The Political Junkie Talks Election, Veep-stakes

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In this week's "Political Junkie," NPR political editor Ken Rudin looks ahead to the general election and the process of finding a running mate. Then, former Congressman Vin Weber (R-MN) explains what the changing electoral map could mean for Republicans.


This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum...

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Washington, D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business. Senator Hillary Clinton campaign closes shop, Democrat Barack Obama hits the road to talk about the economy, and Republican John McCain challenges his rivals to a series of town-hall meetings. It's Wednesday, and time for another edition with the Political Junkie.

Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the Beef?"

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

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it!

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin is with us here at the Newseum, as he is every week, to talk about the presidential campaign, the search for running mates, a couple more primaries yesterday, a windfall profits bill that falls flat, and articles of impeachment against President Bush.

A bit later in the show, we'll focus on the electoral map, and how Republicans hope to get to 270. We'll also take a look at campaign merchandise, from the Wellesley Women for Hillary pin to the McCain for President mouse pad. But as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Ken Rudin's with us here at the Newseum. Hey, Ken. What's the question this week?

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, yesterday, of course, was the Virginia primary, and one of the Democrats' best chances for a pick-up is in the Virginia Senate race. Mark Warner is likely to succeed John Warner, no relation. When was the last - and that would give them two Democratic senators, because Jim Webb, having beaten George Allen in 2006 - Neal, are you still awake?

CONAN: I am.

RUDIN: So, the question is, when was the last time Virginia had two Democratic senators, and who were they?

CONAN: All right. If you think you know the last time Virginia had two Democratic senators, and their names, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, And you can also call with other questions right now about the state of politics and where we stand at this point in the race, and Ken, as we mentioned, actual votes yesterday in primaries.

RUDIN: Right, Virginia's one of them. Of course, we already knew who's - the nominees for the Senate were going to be, Mark Warner, the former governor. Also another governor, Republican Jim Gilmore, who had attempted to win the Republican presidential nomination this year, will be the Republican nominee, and that's already set up. In Maine, we know that Congressman Tom Allen, a Democrat, will take - will try to take on Susan Collins, a moderate Republican.

CONAN: That's likely to be an expensive race.

RUDIN: Expensive, and Democrats, I think, had higher hopes for it than they do now. Susan Collins has run kind of an independent campaign, away from the White House. I think that's the key for a lot of Republicans in trouble, sort of like Gordon Smith in Oregon, Johnson in New Hampshire, and Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

CONAN: And speaking of Minnesota...

RUDIN: Speaking of Minnesota?

CONAN: Speaking of Minnesota, yeah.

RUDIN: Right, some developments there.

CONAN: Well, two.

RUDIN: That's what I - I thought, like, Vin Weber had showed up or something like that.

CONAN: He did, but that's all right.

RUDIN: Well, in Minnesota Al Franken, the comedian and Democratic activist, is the official Democratic nominee. The party endorsed him over the past week. The Party in Minnesota's the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Part. That's their official title. But he's also had some controversy. There was an article he'd written in Playboy that people thought were lewd. Could you imagine that, in Playboy? And...

CONAN: Just because it was called Pornorama?

RUDIN: Pornorama and misogynist, and so he's been under fire for that. But again, if the ultimate - ultimately, if the issue in Minnesota is President Bush and the war, which it could very well be, then the Democrats are optimistic about picking that seat up.

CONAN: And one of the things that, well, both parties really tried to do during election years is to provide bills that have to be voted on in the Senate or the House of Representatives, bills they know have very little chance of ever passing, but, well, they have the issue even if they don't have the legislation, and indeed, that was probably the description of the oil windfall-profits tax that failed to defeat this week in the Senate.

RUDIN: Obviously, I mean, the fact that we're approaching five-dollars-a-gallon gas, I mean, once upon a time, we were talking about four-dollars-a-gallon gas that President Bush said, that's not going to even happen.

CONAN: Couldn't happen, no.

RUDIN: Now we're talking about $5, and so obviously that will be the big issue. That is the big issue in November. A lot of people are really hurting, people who need to drive to work, obviously, in cities that don't have mass-transit systems. And so, both parties are trying to outdo each other on how to deal with it. Democrats are trying to force an oil windfall-profits tax. Republicans saying, well, the answer's more drilling, and perhaps open up, like, the coast of Florida, Alaska, things like that.

CONAN: Also Dennis Kucinich, the erstwhile Democratic presidential contender, filed - what? Thirty-five articles of impeachment - I think he finished last night - against President Bush. Here, is the aim to embarrass the Republicans, or to embarrass the Democratic leadership?

RUDIN: Well, I think the Republicans probably would love this to come to a vote, because they would love to put Democrats on record on this. Because Nancy Pelosi, when she became speaker following the 2006 elections, she said from the beginning that impeachment is off the table, when Dennis Kucinich tried to impeach Vice President Cheney. Of course, that would make Nancy Pelosi bump into the leadership.

Several months ago, it was thrown to the Democratic-controlled judiciary committee, where it went nowhere, and most people assume this will go nowhere as well. But there are a lot of Democratic activists who are really angry about this, because they felt that the 2006 elections meant that there would be a change in war policy. And one of the ways that Kucinich, at least, sees it - the way of that happening is to impeach the president and the vice president, which, of course, is not going to happen.

CONAN: Now we have a couple of callers that think they know the answer to the trivia question. Now Warren joins us from Roanoke in Virginia.

WARREN (Caller): Hi. I believe the answer to your trivia question, 1966, Harry Byrd Jr. and Willis Robertson.

