Political Junkie: Three Weeks to Pennsylvania

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As the Pennsylvania primary approaches, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to take swipes at one another. Meanwhile, presumptive Republican nominee John McCain embarks on a "Service to America" tour. Listeners weigh in with their president-vice president dream ticket.

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NEAL CONAN, Host:

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

With three more weeks to Pennsylvania's primary, Clinton challenges Obama to gutter-ball politics, Democrats still can't figure out what to do with Michigan and Florida, John McCain draws up a listed possible running mates. It's Wednesday, and time for another weekly hit of our Political Junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAST POLITICAL SPEECHES)

RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

GERALDINE FERRARO: My name is Geraldine Ferraro.

WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, where is the beef?

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

JOHN KERRY: I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty.

GEORGE W: But I'm the decider.

HOWARD DEAN: Byaah.

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin is back from spring break, rested and tanned - well, a little sunburned, actually - and ready to jump back into the political fray and there's a lot to cover this week.

Pressure mounts on Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean to resolve the nominating battle and figure out what to do about Florida and Michigan. John McCain reintroduces himself to the public, and a new poll out today shows Hillary with a sizeable lead over Obama in Pennsylvania and ahead of McCain in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. More on that in a couple of minutes.

Later, your dream ticket fantasies. Who's your pick for vice president for Clinton, Obama or McCain? We have two lines for you today, one for Republicans, the other for Democrats. Republicans call us 800-344-3893. Again, 800-344-3893 for Republicans. Democrats call us at 800-344-3864. Again, Democrats 800-344- 3864. Of course, everybody can send us e-mail the address is talk@npr.org.

Ken Rudin, joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back.

KEN RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And with the tip of the hat, to our veep dream ticket contest, you've got a vice-presidential-themed trivia question for us this week?

RUDIN: I do. Well, one of people on the John McCain possible list of VPs is Condoleezza Rice. I think it's an unlikely choice, but she is, after all, secretary of state. And so the question is if it were Condoleezza Rice, who's the last sitting cabinet member to be a part of a presidential ticket?

CONAN: Last sitting cabinet member to be part of a presidential or vice presidential ticket. Give us a call 800-989-8255 or e-mail us talk@npr.org. While Democrats wring their hands over Michigan and Florida and superdelegates, yesterday, Senator Clinton proposed a noble way to resolve the nomination.

HILLARY CLINTON: Today, I'm challenging Senator Obama to a bowl-off. A bowling night, right here in Pennsylvania. Winner take all. I'll even spot him two frames.

CONAN: And Ken, didn't Bill Bradley once suggested there's only one fair, democratic way to settle the nomination?

RUDIN: A jump shot, (unintelligible).

CONAN: That's right. Yeah, of course.

RUDIN: And as you said in the introduction, this shows how the Obama-Clinton campaign has gotten into the gutter.

CONAN: Absolutely. Yes, indeed.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: Nevertheless, three weeks away, some people thought Senator Obama would likely almost concede Pennsylvania where he's sizably trailing Senator Clinton. Nevertheless, he's down mounting a major effort.

RUDIN: Well, yes. And we have seen over and over again that the early polls show Hillary Clinton with a huge lead - we saw this in Ohio, we saw this on Texas, we saw this in a lot of big states. As Barack Obama campaigns more and more in there, it narrows the gap. Peter Brown will - from Quinnipiac will come on the show later and talk about the latest poll that shows Hillary Clinton was still in the lead, but the question is whether Barack Obama can narrow the gap and win Pennsylvania. And it's an interesting dilemma for...

CONAN: Win a lot of delegates in Pennsylvania.

RUDIN: And when the primaries.

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: Well, what's interesting about that is - because a lot of people are saying in the - of course, last week's show talked a lot about it, about Hillary Clinton should get out the race, but what would the Democrats do if you have somebody who's been pushed - is trying to be pushed out of the race and still win these contests and picks some delegates. She may not have the numerical - the possibility of getting a numerical majority to get the number to get the nomination. But the point is, it's kind of sad for a party that might limp into a convention with its eventual nominee losing key contests in the end.

