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Regrets? I've Had a Few

'I Lust for Jimmy Carter' button

A series of comments during the 1976 campaign brought Jimmy Carter some unwanted attention. hide caption

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'Galifianakis for U.S. Senate' button

It took two buttons for Rep. Nick Galifianakis to topple Sen. B. Everett Jordan in the 1972 Democratic primary in North Carolina. hide caption

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Goldwater button

The Political Junkie and Talk of the Nation appear before a live audience Wednesday at the Newseum, and former Congressman Barry Goldwater Jr. is one of the special guests. hide caption

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'Re-Elect Jim McCrery' button

Twenty years ago today, Jim McCrery picked up a congressional seat for the Republicans in a special Louisiana election. hide caption

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He was new and refreshing and different. He didn't sound like the other candidates, and he was offering things like hope and change. But when he made a comment before the Pennsylvania primary about ethnic voters, all his carefully laid plans were suddenly in jeopardy.

It was April 1976, and Jimmy Carter had just done an interview with the New York Daily News in which he said he saw "nothing wrong with ethnic purity" being maintained in urban neighborhoods. For good measure, he also said he would not "force racial integration of a neighborhood by government action." The reaction in the next few days was furious. His fellow Democratic candidates attacked him for playing racial politics. Carter supporters suddenly wondered if they had a loose cannon on their hands who would be a disaster in November against the Republican nominee. A top African-American backer of Carter, Rep. Andrew Young (D-GA), called the remarks a "disaster for the campaign." Carter refused to disavow his remarks.

Four days after the interview, under a drumbeat of criticism, Carter finally apologized for his "unfortunate use" of words. His coalition of blacks and Southerners stayed intact. The Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. told an Atlanta rally, "I have a forgiving heart, so, governor, I'm with you all the way." Carter went on to win the Pennsylvania primary over candidates Scoop Jackson and Mo Udall, among others, winning all but two of the state's 67 counties and picking up a huge amount of delegates in the process. It was perhaps the last chance for Carter's opponents to prevent his nomination, and they failed.

Carter's "ethnic purity" remark may not be exactly analogous to what's going on today, with Barack Obama on the defensive over comments he made about "bitter" voters. But it's been a year filled with comments and slips of the tongues followed by regret, starting with Joe Biden's "articulate and bright and clean" description of Obama and continuing in South Carolina with race-based comments from the Clinton and Obama camps. (Just this week, Rep. Geoff Davis, a Kentucky Republican, referred to Obama as "that boy;" he later apologized.)

Mind you, it's not just about race, though with the first black candidate to have a chance of winning his party's nomination, race is a factor. But in a year when every comment is picked up not only by 24/7 cable TV programs, but by hand-held portable phones, there seems to be an abundance of mea culpas not seen in the history of campaigning.

Carter survived the "ethnic purity" comment as well as other doozies from that year, including an interview in Playboy in which he talked about the "lust" in his heart. Ultimately, voters felt the election was to be decided on bigger issues. But for a time, many Democrats wondered what they were getting themselves into with Carter as their nominee. It's a question that in 2008 has yet to be definitively answered with either Democratic candidate.

GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME MONTICELLO: Lots of appreciative notes following last week's column that focused on the surprising battle for the Libertarian presidential nomination, as well as a history of every nominee the party has put forward since its founding more than three decades ago. Stephen Gordon, publisher of ThirdPartyWatch.com, writes, "It is, in my opinion, one of the more insightful columns I've seen about the Libertarian Party in quite some time." And University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato adds, "Great column. I love the history and have urged my students to read it."

Regarding the political effect of former Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA) potentially becoming the party's nominee, Republican consultant Craig Shirley writes, "This Libertarian thing may be bigger than anyone is foreseeing right now."

But we may be jumping the gun in anointing Barr as the nominee, says Roderick Long of Auburn, Ala. Barr and ex-Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) "are the big names outside of Libertarian Party circles," Long writes, "but the person most likely to win the nomination is Mary Ruwart, whose name doesn't even show up in your article. She is more consistently libertarian in her positions and has far more history in the party (and so more 'cred' with the rank and file) than any of the names you did mention." Ruwart's campaign press secretary, Brian Irving of Cary, N.C., adds that Ruwart comes "with no 'major party' baggage" and "does not equivocate on basic libertarian beliefs."

And then there's this from Jason Ditz of Saginaw, Mich., who expects the nomination to come down to a battle between Barr and Ruwart at next month's convention in Denver. For all the buzz about Gravel, "more often than not he ends up arguing with libertarian internet radio hosts against the libertarian position and in favor of things which have even less traction in the party than they did in the Democratic Party [when Gravel sought that party's nomination]. His desire to turn the United Nations into an all-powerful global government is positively perplexing for a man seeking the nomination of a third party dedicated to decreasing the size and scope of government," Ditz says. He says he'd "be shocked if Gravel finishes any higher than fifth or sixth" among the candidates seeking the nomination.