RUDIN: Well actually, that's an interesting question. I mean, Willis Robertson was the senator, but as a matter of fact, he's Pat Robertson's father, but Willis Robertson was beaten in that 1966 primary by the guy who is the other Democratic senator along with Harry Byrd Jr. So, the last two Democrats who served in Virginia Senate were Harry Byrd Jr., and the guy who beat Willis Robertson.

CONAN: Nice try, Warren.

WARREN: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can go now to - this is going to be Jim, and Jim is also calling from Virginia.

JIM (Caller): Yes, I am, and the person that beat Robertson was named William Spong. He was from Portsmouth, Virginia, and he beat him in 1966. So in 1967 when he joined the Senate, he and Harry Byrd Jr. were the last two all-Democratic slate from our state.

CONAN: But Ken, was that the last year there were two Democratic senators from the state of Virginia? RUDIN: Well, the caller's...

JIM: Well, see, Byrd became an Independent, so - and I don't know when he became an Independent, but Spong served through the 1972 election, and Byrd became an Independent somewhere in there.

RUDIN: We now have a substitute Political Junkie whenever I'm off the show. He's exactly right. Spong was beaten in '72 by William Scott. Byrd was a Democrat until he switched to an Independent in 1970.

CONAN: Congratulations, Jim, you get the no-prize this week.

JIM: All right, thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for that call. In the meantime, as long as we're going on prizes of very little merit, how about who's running for vice president?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, you know, we say that's not important, but of course, it's very important for both parties. Barack Obama, for all the palpitations and the excitement about his nomination, let me just say one parenthetical, though. On this day in 1963, George Wallace stood in front of the courthouse door at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the famous scene where he refused to allow two African-American students to pass through.

And here we are - I mean, 45 years is a long time, but I'm just looking at this day to remind us what George Wallace and what politics were like back then, and here we have an African-American senator. But Barack Obama, with only three years in the Senate, obviously has to - has a divided party which could very well come to unite in November on issues like the economy, and the war and things like that. But right now, it's split. So, the question is whether he reaches out to the opposition, which would mean Hillary Clinton and women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: So, either he picks Hillary Clinton or he picks a bunch of women who are up for possible, like Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas.

CONAN: Claire McCaskill.

RUDIN: Claire McCaskill, senator from Missouri, Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona. Or he goes to people in perhaps big states. Now, Ted Strickland took his name off the list, the governor of Ohio.

CONAN: And he did that last night at an interview on All Things Considered, when Michele Norris asked him if he would still interested in possibly becoming the vice-presidential candidate.

(Soundbite of NPR's All Things Considered, June 10, 2008)

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): If drafted, I will not run, if nominated, I will not accept, and if elected, I will not serve. So, I don't know how more crystal clear I can be.

CONAN: That's the Sherman statement, isn't it?

RUDIN: Sherman and Peabody statement, exactly. But, of course, we did have...

CONAN: The way-back machine.

RUDIN: But of course, we had John Edwards saying a similar thing in 2004, saying I'm absolutely not interested in the vice presidency. So, stranger things have happened. But Strickland may take himself out. Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, who's a very free-thinking and free-spirited kind of guy, also said he would not run. But again, if Barack Obama thought the way to the White House, to the 270 electoral votes, is with a key state like that, he may go that direction.

CONAN: And there is a column, by the way, by the Political Junkie at where you can read, well, Ken Rudin's assessment of the various possible VP candidates, and their strengths and weaknesses.

RUDIN: And you should read it.

CONAN: As everybody will be. There'll be a pop quiz at the end of the show, in fact. Let's see if we can get a caller on the line, and this is Ben, and Ben's calling us from North Carolina.

BEN (Caller): Hi, how's it going? I just wanted to make a VP suggestion for John McCain. I formerly come from Maine. I think he should really consider Senator Olympia Snowe.

CONAN: Another moderate Republic, if you consider John McCain a moderate.

BEN: Well, a lot of people - I'm more of an Independent, then anything, but more, I guess, progressive in general. And a lot of people have seen John McCain swing, you know, fairly to the right in the past year. I mean, he's still seen as a moderate by most base - you know, Republican base voters. But to Independents and Democrats, it really seems like he's more conservative now. So I think for us, well, for Independents and Democrats, especially progressive, and Olympia Snowe might be a nice, sort of, smoothing out of John McCain.

CONAN: But is that, Ken Rudin, going to smooth the - heal the rifts in the Republican Party with the conservative base?

RUDIN: Let me think for a second. No. See, the thing is, there was some people who felt that McCain has moved to the right and needs to reach out to Independent swing voters, like an Olympia Snowe, perhaps, or Joe Lieberman, the Independent senator from Connecticut. Those names have been mentioned. But Neal, you're absolutely right that there's more suspicion among conservative Republicans who - the base that McCain needs to get out to win in November. And one suspects that he's going to get a true-blue conservative. But in a very unconventional year, he could very well make an unconventional pick.

CONAN: Ben, thanks very much for the call. And let's see if we can go quickly - we just have a few seconds. Miguel, Miguel with us from Juno in Alaska.

MIGUEL (Caller): Hi there, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead. Go quickly, if you would.

MIGUEL: Hi, OK. I think Bob Casey should be Barack Obama's running mate, because he has appeal for social-minded Catholics everywhere.

CONAN: Bob Casey, the former governor of Pennsylvania.

RUDIN: And the current senator, the son of the former governor, and a pro-life - a leading pro-life figure in the Democratic Party, which is probably one reason why he will not be picked. And again, he was an Obama supporter. Again, if Obama needs to reach out to the other side, he may go for somebody who was not clearly in the Obama camp. But I suspect, just like John McCain will not pick a moderate like Olympia Snowe, Barack Obama would not take a pro-life candidate as his running mate.