CONAN: And this argument over get in, get out, what happens after Pennsylvania, whether it should happen after the nominating contest in North Carolina and Indiana, Puerto Rico, whenever. I guess, well - and yesterday, Howard Dean, the chairman of the party was in Florida and said, well, look, we'll resolve the question of the delegates of Florida and Michigan when the two candidates can agree. I'm glad he's worked that out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Well, actually, it's very funny because they had a big statement today with Howard Dean and the chairperson of the Democratic Party in Florida, Karen Thurman, and basically the thing was, it was a major announcement that they will agree if they can get the Obama, Clinton people to sit down with them. And that has not happened.

But in fairness, you know, we're talking about Pennsylvania and all the, you know, talking about what's up - at stake in three weeks, but there really is a primary going on right now and that is for those uncommitted or at least, undeclared superdelegates. It may be anywhere between 250 and 300 have yet to declare a choice. Governor Dave Freudenthal, the governor of Wyoming, announced for Barack Obama. Today, on Monday, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota announced for Obama. So the numbers keep changing even if the voters are not having their say.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a couple of listeners in on the conversation. I think we have a couple of trivia answers. Again, the trivia question this week, who was the last cabinet member to wind up as part of a presidential ticket, president or vice presidential nominee?

And let's go to Tim(ph). Tim with us from Hyannis in Massachusetts.

TIM: Hey. How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well.

TIM: Good. Dick Cheney.

RUDIN: Well, Dick Cheney did serve in the cabinet, of course, he was in...

CONAN: Secretary of defense?

RUDIN: Secretary of defense, but he was not a sitting - I mean, of course, maybe he was tired at some point, but he was not a sitting member of the cabinet. We're talking about an incumbent member of the cabinet named to the ticket. Dick Cheney was a former member of the cabinet when he was picked to run.

TIM: Uh, okay.

CONAN: We're going to give you a partial on that, Tim.

TIM: All right, I'll take that.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye.

Let's see we can go to Jack(ph). Jack with us from Peachtree City in Georgia.

JACK: Yeah. How are you?

CONAN: Good.

JACK: I'm taking a long step saying Richard Nixon.

CONAN: Richard Nixon was vice president before he became president, and before he was vice-president, he was a senator from the city of California.

RUDIN: And then congressman, but never a member of the cabinet, no.

JACK: Well, I wouldn't let him in my cabinet either.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much Jack.

Let's try - this is Brian(ph). Brian calling us from Philadelphia.

BRIAN: Hi. My guess is Henry Wallace.

RUDIN: Henry Wallace is the correct answer. He was the secretary of agriculture under FDR in 1940. And when Vice President John Nance Garner challenged Roosevelt for his third term in 1940, Garner was off the ticket and Henry Wallace was named to the ticket. The correct answer.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Brian.

BRIAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Joining us now - we mentioned a moment ago, a new poll out today. Joining us to talk about the results is Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute at Quinnipiac University. They conducted the poll just last week. And he joins us here in studio 3A.

Nice you have back on the program, Peter.

PETER BROWN: My pleasure.

CONAN: And the key findings you're measuring, first of all.

BROWN: We measured three states - Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio - because those are the three most important states in the electoral college. No one's been elected president since 1960 without winning two of those three. So we did a Pennsylvania primary match-up that showed that Senator Clinton's lead over Senator Obama in the Democratic primary among likely voters is 9 points, that's down 3 points from what we did two weeks ago.

CONAN: And in accordance with what Ken was talking about earlier...

BROWN: Exactly.

CONAN: ...once Senator Obama starts campaigning, the margin tends to diminish.

BROWN: It does diminish. The question is whether Pennsylvania will be like New Jersey and Ohio, or like South Carolina or Missouri. In other words, in all these cases, Ken is absolutely right, that Senator Clinton is much better known, she starts out further ahead, suddenly Obama narrows the margin.

And in New Jersey and Ohio, she narrowed the margin down to just about he'd narrowed the margin down to just about this: about nine or 10 points. But he was not able to complete the sale. In a number of other states, he was able to complete the sale.

Now, you make the argument that because Pennsylvania is between New Jersey and Ohio, it might tell you something about the likely result. And, in fact, the demographics of Pennsylvania tend to be more in line with those that Obama does well with. But we don't know, we have, as you say, three weeks to go.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And you're also polling in two other states?

BROWN: Right. But we also polled general election voters in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And what we found there was -that: One, Senator Clinton wins all the match-ups with Senator McCain. But perhaps more interestingly and important - given the view of superdelegates and their power these days - is that she runs much better against Senator McCain, than does Senator Obama.