Finally, for the millions of people out there wondering what's next for Alan Keyes, the former Republican presidential hopeful has quit the GOP and is now eyeing a bid for the Constitution Party's nomination. That party holds its convention April 23-26 in Kansas City.

TRIVIA: With Barry Goldwater's son one of the two special guests on this week's "Political Junkie" segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation (see below), here's a Goldwater trivia question for you. What did Goldwater accomplish in 1952 when he was first elected to the Senate that hasn't happened since? (Answer below.)

Time for two questions:

Q: Regarding the challenge by Rep. Rob Andrews to Sen. Frank Lautenberg in New Jersey's June 3 Democratic primary, I think Andrews' real goal is to be lieutenant governor in 2009 [when that position is created for the first time in state history] under Gov. Jon Corzine. Andrews has statewide ambitions and he could use this office as a steppingstone in 2013. I suspect that if Andrews runs well in the June primary, he could force Corzine to pick him as his running mate. - Ronald May, Jerusalem, Israel

A: I disagree completely. Andrews' decision to take on Lautenberg has been met with near-universal condemnation by nearly every leading Democrat in the Garden State. Rep. Steve Rothman, who clearly has his sights set on the Senate, and Rep. Frank Pallone, who also has statewide ambitions, have strongly criticized Andrews for having the temerity to challenge the 84-year-old senator. They are among many who are waiting their turn, and the last thing they want is to be eclipsed by the more impatient Andrews.

Andrews has long been seen as ambitious. He ran for governor in 1997 but lost a close primary to eventual winner Jim McGreevey. When then-Sen. Corzine was elected governor in 2005, Andrews made it clear he wanted the appointment to fill the Senate vacancy, but Corzine instead went with another House member, Robert Menendez. Corzine did say he would endorse Andrews for the Senate seat were Lautenberg to retire in 2008. But that's not happening, and Corzine is 100 percent behind the senator.

It's going to be an uphill battle for Andrews, who despite his 1997 gubernatorial run is not well known statewide and who has the entire party establishment lined up against him. For the record, the last Democratic House member to unseat an elected Democratic senator in the primary was Nick Galifianakis of North Carolina, who toppled Sen. B. Everett Jordan in 1972. But the party split enabled conservative Jesse Helms to win the seat for the GOP.

Q: Regarding the question by David Kramer that appeared in your April 9 column, suggesting that the Democrats would pick up a Senate seat if John McCain wins the presidency because Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) would name one, Arizona state law says that any appointed successor would have to be from the same party as the previous incumbent. - Craig Goodman, Lubbock, Texas

A: You are correct. It's the same situation that faced Wyoming last year when Sen. Craig Thomas (R) died and Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) had to name a Republican to succeed him. Thanks also to NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, Bruce MacNeil of Arlington, Va., Steve Ury of Los Angeles, Parker Gaskins of Washington, D.C., and Jerry Skurnik of New York City, all of whom had a better sense of Yuma than I did.

TRIVIA ANSWER: Barry Goldwater (R) unseated Arizona Sen. Ernest McFarland (D), the Senate majority leader, in 1952. That was the last time a Senate majority leader was defeated for re-election.

ON THE CALENDAR:

April 16 - Democratic presidential candidate debate, 8 p.m., Philadelphia (ABC).

April 22 - Pennsylvania primaries (presidential and state/congressional). Special election in Mississippi's 1st District, vacated when Rep. Roger Wicker (R) was appointed to the Senate.

April 27 - Democratic presidential candidate debate, North Carolina (CBS).

May 6 - Primaries in Indiana and North Carolina (presidential and state/congressional). Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) and Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) are both seeking second terms.

May 13 - Democratic presidential primary in West Virginia. State/congressional primaries in Nebraska (where GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel is retiring) and West Virginia (where Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin is seeking a second term). Special runoff election in Mississippi's 1st District (if necessary).

May 20 - Primaries in Kentucky and Oregon (presidential and state/congressional). Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Gordon Smith (R-OR) are seeking re-election.

May 27 - State/congressional primary in Idaho. Sen. Larry Craig (R) is retiring.

POLITICAL JUNKIE COMES TO THE NEWSEUM: For years now (I know, it seems longer), Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, has featured a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Now TOTN (and its Junkie sidekick) will take their act each Wednesday before a live audience at the Newseum, Washington's new interactive museum dedicated to journalism. It is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., off Sixth Street.

Special guests for this first week: former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. (R-CA) and John Dean (yes, that John Dean), who have collaborated on a new book, appropriately titled Pure Goldwater. It's from the diaries of the late Arizona senator. (And get ready for that Goldwater trivia question!)

Remember, if your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can hear the program on the Web or on HD Radio. And if you are a subscriber to Sirius radio, you can find the show there as well (siriusly).

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and me. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? It's easy, and it's free! Go to the iTunes Web site, type in "It's All Politics," and voila. You'll be hooked!

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: The Republicans pick up a congressional seat in a Louisiana special runoff election, as recent GOP convert Jim McCrery wins the seat vacated by Democrat Buddy Roemer, who was elected governor (April 16, 1988).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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