CONAN: Thanks so much for the call, though. All right, bye-bye, Miguel. And I think I forgot to mention, because I cut you off to go to Minnesota earlier, that in South Carolina, Lindsey Graham was re-nominated to run on the Republican side for Senate, though he will not know until a recount is finished who his opponent will be.

RUDIN: Yeah, he's heavily favored. I think the real question was whether - what kind of opposition he would have on the Republican side on issues like immigration, and he beat the primary nominee - beat the opponent two to one.

CONAN: We're at the Knight Studio in the Newseum here in Washington, D.C. Coming up, Republican strategist Vin Weber gears up for a new battleground as he looks at the electoral map. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. 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 broadcasting today from the Knight Studio inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It's Political Junkie day at the Newseum. And all this season, for the past five months and more, we've all been focused on one number, well, in the Democratic Party, several different numbers, as it change over time, the number of delegates a candidate needed to cross the finish line and, well, secure the nomination.

Now, we're looking at a different number, a magic number for both candidates as they look ahead to November. And that number is 270, the number of electoral votes they will need to be elected president of the United States, the number that both Barack Obama and John McCain will be focused on intently. We tend to think of the presidential election as one big national referendum. No, no, no, no. Fifty-one separate contests, with the winner in each contest getting all the electoral votes from that state, or District of Columbia, and then proceeding to try to add them up to 270.

Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is still with us here at the Newseum. And joining us is Vin Weber, and Vin Weber is a former member of the House of Representatives from the state of Minnesota and a Republican, and now, a Republican strategist and lobbyist here in Washington. Vin, nice to have you back on the program.

Former Representative VIN WEBER (Republican, Minnesota; Managing Partner, Clark & Weinstock): Great to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And I wonder, did you think it was any great surprise to see Barack Obama kicking off his post-securing-the-nomination campaign in Virginia and North Carolina, two states that most Democratic candidates have not really counted on too much of late?

Rep. WEBER: Of course, I think he kicked it off in Minnesota with that rally last Tuesday night of last week. But no, both candidates are talking about expanding the map. There's a little debate, I would say, among the political-junkie world, about whether or not that is really going to happen. But he thinks that he has a shot at some southern states, Virginia, North Carolina, where he did very, very well in the primaries, which have been trending, at least in Virginia's case, more Democratic in state elections lately.

You talked about the likelihood that we're going to have two Democrat senators from Virginia after this race, but that's not the only place that the race is changing. The map on the Republican side might be expanding somewhat, too. So, we're going to see, in that sense of it, perhaps, a more interesting race than we've seen in the past, where we were down to very small contested states.

CONAN: Battleground states. If you'd like to ask questions about which states those are, and which camp people see states in, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is And Vin Weber, again, on the Democratic side, a lot of their strategists say, well, look at western states. We think we have a real shot this time around, places like Colorado, maybe Nevada, maybe New Mexico, places, again, not too receptive to Democratic candidates in the past.

Rep. WEBER: I think that's right. That's where Obama is mainly thinking - he probably thinks he has a better chance in those western states than even in the southern ones we talked about a minute ago. Republicans probably think that that's not likely in Nevada. Remember, we've got a southwestern senator as our nominee.

CONAN: From next door in Arizona.

Rep. WEBER: From next door in Arizona. But Colorado and New Mexico, particularly New Mexico, are definitely states that are up for grabs. New Mexico was a very closely contested state. And a lot in those states will depend on how successful John McCain is in competing for the Hispanic vote. President Bush, as we remember, was very successful, by Republican standards, in competing for the Hispanic vote. He got 40 percent of it, which was, I think, the highest any Republican ever got.

Senator McCain has a good record of getting Hispanic votes in his home state of Arizona, which has a large Hispanic population. And the primaries seemed to indicate, on the Democrats side, a little resistance to Barack Obama among Hispanic voters. They very strongly favored Senator Clinton in most places. So, Republicans are taking that threat seriously in the southwest, but they think they can repel it.

CONAN: Senator McCain might do best with Hispanics if he talked a lot about his immigration position. Of course, he might not do too well with Republicans if he did that.

Rep. WEBER: He'd better not talk about it until after the Republican convention. But you're exactly right. Senator McCain relates to that community. He took a courageous stand in favor of a somewhat more liberal immigration policy than most Republicans were willing to take. And I think he still retains a lot of popularity with Hispanic leaders, both in his home state and nationally.


RUDIN: One question about Virginia. President Bush won it by 15 percentage points in 2004, and yet you've had back-to-back Democratic governors in Virginia. You'll probably have Mark Warner win the Senate race. You had George Allen ousted in 2006. Twenty percent of the population there is African-American. It clearly - it's a state that Obama is looking at. I mean, if you look at the demographics in the state, it's something that the Republicans should be worried about.

Rep. WEBER: I think the Republicans are worried, but I don't they're going to lose it. And I - you know these numbers better than I do. But the storyline on Virginia is the growing population of Northern Virginia, the suburbs, Washington, D.C., has given the Democrats their chance to be competitive. That is certainly true. But if you look at how Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Senator Webb won, they also outperformed the Democrats traditionally in the more rural conservative areas.

They had appeals in those areas because they were centrist and even conservative Democrats. Senator Obama is going to have the first advantage, perhaps, in northern Virginia. But he's not likely to come off as a centrist or conservative Democrat. So, the thinking, on the Republican side, anyway, is that he's not going to be able to replicate those votes down state that the more centrist Virginia candidates got, unless, of course, there's a Virginian on the ticket.

RUDIN: I was just going to say, perhaps that's one of the reasons Jim Webb or Tim Kaine has been mentioned as a possible running mate.

CONAN: Or even Mark Warner, for that matter.

Rep. WEBER: That would change a lot.