In Ohio, she runs 11 points better against Senator McCain than does Senator Obama. In - excuse me, in Ohio, it's eight points. In Florida, it's 11 points. And in Pennsylvania, it's four points. Those are substantial margins. And for superdelegates trying to weigh the question of who to be for, this might be important information.

RUDIN: Yeah. Have you seen any change since the Jeremiah Wright scandal or the brouhaha began among white voters? I'm very interested in what's going on with that.

BROWN: Well, the change is almost exclusive among white voters. And here's what were seeing. When Senator Obama is matched against Senator McCain, roughly 20 percent of Democrats say that they will defect to Sen. McCain, 23 percent of white Democrats. But when Senator McCain is matched against Senator Clinton, only roughly 10 percent say they will vote - defect to Senator McCain.

It's a very large difference there. Now, does this portend future problems for Senator Obama if he gets the nomination? Perhaps. He clearly has to work on support among white voters. And the swing is both white men and white women.

CONAN: You also asked a question about how important race is.

BROWN: Well, what we did ask is - we asked two things on race. We asked, did voters think that Senator Obama's race, being an African-American, was an advantage to his campaign, a disadvantage to his campaign, or had no effect?

Roughly a third said it was an advantage to his campaign. About 15 percent - averaged over the three states - said it was a disadvantage. And about half said it had no effect.

We also asked the same question about Senator Clinton's gender. We asked whether being a woman was a plus or a minus for a campaign. And basically voters split down in the middle. About a quarter say a plus, about a quarter say a minus and about a half say no difference.

We also asked one of the questions on race. We asked who had done a better job handling the racial issue. And voters, by about 10 points, think that Senator Obama has done a better job handling the racial issue than Senator Clinton.

CONAN: Interesting. And as we look ahead now, how much volatility do you expect over the next three weeks as you look ahead to Pennsylvania?

BROWN: Well, obviously it's volatile. Again, we've seen Senator Obama narrow the margin in the Democratic primary. And the key question then is has he plateaued or not. And, you know, we will see in the next three weeks, one assumes that both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton will spend a huge amount of time in the state, whether it's bowling or some other pastime. And it really is a question whether Pennsylvania will be like New Jersey and Ohio where she's able to hold them off because she has favorable demographics, or like some of the other states where he's come behind, and come behind and won.

RUDIN: And - I was just going to say, and also you're looking at polls that's three weeks in advance of, not only of Pennsylvania, but seven months in advance of the general elections.

BROWN: Right.

CONAN: And the day of the New Hampshire primary, we couldn't even get that - we're incorrect.

BROWN: That's correct. That's absolutely correct. There's one other piece of information that's interesting, which is that we asked voters whether they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of each of the candidates. Even though she is ahead of both Obama and Clinton - I mean Obama and McCain, Senator Clinton has the least positive favorable-unfavorable ratio of any of the three candidates.

CONAN: She got the highest negatives is what you're saying.

BROWN: Correct.

CONAN: Peter Brown, thanks very much, very interesting.

BROWN: My pleasure.

CONAN: Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute of Quinnipiac University. He joins us here today in Studio 3A. Ken Rudin, stick around. Up next, the fantasy veep stakes. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo argued this week that Democrats can avoid disaster with a joint ticket, Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton. He's not the first to suggest it.

So, who do you like for vice president in either party. Give us a call. Stay with us.

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

BREAK

CONAN: Right now, we're talking politics and the sport of picking a running mate. Senator John McCain says he started the list of people to share his ticket. And we'll hear arguments for and against a joint ticket with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Whatever your party, what's your fantasy ticket? Call and tell us who and why. We have two lines for you today, Republicans 800-344-3893. Again, 800-344-3893 for Republicans. Democrats can call us at 800-344-3864. Again, Democrats 800- 344-3864. And, of course, Ken Rudin, our political junkie is still with us.

And interesting that McCain said he started a list of, well, just about every name you could think of - 20 of them. He declined to identify anybody.

RUDIN: Well, I think the names are pretty predictable. But, you know, we - a lot of times we say that it's so important who they pick for vice president. We said that four years ago when John Kerry picked John Edwards, and we said, what a great, inspired choice and yet, John Edwards didn't carry a single - and help the ticket carry a single southern state including his home state of North Carolina.

