines to having to have an appropriate amount of money to run a professional campaign, it just seems unlikely that somebody could get in late, you know, absent some sort of upheaval within the existing race. That strikes me as unlikely.

CONAN: And that would be…

Mr. ROGERS: If Newt ran now, he would be formidable.

CONAN: If Newt ran now, he'd be formidable.

Mr. ROGERS: Yes.

CONAN: And why doesn't he?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, I found that over the years, people who have been in great proximity to the presidency sometimes want it less than those that have not. And maybe Newt's just not particularly enamored with it. Maybe - it's probably the reason I think Jeb Bush doesn't want to run. I've seen it up close. I've spent a long time in public service. I just don't want to do that right now.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Joe.

And let's see if we can get one more caller in. And this will be Tabby(ph). Excuse me, I got that right? Tabby - yes, from Lansing, Michigan.

TABBY (Caller): Hi, this is Tabby. I wanted to make a comment. I'm a recent graduate from Michigan State University, and as a young person right now, the election, just talking about possible candidates are - it's really an exciting time for us young people. A lot of the people that I associate with that I know at school, a lot of young people lean toward Democrats.

And with and African-American and a woman possibility, it's, there's a lot of heated discussion going on and just a lot of excitement. And when…

CONAN: Is it more than discussion, Tabby? Are people organizing?

CONAN: Not really - not yet, not that I've noticed. It's - people are very split as to whether the country is ready for either of those two. But everybody loves Rudy Giuliani, and that's another important - that's makes it exciting for us. That, you know, we've grown up on Giuliani, he's been on Saturday Night Live. Just everybody loves him.

And so people who aren't ready for an African-American or a female are leaning towards him because he's the (unintelligible).

CONAN: Tabby, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And, Ed Rogers, as you look out ahead, every cycle - every election cycle, you say, you know, this is going to be the time when the youth vote is really going to come out and really going to matter. Last time around, it actually seemed to happen a little bit.

Mr. ROGERS: It happened a little bit, and I'd like to hear what Anna thinks about this, as well. I mean, I got involved as an idealistic kid myself way back when in the '70s. But the fact of the matter is people tend to vote like their parents, and young people tend to vote less than their parents do. And so, the notion that there is some awakening of a youth vote, some mobilization of a youth vote, I think it's very good because I think it keeps some cynicism out of politics or from us all becoming a bunch of cynics.

Having said that, I don't know yet if there's a trend that suggests something different than the history. And the history is kids tend to vote like their parents, and they tend to vote in lower numbers than their parents do.

CONAN: Anna?

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, we saw an increase in turnout among voters 18 to 30 in both 2004 - which was the highest since 1992 - and also in 2006, which was significantly higher than 2002. And what we also saw was that this age group is trending Democratic. So 55 percent voted for Kerry, 60 percent voted for Democratic candidates. So I'm not surprised that Tabby said most of them are leaning Democratic.

I think part of what is going to excite younger voters is the diversity of the Democratic field. Ed keeps talking about us having the weaker candidates at the top. I don't necessarily believe that, but what I think is interesting about our field is that it reflects the diversity that is this age group. Gen Y is the most diverse age group in this country because of immigration and other issues, and I think it's going to be quite exciting to these younger voters, who are already leaning Democratic.

CONAN: Yet I could see you smile when I asked if she'd started getting organized yet, and she said no.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I mean, Ed's pointed out a couple times, this is very early for voters to be focusing on this. It's early for us to be focusing on this. I think it's a little - you know, I think that it's unrealistic to think that people are organizing 20 months out for the election.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much. Appreciate your time, and we'll be back with another one of these. Next moment another, well, big moment in the campaign comes up. Thanks to our…

Ms. GREENBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: …our guests Anna Greenberg…

Mr. ROGERS: Good to be here.

CONAN: Partner with Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, and Ed Rogers, who's a senior deputy - was a Republican strategist and chairman now of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers LLC. And when we come back, it's time for The Opinion Page.

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