CONAN: Yeah. Let's get a question from in the audience at the Newseum.

Unidentified Audience Member: Hi. Do you think it would be in the Republicans' interest to avoid socially conservative issues like abortion or same-sex marriage? Or has the country not grown up enough yet?

Rep. WEBER: It's in our interest to not have a high-profile discussion of those issues, I would say. I don't think either party, to be candid, wants to have those issues dominant. You have strong, strong groups of people on both side of the abortion issue, both sides of the gay-marriage issue, who are motivated by that issue. And both parties, I would say, need those votes.

But the majority of voters, when they hear abortion, gay marriage, things like that, they think, why are you not talking about the price of gas? Why are you not talking about healthcare? Why are you not talking, maybe, about our foreign policy challenges? So, neither party wants to have them elevated as high-profile issues. But I would say, neither party wants to abandon the base of voters that support them because of those issues either.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the question. And Vin, you were talking about areas where Republicans have to worry. Where are areas where Republicans think they can make inroads into previously blue states?

Rep. WEBER: Well, I'd say you start with the states where Senator Clinton surprised us by how easily she defeated Senator Obama in some of those late primaries. And those are states that have been competitive in the past, but I'd point primarily to Pennsylvania. That's a state where we have a chance, we think, to make some headway. And Michigan, Michigan's not in the category of those contested primaries, but it's sort of the same demographics.

And you've got a lot of, frankly, white, working-class voters that overwhelmingly supported Senator Clinton in Pennsylvania. And Senator Obama doesn't seem to have been able to correct that problem, at least of yet. And Senator McCain has a great appeal there. So we think that that's a good place. We think he can get back New Hampshire, small state, but one that had switched to Senator Kerry in the last election. So, Senator McCain is almost a home-state hero in New Hampshire.

RUDIN: Your state of Minnesota has gone longer than any other state without voting for Republican, '72 was the last time it voted Republican.

Rep. WEBER: I know, and I'm getting older. It's got to do this for me, pretty soon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: What about Minnesota? Even with or without Governor Pawlenty on the ticket?

Rep. WEBER: I think the entire upper Midwest is, meaning Iowa, which had been Republican, and Minnesota or Wisconsin, which had been Democrat, are all contestable states. I have to be candid. I think it is more likely either that Iowa will switch Democratic, or Wisconsin will switch Republican, then that Minnesota will switch. Although, if Pawlenty's on the ticket, Minnesota becomes much more competitive.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Michael, Michael with us from Chicago.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, my question is, I would like to know, from both guests, what they think would, sort of, be a dark-horse state for each candidate, based on running mates? And then also, does anyone else think that it's possible that Obama might strategically attempt to, kind of, in a debate, get McCain to sort of blow his lid? I'll take my comments off the air, thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Well, not unless Ken Rudin's the questioner at the debate. But anyway, Bill Richardson, for example, on the Democratic side, would certainly make New Mexico more competitive for the Democrats.

Rep. WEBER: Well, that would certainly be a strategy that goes straight at all those southwestern votes. Because he would - Bill Richardson would probably escalate dramatically the Democratic percentage of the Hispanic vote, which would help them a lot in Colorado, help them a lot in Nevada, help them a lot in, obviously New Mexico, which would almost surely become Democrat under those circumstances.

CONAN: And could you think of a Republican who might help Senator McCain on that same basis? Somebody from the state of Pennsylvania, or Ohio?

Rep. WEBER: Well, we'd love to have somebody from Pennsylvania. We don't really have one right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Tom Ridge has been mentioned.

Rep. WEBER: Tom Ridge is a possibility. Tom Ridge would probably carry the state of Pennsylvania for Senator McCain. Rob Portman, budget director, was a congressman from Cincinnati. Now, that's not the same as a statewide official, but he still would have some hometown appeal.

CONAN: A lot of name recognition in Ohio.

Rep. WEBER: A lot of name recognition in Ohio, absolutely. And Governor Romney, although he's governor of Massachusetts, showed in the primary in Michigan that he retains substantial hometown appeal. He's the son, of course, of George Romney, who was the president of American Motors, governor of Michigan in the '60s. And when the campaign started, people weren't sure in the Romney camp if he retained that hometown appeal after having lived on the East Coast for so long, but he really did. And the exit polls proved that.

CONAN: Probably sew up Utah, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: And sometimes it's not really about carrying a state. Obviously, when George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney, it wasn't to get the three electoral votes from Wyoming. But, it was to pick up the lack of stuff on his resume. And perhaps McCain...

CONAN: The gravitas, if you will.

RUDIN: Right, exactly.

Rep. WEBER: I actually think that's a more important consideration. What is the message sent by the choice? You know, Clinton picked Gore to reinforce youth, change, centrist Democrat politics, and I think that that is more important than the geographic balance or picking up a state, which may have been historically the main reason you chose a vice president.

RUDIN: You had Bob Dole pick Jack Kemp, and there was absolutely no personality - there was no chemistry between them.

Rep. WEBER: No. Well, there was quite negative chemistry between them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. WEBER: But they got - they got along OK. But I think Dole, that's another good choice. It didn't work, but Dole knew he was way behind as an older man running against a vigorous young president. He wanted some excitement on the ticket. That's why he picked why he picked Jack Kemp, not because he was from Buffalo, New York.

CONAN: Let's get another question from here in the Newseum.

Ms. LYNN HARRINGTON (Audience Member): Hi, I'm Lynn Harrington (ph) from Aurora, Oregon, but as a former Minnesotan, I was wondering what Congressman Weber's opinion was of the DFL picking Al Franken for their candidate.

Rep. WEBER: There's a lot of former Minnesotans in Oregon. You know, the migration patterns of the country, we sort of consider Washington and Oregon to be extensions of Minnesota.