We all went crazy when Geraldine Ferraro was picked the first female vice presidential choice on a major party ticket in 1984, and Walter Mondale lost 49 states. But having said that...

CONAN: Including New York.

RUDIN: ...including New York. But having said that, look, Lyndon Johnson probably helped elect, if not did elect John Kennedy in 1960. When Bill Clinton named Al Gore, a fellow baby boomer, a fellow southerner - I mean, that was against conventional wisdom, but I think it was very effective. And we've known - we've seen for the less 7, 8 years what Dick Cheney meant to the Bush White House about - regarding foreign policy and substantial roles in policies.

So a vice president does mean a lot. And especially means a lot for John McCain, given the fact that he's 71 years old, he would be - if elected, the oldest person ever elected to the White House. And he has had health problems in the past, he has had cancer.

A lot of people are saying at the - at the least, John McCain may very well be a one-term president if elected, and so his running mate is obviously very important. Plus the fact that this is all one sentence - that he has clear problems with the conservative. I wouldn't say the conservative wing of the party, but that party is conservative.

CONAN: The base of the party.

RUDIN: The base of the party, exactly. And so he's going to have to satisfy that base. At the same time, trying to woo these independents and disaffected Democrats that Peter Brown talked about earlier.

CONAN: So, again, who is your dream presidential ticket? John McCain on the top for the Republicans, but who do you want for the veep. And for Democrats, you can put either Obama or Clinton at the top of your ticket and pick your favorite vice presidential nominee. Democrats call us 800-344-3864. Republicans, 800-344-3893.

And let's begin on the Republican line with Ada(ph) from Coral Gables in Florida.

ADA: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.

ADA: Hi.

CONAN: And who's favorite Republican dream ticket?

ADA: It would be with John McCain and Mitt Romney as vice president.

CONAN: Mitt Romney, of course, ran a strong second to John McCain. He wasn't the last out, but he was the second place winner in the Republican nomination process and the man who hails votes for Massachusetts, Utah, and Michigan. So three home states, Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Right, and he also has access to money which John McCain sorely needs. You're talking about all the million dollar - multimillion dollar givers who helped George W. Bush get elected in 2002, 2004. McCain does not have that entree and Mitt Romney does. But you can also make the case that the two them do not like each other. Now, of course, you know, Kerry and Edwards did not specially like each other, Reagan and Bush did not specially like each other, Kennedy and Johnson probably hated each other and yet they were an effective ticket.

But - so it's very interesting to see whether the personal relationship between the two matters. I suspect that John McCain who seems to hold grudges more than most candidates might not prefer Mitt Romney. But clearly, Romney is doing everything he can to help McCain with the conservatives in the party and with the money givers in the party. And in that sense, he could be a big asset.

CONAN: Ada, did you vote for a Mitt Romney when he was running for president?

ADA: Yes, I did. To me the most important issues were his ability to improve the economic situation that we're in, his track record of being able to get things done. And I thought it would be nice to have someone with that experience to end as a president. So I think he'll be a great vice president at this point.

RUDIN: And, you know, if the Democrats do botch Michigan with all that was going on there, the name Romney on the ticket in Michigan might not be so bad after all.

CONAN: Ada, thanks very much for the call.

ADA: Thank you very much.

CONAN: So long.

Let's now go to the Democratic line and this is Bret(ph). Bret with us from Raleigh in North Carolina.

BRET: Good afternoon, gentlemen.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

BRET: My dream ticket would be Obama-Bloomberg.

CONAN: Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York who was elected first as a Republican and is now an independent. Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Yes, and he started as a Democrat.

CONAN: But he's elected as a Republican...

RUDIN: He's elected as a Republican.

CONAN: ...because he couldn't get the Democratic nomination.

RUDIN: Exactly right. And although he has said that he will work to elect - to keep Republican retention of the New York State Senate. So, it's hard to see where Michael Bloomberg falls, but he would be interesting in the fact that he is, first of all, I think he has enough money to file finances with the campaign. I think he has more money in his pocket than I have and NPR has, and it's - but it would be a very interesting thing. I don't know where he does with foreign policy and experience, Bloomberg is really not known for foreign policy expertise. But, you know, he's done a very - he's got a very successful tenure as mayor of New York City, and you know, he could be a big help there.

