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Political Junkie

Election 2008

Political Junkie

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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NPR's Ken Rudin talks about Rick Warren's interview with Barack Obama and John McCain at Warren's Saddleback Church, last week. Rudi also reviews new attack ads and that elusive veep spot.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington, D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business.

(Soundbite of audience applause)

CONAN: The candidates talked values at Saddleback Church and foreign policy to the VFW. Both declared the other guy out of touch and still no word about running mates. Check your cell phones, any text messages? It's Wednesday and time for our weekly visit with the political junkie.

(Soundbite of Political Junkie Intro)

CONAN: NPR political editor, Ken Rudin, joins us every Wednesday to talk about the presidential campaign and other political news. This week, convention speakers Al Gore in Denver and Joe Lieberman, who looks to be booking a flight to St. Paul. The candidates court veterans and evangelicals. There's a sharper tone, new attack ads, new and tighter poll numbers, and later on we'll focus on the pros and cons of McCain and Obama veep possibles.

Later in the show, why TV focuses on gas prices, newspapers, on mortgages, while the cable TV and talk radio find little to argue about: coverage of the economy.

But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us at the Newseum. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: You have a trivia question for us?

RUDIN: I do. I'm going to be talking about vice presidents later in the show, but who is the last person to give a presidential nominating speech and then later get named to the ticket as vice president?

CONAN: Last person to get - to make a presidential nominating speech and then later be tabbed U.S. vice president.

RUDIN: The running mate.

CONAN: If you think you know the right answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. You can also zap us an email, talk@npr.org. If anybody here in the audience at the Newseum thinks they know the answer, we'll happily accept your offering, as well.

But Ken, we have to begin with some sad news out of Cleveland about Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones.

RUDIN: Right. She's 58 year old, the first black woman elected to Congress from Ohio. She suffered an aneurysm Tuesday. She was rushed to the hospital Wednesday and we just learned that she had died. She was taken off life support, and she died 58 year old.

She was a pretty amazing woman, a very strong, opinionated member of Congress, a big Hillary Clinton supporter. When a lot of African-Americans were pressured, a lot of African-American members of Congress were pressured to back Barack Obama, she said, no, I gave my word to Hillary Clinton, and she stuck with her, and she was one of Clinton's most forceful defenders and supporters in Congress.

CONAN: I had the opportunity to meet her at a performance at Case Western Reserve University there in Cleveland, in her district, and what a charming woman.

RUDIN: She was a fascinating woman and a lot of fun, absolutely.

CONAN: Yeah. We're going to miss her.

RUDIN: Big loss.

CONAN: Anyway, the upshot of your trivia question is that even if you're listed as a speaker at a convention, that doesn't necessarily mean you're not going to get the vice-presidential nomination.

RUDIN: Right. That's probably because when the Democrats announced their speaking agenda the other day, and you saw all these people, you say, wait a second, I thought this was going to be vice president. So you see Tim Kaine, the former governor - the governor of Virginia, you see all these senators, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, all those people speaking on different days, but what if they're VPs? And of course, if they're VPs, they will have their own day on Wednesday night.

CONAN: Well, also Al Gore, we're learning, is going to speak before Barack Obama does from Omaha Stadium.

RUDIN: That's right. He will not be VP, he's been there, done that he says, but...

CONAN: He said so right on his program, so we know it's true.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: Republicans announced their speakers, as well, today.

RUDIN: Right, the big news, of course, is Rudy Giuliani is the keynote speaker. Democrats already announced theirs as Mark Warner. It's interesting, the Democrats are kind of looking ahead. Mark Warner is a rising star running for the Senate in Virginia.

CONAN: Very heavily favored.

RUDIN: Heavily favored against Jim Gilmore. Rudy Giuliani's best days perhaps are behind him. Former mayor of New York City, former presidential candidate who was hoping to become the president of Florida this year. He did not make it that far.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

RUDIN: But doesn't look like he has a political future, but again, he gave a very stirring speech in New York City, Madison Square Garden in 2004, as a major Republican. And it's interesting, you know, he is pro-choice, pro-abortion - he's pro-abortion rights, pro-stem cells, pro-gay rights, pro-handgun control, and yet here he is being the keynote speaker. So there always seems to be more moderate speaking at Republican conventions than I've ever seen before, and yet ultimately, you will not see a moderate, certainly you won't see a pro-choice guy on the ticket.

CONAN: Well, it remains to be seen, it remains to be seen.

RUDIN: Sorry, sorry.

CONAN: Anyway, we've got some people with - think they know the answer to our trivia question. Again, the answer is who is the...

RUDIN: The question is.

CONAN: Last person to make a nominating speech at a political convention and then wind up on the bottom of the ticket as the vice-presidential candidate. Who knew? Let's see if we can get an answer. Cora(ph), Cora joins us on the line from San Antonio.

CORA (Caller): Would it be Truman?

CONAN: Henry - Harry Truman from Missouri.

RUDIN: No, actually, Harry Truman did not nominate. As matter of fact, nobody - Harry Truman did not nominate Roosevelt, but he was a surprise. When they dumped Henry Wallace at the 1944 convention, named Harry Truman, big surprise, but Truman did nominate FDR.

CONAN: Thanks for...

CORA: Thank you.

RUDIN: And by the way, FDR was named after that highway in New York. Very few people know that.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

CONAN: Now let's get Sean(ph) on the line, Sean with us from Norfolk in Virginia.

SEAN (Caller): Hi. Is it Al Gore?