Ms. HARRINGTON: There are a lot of us.

Rep. WEBER: It's nice to hear from you. The Democrats have a competitive race, certainly. I think that Neal mentioned that in the run-up to the segment, because of the war and other issues being so unpopular in Minnesota. I believe Norm Coleman has done an excellent job both as a senator and is doing an excellent job as a candidate, but he could still face a tough reelection.

The Democrats have surely nominated the most flawed candidate they found. They had to comb, not just Minnesota, they had to go to Hollywood and New York to find a candidate with more flaws. And I - I mean, he's going into the campaign defending improper payment of taxes in 17 states over a period of three years, the lack of payment of workers' compensation for his company in the state of New York, and then these Playboy interviews that I think Ken talked about, which, you know, this is not just a little off-color humor.

This is really raunchy stuff. It has led prominent DFL feminists, including congress-people from Minnesota, to decline to endorse Franken at least at this date, because they border not just on pornographic, but on misogynistic. And then - and there's 30 years of writings that have been yet been plumbed from Al Franken. So, do I say that he can't win? No, it's a tough year for Democrats - for Republicans in Minnesota, but the Democrats have served up a very flawed candidate.

CONAN: And we have a couple of corrections that have been emailed in. This from Steve, that George Wallace stood in front of the Foster Auditorium and not the courthouse. Picky, picky, he says, I know, but...

RUDIN: Is that right?

CONAN: That's true, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

Rep. WEBER: That's interesting.

CONAN: And Mark from Washington emailed that I stated that the winner of each of the 51 presidential contests take all the electoral votes from each state and the District of Columbia and Nebraska and Maine, split the allocation of their electoral votes based on the popular vote, with winner within congressional districts in the state.

RUDIN: But in the history of that, that's never happened. Even though you can win a congressional district in each state and split the votes, that's never happened, for the record.

CONAN: In any case, you're listening to the Political Junkie on Talk of the Nation from NPR News. That, of course, was Ken Rudin, our political editor at NPR. Vin Weber, former congressman from Minnesota, and now a Republican strategist and lobbyist here in Washington, D.C. You're still with us. And as you look ahead, Vin, at this election, the old, you know, Karl Rove idea of 50-plus-one, well, that - this whole mathematics has changed.

Both candidates are trying to fight, to some degree, on the other guy's turf. Do you think, for example, Barack Obama can make John McCain and the Republicans spend time and money and effort in a lot of places like Virginia, like North Carolina, maybe even Georgia, they didn't think they would have to defend too hard?

Rep. WEBER: I think we certainly start out with that presumption, a little bit on both sides, but certainly on the Republican side. I have to say, you know, the conventional wisdom is the conventional wisdom because it's usually right. And by the time we get to next fall, we may find out that all this is just so much political junkie talk and we're once again talking about...

CONAN: Florida and Ohio...

Rep. WEBER: Florida and Ohio and maybe one other state. But the beginning of this process, certainly, the map has been expanded. Republicans are going to have to work and spend time and money in different places than they had in the past, and Democrats will probably be doing the same thing. I should say, by the way, Karl Rove's strategy was driven by what the electorate looked like in those years. What's changed is not just that we've come up with different strategies, but the electorate has somewhat changed. Voters who describe themselves as swing voters and centrists shrunk throughout the 1990s...

CONAN: Got more polarized.

Rep. WEBER: Got more polarized, and Karl's strategy was simply to say in - with a smaller center and fewer swing voters, the key is turning out your vote. Well, in this election, we're seeing some evidence that the number of centrists and swing voters has expanded somewhat, and certainly negative for the Republicans. The Republican base has shrunk. We can't win without getting centrist, Independent and swing voters.

CONAN: Here's an email question from Patrick in Bloomington, Indiana. Do you think Indiana will be competitive this year, both if Obama chooses Evan Bayh as his vice president or not?

Rep. WEBER: Only if he chooses Evan Bayh as his vice president. I know Senator Bayh. I'm quite an admirer of his, and he is - the name Bayh is an iconic name, of course, in Indiana, and he is a very popular senator, but I don't think that Indiana is really up for grabs unless they put him on the ticket.

CONAN: And this, speaking of corrections, Jerry emails, Vin Weber, could you please use the proper word "Democratic" rather than "Democrat"? It's offensive to use and it's a ridiculous attempt to...

Rep. WEBER: I do apologize. Other people correct me on that. I just assure you, it's not intentional, and I'm working on it.

CONAN: OK, Vin. And as you look ahead, as this - you know, we think about a different electoral map, it forces, as you say, both parties to work and spend money and resources, and given that, the amount of money that can be raised, so far, Barack Obama has proved to be much the better individual fundraiser. Nevertheless, the Republican Party has proved to be a better party for fundraising.

Rep. WEBER: This gives me an opportunity, right, the Republican Party is doing better at fundraising than the Democratic Party.

CONAN: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. WEBER: At least at the level of the national committees. But Obama is a phenomenon when it comes to fundraising. He has just a juggernaut of Internet contributions and others, small-contribution base, that makes him extremely formidable in the fall.

CONAN: Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: And back to special elections we just saw in Mississippi and Louisiana, the fact that Democrats won these long-time Republican seats makes you think that, as Neal said, the Republicans may have to be defending territory that they're not used to defending.

Rep. WEBER: That surely is true in congressional elections. It's less clear how true that is in the presidential election, because McCain has a little different brand than Republicans. But surely in congressional elections, Republicans are fighting to hold seats that they didn't have to defend in the past.

CONAN: And one of the oddities of having two candidates from both parties, neither one is sort of running as to succeed. They are both, obviously, open seats. We have no idea what kind of coattails they're going to have, how much they're going to help or hurt people further down the ticket, senators, representatives, governors, that sort of thing.