BRET: Excuse me, I don't mean to cut you off. I also think that he would restore much confidence to a slowing American economy, which, being the number one issue on this election, would be a vital issue. Thank you.

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

Here's an e-mail from James(ph) in Denver, Colorado. I would love to see either party pick somebody from the opposite party or an independent as a running mate in this time of highly partisan politics - I doubt it what happen. Yet, McCain and Obama both claim they're willing to work across the aisle. I think such a move would prove just that.

RUDIN: I mean, there are rumors, of course. Among those on John McCain's list is Joe Lieberman, who is a quasi-Democrat, or is an independent Democrat. The only time in history that's ever happened was 1864 when Abraham Lincoln picked the Democratic - former Democratic governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson. That was the only time in history where you had a party of one Democrat and one Republican.

CONAN: Let's go back to the phones, and this is going to be on the Democratic line. John(ph) in Newton, Massachusetts.

KERRY: Hi. My - thank you for taking my call. I guess - well, I'm an Obama supporter, but my question was basically about for either Democrat. Would there be a potential of a maybe Joe Biden being a vice president or at least being in the cabinet?

CONAN: Joe Biden, of course, the senator from Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, long experienced, was in this race for a while, but then, I guess, withdrew after losing in Iowa. Is Biden may - a viable vice presidential nominee?

RUDIN: I think so. I think, you know, that - I mean, you know, the first four hours of Biden's speech are always the best part - I always thought that. But it's just that he brings a lot of gravitas again with foreign policy. I think his...

KERRY: Yeah.

RUDIN: ...proposals on what to do with Iraq and the partitioning of Iraq were probably more thought out than most candidates were. And of course, you know, if Obama only has two or three - well, three or four years now in the Senate. Joe Biden was first elected 1972, so whatever Obama might lack in that qualification Biden brings.

CONAN: I was wondering. You were talking earlier about John McCain and his need for a, you know, a very important vice presidential nominee, presumably somebody younger than him.

RUDIN: If possible.

CONAN: And with Obama, don't you think he would be looking for somebody older than him. Exactly, gravitas might be a word you're looking for?

KERRY: Well, and the only other question I had too was that his - I know that Joe Biden has a little bit of a gaffe, kind of, early on in the process with the Obama. Would that potentially be a reason why he wouldn't be viable for Obama?

CONAN: I think if you want it to put him on the ticket, you could find of lot of reasons to overlook slip of the tongue.

RUDIN: Except for George McGovern, I can't imagine anybody saying no to an offer for vice presidency.

KERRY: Right. Right.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, John.

KERRY: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Let's go now to Anthony(ph). Anthony with us from Flint, Michigan on the Republican line.

ANTHONTY: Yes, sir.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ANTHONY: I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

ANTHONY: I think McCain-Rice would be nice. It would give McCain a chance to add an element of diversity both gender and race to his ticket, somebody who's respected around the world, who's something of a rock star in terms of her popularity and diplomat - it's where she first started.

RUDIN: Did you say Iraq star?

ANTHONY: Right.

RUDIN: Iraq?

ANTHONY: Kind of a rock star; she has called about a year ago or two years ago when she was first going through the circuit in Europe as a diplomat.

RUDIN: No, I was teasing. I was playing on the word Iraq because...

ANTHONY: Oh, yeah, she goes well with Iraq star.

RUDIN: And you wonder whether, you know, that would be a plus or a minus for the Republicans in the poll.

ANTHONY: Well, I think the Republicans are saddled with Iraq anyway, so they might as well take the positive spin on that and try...

CONAN: But wouldn't that - don't you think, Anthony, that would make a little harder for John McCain to distance himself from the White House. Condoleezza Rice is not just secretary state, but national security advisor.

ANTHONY: It's just that. It would be harder to distance himself from the White House, but it would be easier for him to appeal to other groups. I think the number of people who are upset with the White House are almost - are already gone from the Republican prospects. But those who might be ameliorated in their opinion of party by having had a lady or by black or someone who's both...

CONAN: Mm-hmm, okay.

ANTHONY: ...would actually be more positive. And that would actually be almost no loss in terms of McCain has already come up with the surge anyway. So anybody who is categorically upset about Iraq is already gone as a voter for him. And yet, it will show that he has plenty of respect for the fact that country contained 51 percent women and the 14 percent black, so 65 percent of the country can relate to the vice presidential candidate by race or gender.