Rep. WEBER: Right, and remember, the candidates can simultaneously have positive and negative coattails. Republicans look at Senator Obama, and he's obviously got a lot of appeal and he obviously does very well with young voters, and he's obviously going to have a huge turnout and appeal with African-American voters, but it's possible that in some of the swing rural areas where he has less appeal, he could have negative coattails for Democrats. So it can work both ways. And a similar analysis would apply to Senator McCain.

CONAN: Vin Weber, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Rep. WEBER: Great to be with you.

CONAN: Again, Republican strategist and lobbyist, Vin Weber, and a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from the state of Minnesota. Ken Rudin is going to stay with us, because when we come back, we're going to be talking about political memorabilia, what the merchandise looks like from all the campaigns this year and, well, in years past, too. Ken has, I think, one or two buttons? Yeah, one or two. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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Obama's Possible Running Mates

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Watching Washington

NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving looks at some of the top vice presidential prospects on the Republican side.

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich has introduced a bill calling for the impeachment of President Bush, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists the issue is "off the table." hide caption

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Now that Hillary Clinton has suspended her campaign and made nice with Barack Obama, we've suddenly gone from the unexpected — a history-making battle for the Democratic presidential nomination that went down to the wire — to the expected: the quadrennial Beltway blather about who will be the running mate.

At least this time it will be somewhat of a truncated ritual. In 2000 and 2004, when Al Gore and John Kerry respectively wrapped up the nomination quite early, we were left with months and months of nothing to do other than to prognosticate about their VP selections. Kerry's pick was hardly a surprise; he chose John Edwards, who competed with him for the nomination. Gore, on the other hand, was far more unconventional; he picked Joe Lieberman, the first Jew to appear on a major-party ticket and, just as interesting, a strong critic of President Bill Clinton's behavior, sending the message that Gore would distance himself from his mentor. It's a choice whose merits are still being debated.

Nothing about 2008 has been conventional, and so a conventional pick by Obama for a running mate would be surprising. Before we go through the plusses and minuses of the prospective choices, we should repeat what we've long been saying: The influence the No. 2 person on the ticket has on the election result is often overrated. Voters vote for the presidential candidate, not the VP choice. Four years ago, everyone said that Kerry's selection of Edwards was an inspired choice, but it's hard to make the case that it helped the ticket in November. No Southern state, including Edwards' home of North Carolina, voted Democratic that year. Similarly, for all the fanfare of having Geraldine Ferraro as the VP candidate in 1984 — the first woman to be part of a major party ticket — Democrat Walter Mondale still lost 49 states.

Conversely, from the moment he was chosen in 1988, Dan Quayle was a distraction, if not a danger, to the Republicans' prospects for victory. He was often made out as an object of ridicule and derision. And yet the Bush-Quayle team won 40 of 50 states that year.

But sometimes the VP choice does make a difference. Lyndon Johnson may have been what put John F. Kennedy over the top in 1960. Even if they didn't like each other — and we sure know of the antipathy LBJ and Robert Kennedy had for each other — it was a significant choice. Bill Clinton threw conventional wisdom out the window in 1992 when he picked fellow Southerner and baby boomer Al Gore. But their chemistry was apparent from day one. Contrast that with the shotgun marriage of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in 1996. They didn't care for each other when they both ran for the GOP nomination in 1988, and the relationship was not much better when they ran together eight years later.

Having just made the argument that the selection of a running mate is overrated, let's add a caveat here. Barack Obama's nomination has left some bruised feelings in the Democratic Party. Many women still feel that sexism cost Hillary Clinton the top spot. Some have threatened to vote for Republican John McCain in November. Others have said that they will pull the Democratic lever only if Clinton is on the ticket. Whom he picks will send a signal as to how he feels he can get all the Democrats on the same page in November.

For all the excitement and heart palpitations that Obama's likely nomination has created, it should not be forgotten that he is someone with all of three and a half years' experience in the Senate. And so it will be instrumental to watch how he attempts to solidify his credentials in the selection of a running mate.

Handicapping the VP Short List

First and foremost on the list is Hillary Clinton. She seems to want it, and her supporters are demanding it. Her classy and gracious departure from the race on Saturday may have been her finest moment. If Obama limped across the finish line en route to the nomination, losing primaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Puerto Rico and South Dakota, perhaps putting Clinton on the ticket — and her obvious appeal to women, Latinos, older voters and working-class whites — would be what the doctor ordered.

The problems of an Obama-Clinton "dream" pairing, however, are multiple. Yes, everyone is making nice now, but there are some truly bruised feelings in the Obama camp over how they viewed her tactics. If Obama stands for "change," what does it say about his picking Hillary, whom his supporters derided as part of the old politics (though, when you think of it, having an African American and a woman on a ticket seems to be the ultimate embodiment of change). The Republican Party still seems to be in some state of disarray, but having Clinton on the ticket could rejuvenate GOP voters. Perhaps most important, picking Hillary means you get Bill in the process. It's a variation of the "get two for the price of one" they successfully employed in his 1992 election to the White House, only this time without the pluses. The nation's premier Democrat when the race began, Bill Clinton's legacy has been severely damaged, perhaps fatally, for his comments, lecturing, blowups and finger-wagging that began in South Carolina and never let up. It may be true that Hillary would never have been a major presidential contender had it not been for Bill, but one can only wonder what her campaign would have been like without the distraction of Bill. As he became more shrill and out of control, she seemed to find her real voice, albeit too late. As it is, there are still many unanswered questions about the former president's business dealings — questions Obama is not likely to ignore.

Indeed, questionable financial transactions have already claimed one casualty in the Obama camp: Jim Johnson resigned as head of Obama's VP search committee on Wednesday afternoon. The former CEO of Fannie Mae, Johnson had come under criticism for receiving loans with the help of the CEO of Countrywide Financial — a firm under federal investigation for its role in the subprime mortgage crisis. In 1984, Johnson also led Walter Mondale's VP search committee. In picking Ferraro, that committee completely missed the dubious financial shenanigans of her husband, John Zaccaro.

(Another person on the Obama veep vetting team, Clinton administration deputy attorney general Eric Holder, played a role in helping fugitive financier Marc Rich get an 11th hour pardon from President Clinton. No criticism thus far for the third member of the team, Caroline Kennedy. But it's early.)

So If Not Hillary, Then Who?

Does Obama pick a woman to compensate for not picking Clinton? It's unlikely that Clinton's female supporters will be mollified by the presence of another woman on the ticket. Names that have been bandied about include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Interestingly, all three backed Obama over Clinton. Neither governor would help Obama with his lack of foreign policy bona fides, and McCaskill has been in the Senate for less than two years.

One governor who does have the resume is New Mexico's Bill Richardson. When he was running for president this year, many dismissed Richardson as someone simply angling to become Clinton's VP. He did seem deferential towards her during some of the debates. So it was a shock when he endorsed Obama in late March. A sputtering Bill Clinton, who spent Super Bowl Sunday trying to get Richardson to endorse his wife, was furious. One Clinton loyalist, James Carville, likened Richardson to Judas. Picking Richardson, who is Hispanic, might be an inspired choice, but it could anger the Clinton camp. (Still, don't rule out Richardson as the running mate.)

Looking for Foreign Policy Bona Fides

If foreign policy credentials are what Obama needs, he could do worse than Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who seemed to impress everyone this year — except the voters, that is — with his command of the issues and his detailed proposals for dealing with them. Biden, who stayed neutral in the Obama-Clinton battle, has been in the Senate since 1973. An agent of change? No. But Biden is a steady hand in an unsteady world. Perhaps a more likely secretary of state.

Sam Nunn's name has surfaced, which has struck us as odd. Once the preeminent Democrat on defense policy, Nunn represented Georgia in the Senate for four terms and served as Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. But he has been out of office since 1996, and he'll turn 70 this year. Surely the Democrats have someone with Nunn's national security resume without having to go that far back into the past.

That leads some to Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. A former secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration and a decorated war hero, Webb has a new book out and appears to be angling for the job. Webb would be a two-fer: a defense hawk from a potentially winnable state. But he can be a bit intense and somewhat quirky.

Tom Daschle's name has come up in recent weeks. The former Senate majority leader is an amiable figure who was instrumental in getting key superdelegates to board the Obama train. Two strikes against Daschle: He was defeated in his bid for re-election in 2004, and he failed to put South Dakota in the Obama win column on June 3. Plus, his state has only three electoral votes. (Though, by our calculation, it's the same amount Wyoming — home of Dick Cheney — has.)

Conventional Veep Candidates

If Obama is thinking conventional, and is concerned about key states he lost during the primaries, there's Govs. Ted Strickland of Ohio and Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania to consider. Both were Clinton supporters, and both were instrumental in her victories in these voter-rich states. Strickland has given NPR and others a Shermanesque pledge that he won't take the VP spot, and Rendell, who is notorious for speaking his mind, may be too unpredictable to add to the ticket. I have a hard time envisioning Obama choosing a running mate based on that person's ability to help carry a state. Too conventional.

Similarly, Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, an early Clinton supporter, may not possess the most impressive campaign skills. And he's no guarantee to bring Indiana on board in November; the state hasn't voted Democratic since Lyndon Johnson ran in 1964. But he brings a quiet confidence that could balance the rock star in Obama.

Others on the list: Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, retiring Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former NATO commander and erstwhile prez hopeful Wes Clark, and another, less political ex-NATO commander, retired Gen. James Jones. John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, has been mentioned, but he says he wants no part of it.

I have not yet wrapped my arms around a prediction; that will come soon, once I finally exhale. But who's your pick? Let me know and I'll devote an entire upcoming Junkie to it.

As for the Republican possibles, check out the April 2 column. I'm sticking with my prediction of former Ohio congressman Rob Portman as McCain's running mate. Names who were on that list and who I consider still to be among the potentials include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-D) of Connecticut — and probably in that order. Others mentioned, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Govs. Charlie Crist of Florida, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sarah Palin of Alaska, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, may be fading.

Time for two questions:

Q: Why won't you say anything about Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-OH) effort to impeach President Bush? - Susan Lawrence, St. Paul, Minn.

A: There's not much to say, at least not at the moment, other than the fact that Kucinich has introduced the bill and spent five hours on the House floor the other day spelling out his 35 articles of impeachment, charging President Bush with war crimes, endangering civil liberties and lying to the public. An earlier effort by Kucinich to impeach Vice President Cheney went nowhere, as Democrats for the most part hid from the attempt. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeated her position that impeachment was "off the table." If the Judiciary Committee, under chairman John Conyers (D-MI), plans to hold hearings on the bill, you will certainly hear more of Kucinich's effort.

Q: I see that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering running for governor in 2010. Has a NYC mayor ever accomplished that feat? - Joan Harrison, Buffalo, N.Y.

None has. Ed Koch, a Democrat elected mayor in 1977 for the first of his three terms, was considered a shoo-in to become governor in 1982, when Hugh Carey (D) was stepping down. But ill-advised dismissals of the suburbs ("it's sterile") and rural life ("a joke") badly backfired on him, and he lost the gubernatorial primary to the guy he beat for mayor in '77, Mario Cuomo.