CONAN: We have to get an honorary pundit sticker that we can send out to people like Anthony who've just brilliantly analyzed the election prospects of Vice President Rice.

Anthony, thanks very much for the call. So long.

ANTHONY: Thank you very much. Condoleezza Rice - McCain-Rice will be nice.

RUDIN: You know, actually, what I thought would be a perfect ticket, you know, there's a lot of talk about Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota. And if - talk about a dream ticket would be...

CONAN: What, Pawlenty and Rice?

RUDIN: No, I wasn't even thinking of that. If he ran with former Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode, it would be a Goode and Pawlenty ticket.

CONAN: Oh, my gosh. Anyway, being a Democratic Pennsylvania, e-mails John(ph), I would like to see an Obama-Randell ticket. I think our governor would be an excellent V.P. Obama and Randell are both captivating, easy on the minds and would do wonders to boost our standing and influence in the world. Clinton's tired; Obama and Randell are wired.

RUDIN: That's interesting. Although Randell is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton. Bob Casey, the senator from Pennsylvania has endorsed Obama. I've also heard about a possibility of an Obama-Casey ticket, which would be intriguing.

CONAN: Let's go to Frank(ph), Frank with us from San Jose, California, on the Republican line.

FRANK: Hello.

CONAN: Frank, are you there?

FRANK: Yes, hi. This is Frank.

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead please.

FRANK: Okay. Yeah, I got - you said dream ticket so I know this will be a dream, but mine would be McCain-Obama.

CONAN: McCain-Obama, the ultimate, well, party-crossing of ticket. I think even structurally impossible at this point, Ken Rudin?

FRANK: Yeah. Yes, it would be but that would be the dream ticket because they both appeal to the middle of the road independents. And, you know, right now McCain's flying all of his conservative flags to try and woo the party base. But in reality, he's been a maverick and appealing, you know, across the aisle and to the middle of the road. So that's where my dream ticket would be.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: One of the few predictions that's left me speechless.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Here is an e-mail from Abby(ph) in Denver. My dream ticket is Obama- Richardson. Bill Richardson would led diplomatic experience to Obama's presidency. Bill Richardson, of course, now the governor of New Mexico, but formerly, of course, has served at the United Nations.

RUDIN: And the Judas of the Democratic Party...

CONAN: And the Judas in the Democratic Party.

RUDIN: ...as James Carville called. That would be very interesting because he has a tremendous resume serving in the Cabinet and Congress and as governor. And, of course, he's, you know, been traveling around the world with a very - foreign policy mission. But the funny thing about Bill Richardson, he was accused, when he was running for president, as openly campaigning to be Hillary Clinton's running mate, and here he is endorsing Barack Obama, a very startling thing. Of course, I was on vacation so I...

CONAN: You missed the whole the thing, but yeah.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: I did love that Carville called back and said Judas - he was sorry for the word, he was just looking for a nice way to say duplicitous backstabber.

RUDIN: Yeah, much better.

CONAN: We're talking with Ken Rudin, the political junkie on TALK OF THE NATION which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's see if we can go back to an e-mail. This is Abby in Denver. My - we've mentioned Abby's dream ticket. This is Liz(ph) in New Jersey. I recently watched the frontline piece on the Iraq War. I came away thinking that Colin Powell's retreat from public service is one of the great loses of this war. Although I'm a Democrat, I'd love to McCain pick Powell for the vice president position, as for Democrats, Clinton-Obama all the way.

Could Colin Powell be lured back into politics?

RUDIN: I suspect not. I think his standing was always - as been heard, of course, tarnished by his U.N. - declaration before the U.N. about weapons of mass destruction. Plus the fact John McCain is 70 - 71 years old. Colin Powell 70. And I think that, you know, again that the age difference - the age question matters with voters and I think McCain would have to look for a younger running mate.

CONAN: It's interesting, we're talking about balancing the ticket in terms of age, in terms of ideology. Regional balance doesn't seem to be so important anymore.

RUDIN: No. I mean, look, you know, obviously when George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, it wasn't for the three electoral votes of Wyoming, so that was pretty remarkable. And when the Democrats nominated George McGovern in 1972, it wasn't that - that's a whopping four electoral votes that South Dakota brought.

CONAN: Let's go to Republican line. Michael(ph) from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

MICHAEL: Hi. I'd like to see McCain and Governor Bobby Jindal from Louisiana. He's young. He's Indian-American. And we don't want to lose him but for the greater good, we'd give him up.

CONAN: Just elected governor of Louisiana, what, Last year.

RUDIN: Yeah.

MICHAEL: Correct. Right. He just got inaugurated in January.

RUDIN: I've seen Bobby Jindal's name come up. That's an interesting thing. Obviously he, you know, he won a landslide election in Louisiana. Obviously the Democrats are in some kind of disarray in Louisiana. They can even - maybe even lose Mary Landrieu's Senate seat in 2008. Another governor, first-term governor, I've heard a lot mentioned is Sarah Palin, a female from Alaska. And that would also be an intriguing kind of choice, not nationally known, certainly not as nationally known as Bobby Jindal is, but somebody who could bring some spark to the ticket.

CONAN: Michael, thanks very much for the call.

MICHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's go to - on the Democratic line, Roger(ph). Roger calling us from Cleveland.

ROGER: Sure. My dream ticket for the Democratic side who has the experience, who's respected throughout the world, who can get the vote - Hill and Bill. Why not a ticket set up with Hillary and Bill?

CONAN: Which would pose an interesting constitutional question, should the president, heaven forfend, fall over and die?

RUDIN: Well, the point is that Bill Clinton who is constitutionally ineligible to run for a third term as president, the same constitutional barriers prevent him from becoming vice president for the same thing. So Bill Clinton could not be vice president after serving two terms as president.

ROGER: That's too bad because think of it this way, he wouldn't have to travel with her and he'd have a whole new class of interns.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHER)

RUDIN: I hate it when that Constitution gets in the way.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get one last caller in. This is Nelson(ph) in the Republican line from Hialeah in Florida.

NELSON: Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead please.

NELSON: Yeah. I'd like to say that my dream ticket - McCain and Charlie Crist.

CONAN: Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida.

NELSON: Yeah.

CONAN: And, well, you know, Ken Rudin, this begins to make a lot sense.

RUDIN: Well, Charlie Crist's name is clearly on it. You know, by the way, he's been an attractive candidate. He's gotten good, strong grades as governor succeeding a very popular Jeb Bush in Florida. You know - and I've seen his name come up a lot. He's been with McCain from - since South Carolina or even before that. And since we only have a couple of minutes to go, my prediction is actually Rob Portman, the former congressman from Ohio.

CONAN: Ohio, yes.

RUDIN: I think he has the youth.

CONAN: Former U.S trade representative.

RUDIN: Very strong on the economy, knows this stuff inside and out, and that's obviously John McCain's weakness. I'm predicting if it's not Pawlenty, it's going to be Rob Portman of Ohio.

CONAN: But there you go with the regional balance, Florida - a hugely important state as we heard earlier today from Peter Brown - or Ohio.

RUDIN: Right. And actually no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning in Ohio. I don't know if Rob Portman is statewide-known in Ohio, but he's certainly would be strong in the Midwest.

CONAN: Well, I'm sure glad we settled this subject and wouldn't have to return to it again in the subsequent months. Thanks very much for the call, Nelson.

NELSON: Thank you.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, welcome back. Nice to see here in Studio 3A.

RUDIN: Glad to be back.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin with us every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION. You can also catch his Political Junkie column which appears at npr.org every week, even when you're on vacation?

RUDIN: It's - well, not last week.

CONAN: Not last week.

RUDIN: It's there this week.

CONAN: It's there this week. All right. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thank you.

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Who Will Be McCain's No. 2?

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty button

Minnesota's governor, Tim Pawlenty, is a leading contender for McCain's VP. But here's a dark horse to consider: Ohio's Rob Portman. hide caption

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'I Back Jack' button

In 1996, Jack Kemp became the first Republican running mate named before the convention began. hide caption

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt - Henry Wallace button

Henry Wallace was the last sitting Cabinet member named to a presidential ticket. hide caption

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'On Wisconsin. McCarthy' button

Forty years ago today, Eugene McCarthy defeats President Johnson in the Wisconsin primary, two days after LBJ announced he would not run again. hide caption

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This may come as a surprise to those who are riveted and absorbed by every back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but there is a Republican running for president this year as well. His name is John McCain. He's from Arizona, he's been in Congress since 1983, and he had the fortune — or misfortune — to wrap up his party's nomination last month.