Robert F. Wagner Jr. (D), who served three terms as mayor from 1954-65, tried to win a Senate seat in 1956 but lost to GOP state Attorney General Jacob Javits. John Lindsay (R, then D), a two-term mayor from 1966-73, attempted a comeback in 1980 by also running for the Senate, but he could do no better than finishing third in the Democratic primary. He also sought the Dem nomination for president in 1972.

Of course, the quickest rise in Empire State politics may belong to Grover Cleveland, though he hailed from Buffalo, not the Big Apple. Elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, he was elected governor of New York just a year later. And in 1884, he won the presidential election.


Maine: Democrats nominated Rep. Tom Allen by a wide margin to take on two-term GOP Sen. Susan Collins. Chellie Pingree, the former head of Common Cause, is the Democratic nominee hoping to succeed Allen in the 1st District; she will face former state Sen. Charlie Summers (R), who recently returned from serving with the Navy in Iraq.

South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) disposed of Buddy Witherspoon in the GOP primary by a 2-1 margin; Witherspoon ran as an opponent of the immigration overhaul measure championed by Graham and John McCain. The Democratic contest was too close to call as of this writing. Whoever wins the nomination — attorney Michael Cone or engineer Bob Conley — will be a decided underdog against Graham in November.

Virginia: The Senate matchup had already been decided in the party state conventions. The fight to succeed retiring five-term Republican John Warner is between two former governors: Mark Warner (D), no relation to John, and Jim Gilmore (R), who had a surprisingly tough fight to win the nomination against a little known challenger from his right. It's the Democrats' best shot at a Senate pickup opportunity in November. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11th), who once had dreams of replacing Sen. Warner, is retiring after seven terms. Running to replace Davis are Gerry Connolly, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors who defeated former Rep. Leslie Byrne in the Democratic primary, and first-time candidate Keith Fimian, a Republican businessman.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI: Comedian and Democratic activist Al Franken wins his party's nomination for the Senate in Minnesota to take on incumbent Republican Norm Coleman in November. Franken had been on the defensive for an article he had written in Playboy magazine that was seen by some critics as lewd and misogynistic. He was also accused of having failed to pay workers compensation insurance and back taxes for businesses he has owned. Franken remains one of the best-financed challengers of any Senate race in the country.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who continues in his bid for the presidential nomination despite numbers suggesting that John McCain has it wrapped up, is planning his own "mini-convention" in Minneapolis while the Republicans are meeting in nearby St. Paul. Paul is hoping that thousands of his supporters will fill the Williams Arena at the University of Minnesota on Sept. 2, the day before McCain will formally accept the GOP nomination.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), whose likely Republican opponent, Jim Ogonowski, was ruled off the ballot last week because of insufficient petition signatures, will apparently get his first primary challenge since he was initially elected in 1984. Attorney Ed O'Reilly got enough votes at the Dem state convention to force Kerry into a Sept. 16 primary. The Progressive Democrats of America, which backs O'Reilly, criticizes Kerry for having "failed to filibuster on Iraq funding, take leadership on single-payer health care legislation in the Senate and pursue impeachment" of President Bush.

John Frohnmayer, an independent candidate for the Senate from Oregon — whose brother Dave was the GOP gubernatorial nominee in 1990 — has ended his candidacy, citing lack of funds and support.

Several Democratic House members — notably Dan Boren of Oklahoma and Tim Mahoney of Florida — have pointedly refused to endorse Obama for president. Boren, the lone Democrat in his state's congressional delegation, dismisses Obama as the "most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate." Mahoney, who won Mark Foley's (R) seat in 2006, hasn't gone as far as Boren, but is keeping his distance from his party's presumed presidential nominee.


June 17 - Special election in Maryland's 4th Congressional District to replace Albert Wynn (D), who resigned. Donna Edwards, who defeated Wynn in the February primary, is heavily favored.

June 24 - Utah primary.

July 10-13 - Green Party national convention, Chicago.

July 15 - Georgia primary. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) is seeking re-election.

CHECK OUT NPR'S SENATE MAP: All 35 seats up in 2008 are analyzed on NPR's new interactive Senate map.

POLITICAL JUNKIE EVERY WEDNESDAY AT 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. ET. Now TOTN (and its Junkie sidekick) 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.

Want to be part of the live audience? The tickets are free. And you get to see what Ken Rudin looks like in person, a worrisome proposition in any case. Send an email request to

Sadly, however, some weeks are different than others. Bob Kenney of Kensington, Md., writes, "I went to the Newseum last Wednesday to see you in person, and was quite disappointed that you weren't there. Although seeing Scott (the Rat) McClellan on the show was of some interest, it just didn't make up for not seeing the 'Political Junkie' in person."

I have an excuse for this one. Some kid named Michael Rudin was graduating from high school that day. It was the first time in history that a Rudin graduated from high school, so it was indeed a special event. I assure you, missing Talk of the Nation will never happen again ... at least until I come up with another excuse.

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 goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? It's easy, and it's free! Simply go to the iTunes web site, type in "It's All Politics," and you're there.

A lovely note from Chris Abraham, who writes from Germany, "I am quite addicted to Political Junkie — I catch it on the podcast as I wander around Berlin. Excellent energy there. Now, the game begins!"

Another, more worrisome note, comes from Brian Engel, an American living in Yokohama, Japan: "I love 'It's All Politics' and the Political Junkie segment on TOTN. I have a question — how can I get your job? Just kidding (mostly)."

******* 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 political history: Gov. George Wallace (D) stands in the doorway to prevent Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach from helping two black students enroll at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, but later gives way following an order by President Kennedy to federalize the Alabama National Guard (June 11, 1963).

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