There are pluses and minuses to his virtual disappearance from the front pages. He can, for the most part, sit back as the two Dems claw at each other, picking up disaffected independents in the process. There is also the possibility that voters will forget about him. And when he has received media coverage, it hasn't always been complimentary; witness when he misspoke about Iran training al-Qaida forces. He still is struggling to raise the kind of money that helped George W. Bush during his two campaigns, and he still has some work cut out for him to rally conservatives to his side. McCain is in the midst of a cross-country tour to reintroduce himself to voters. Some polls have shown him defeating either Democrat in the general election.

It is not going out on a limb to suggest that polls seven months in advance are a bit suspect — we couldn't even get the New Hampshire primary right the day of the primary! — but it does tend to amplify Democrats' nervousness about the personal and contentious battle taking place between Clinton and Obama; many fear what toll it could take on the party and its chances of winning in November. After all, it's not rocket science to assume that the longer a battle goes on for a presidential nomination, and the more personal it gets, the more the party's chances for victory in November are diminished. We saw it with the Republicans (Reagan vs. Ford) in 1976 and with the Democrats (Kennedy vs. Carter) four years later. The prospect of a repeat performance by the Dems this year is especially alarming to many in the party, who feel that after the "almosts" of 2000 and 2004, this is the year the stars are aligned for them to win back the White House.

Some Democrats — notably Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an Obama supporter — are calling for Clinton to drop out of the race, pointing to calculations that suggest Clinton cannot overtake Obama's lead among pledged delegates. The Clinton folks, in return, say that withdrawing is ludicrous, especially if she wins Pennsylvania, as expected, on April 22. And besides, neither candidate can win the nomination without the support of superdelegates, some 250 of which are still undeclared. Both Clinton and Obama are putting on a full-court press to win over these supers.

On the other hand, the Republicans, it has been said, like things neat and tidy. Their winner-take-all procedure for delegates in many states allows their candidate to wrap up things sooner than later; McCain's victory on March 4 was the earliest clinching of a GOP presidential nomination in history.

The Republicans, as the incumbent party, will hold its convention after the Democrats, beginning Sept. 1. Only one thing of consequence will happen for the GOP between now and then: McCain will choose his No. 2. It may be the most important decision he makes between now and Nov. 4.

Yes, the selection of a running mate is often overrated. The feeling four years ago was that John Kerry's naming of John Edwards was an inspired choice, but after all was said and done it's hard to see where he helped. No southern state, including Edwards' home of North Carolina, voted Democratic that year. And for all the fanfare of having Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic ticket in 1984, Walter Mondale still lost 49 states.

But sometimes it really has mattered. Lyndon Johnson may have been the difference between victory and defeat for John Kennedy in 1960. Bill Clinton threw conventional wisdom out the window in 1992 when he picked fellow Southerner and baby boomer Al Gore, who turned out to be the most influential vice president in history. That is, until the next administration, when George W. Bush got the foreign policy gravitas he was lacking when he named Dick Cheney. No vice president in history has ever had the power that Cheney has had during the past seven-plus years.

For McCain, the choice of a running mate is important for two reasons. One, he needs to send a signal to doubting conservatives that he is really one of them. True, in what still appears on paper to be a Democratic year, he's got to win over independents and independent-minded Democrats if he is going to make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. His campaign knows that there could very well be a resistance from some voters come November to vote for a woman or an African-American. But he can't name a moderate to the ticket either, and certainly not one who is pro-choice.

And two, there is the age factor. At 71, McCain would be the oldest person ever to win the presidency. His mother, Roberta, is 95 years old and shows no sign of slowing down. So for all we know, McCain could live forever. But he has had cancer. At the least, we may be looking at a one-term president. And so the person he picks as a running mate will be eagerly watched.

Here are some possibilities, some more possible than others, listed alphabetically. Subsequent Junkie columns will review their chances:

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-D) of Connecticut
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Former Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota

Let me know what you think. If history is any judge, you have plenty of time to send in your predictions. Here's a timeline when Republican presidential candidates named their ticket mates:

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