RUDIN: No, it was not Al Gore. Al Gore was not the keynote speaker - was not the nominating speaker for Bill Clinton. Speaking of Bill Clinton, if you remember, Bill Clinton gave the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis in 1988, that I think started on Monday and ended on Thursday.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: One of those classic speeches. When he said, and in conclusion, the place...

CONAN: Erupted in applause.

RUDIN: Exactly. But nope, it was not Al Gore.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Sean.

SEAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go now to Christian, and Christian is with us from...

CHRISTIAN (Caller): South Carolina.

CONAN: South Carolina. Go ahead, please.

CHRISTIAN: Was it Walter Mondale?

RUDIN: Nope. It was not Walter Mondale. No, it was not - he did not nominate Jimmy Carter in 1976, but close guess. It's getting closer.

CONAN: Well, let me - maybe we should give him a clue.

RUDIN: No.

CONAN: Oh, OK.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Jim on the line, Jim with us from Iowa City.

JIM (Caller): Hi, yeah. I called about with a comment, and I happened to have a guess for this, as well. I thought it might be Congressman Miller in '64 for the Republican.

CONAN: An obscure guess, but Ken?

RUDIN: Ken, that's right.

CONAN: Another obscure guess...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: A good guess, but no. Actually, Bill Miller was a very surprise pick for vice president by Barry Goldwater. Goldwater used to say that Miller drove LBJ nuts and that was what the reason he picked him, but he was not - he did not - it's somebody more recently than that who...

CONAN: And later Miller was a surprise pick for the Miller Lite ad.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: Jim, you had a comment?

JIM: I kind of thought it might not - wasn't entirely fair to call Barack's new ads defending himself "attack ads."

CONAN: Well, we'll listen to the ad later and then you'll make up your mind, all right?

JIM: He's really only defending himself. He may be going on the offensive a little bit, but it didn't respond.

CONAN: All right.

JIM: It wasn't quite fair to call it an attack.

CONAN: All right. Well, listen to it and make it up your own mind. OK?

JIM: OK. OK, thanks a lot.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Chris, and Chris is with us from Gainesville in Florida.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, Chris.

CHRIS: I'll say Spiro Agnew.

RUDIN: Hey, Spiro Agnew is the correct answer!

(Soundbite of audience applause)

RUDIN: One of our great vice-presidents of all times.

CONAN: Of all times, yes.

RUDIN: What's fascinating about that is that Richard Nixon I don't think even knew who Spiro Agnew was. He knew, I mean, he picked him to dominate him at the Miami Beach Convention, '68. He said, yeah, I kind of like this guy. I think it was an inspiring pick and vice - and I think Spiro Agnew was one of the great vice presidents until he resigned in disgrace.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Chris, you are the winner of this week's no-prize.

RUDIN: It's the nolo contendre prize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: In this case, yes. A phrase - well, made popular by Spiro Agnew when he pleaded no contest to charges against him.

CHRIS: Right.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chris.

CHRIS: OK, bye-bye.

CONAN: And we were mentioning earlier that the campaign ad for Barack Obama, a lot of Democrats had been asking him to be a little bit sharper in his responses to John McCain, worried that he might get swiftboated as John Kerry was four years ago. And the rhetoric has been a little sharper on the campaign trail, and interestingly, the ads that we're all seeing on the Olympic Games, the nationally broadcast ads, are unrelentingly positive for the Obama campaign.

Here's an ad that's been running a little bit under the radar, this one running in the state of Indiana.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican Presidential Presumptive Nominee, Arizona): I don't believe we are headed into a recession.

Unidentified man #1: I think we're absolutely in a recession.

Unidentified woman #1: I sometimes struggle just to get the essentials, you know, the milk, the bread, the eggs.

Unidentified man #2: There's been great progress economically.

Unidentified man #3: The economy is in a rut.

Unidentified man#4: We've had a pretty good prosperous time with low unemployment.

Unidentified woman #2: The way the economy is, it is the bleakest of times. I'm worried. I'm really worried.

CONAN: And at the end of the ad, you see on the screen, how can John McCain fix the economy when he doesn't think it's broken?

RUDIN: OK. Well, in fairness, which is something we don't usually deal with here...

CONAN: Of course not.

RUDIN: But in fairness, a lot of those John McCain words were taken out of context. I mean, he said those words but he also talked bad about the economy. Factcheck.org said that a lot of this was taken out of context. But having said that, you're absolutely right. Barack Obama - a lot of the supporters of Barack Obama have been upset. The fact that there have been relentless, non-stop, anti-Obama commercials from the McCain camp, from the Republican side, and they really feel that he needs to get off the stick.

But again, having - we've seen that in the polls that they've narrowed. Early nine - eight, nine-point lead from Obama a few weeks ago is now four or five points. And Democrats, again, as you say, are very nervous about being swiftboated.

CONAN: And the subject of the Iraq War came back to the forefront and foreign policy at the VFW conference in Orlando, Florida this week, where Senator McCain went on the attack again against Barack Obama, arguing that he had shown poor judgment not to support the surge.

Senator MCCAIN: The surge has succeeded, and yet...

(Soundbite of applause)

Senator MCCAIN: And yet, Senator Obama still can't quite bring himself to admit his own failure in judgment, nor has he been willing to heed the guidance of General Petraeus, one of the great leaders in military history, or to listen to our troops on the ground when they say, as they have said to me on my trips to Iraq, let us win. Just let us win.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: And in response, Senator Obama said, hey, I'm not questioning my opponent's patriotism like that or anything like that, but he also went on the attack a little bit talking about remarks by Senator John McCain. And he said them very quietly.

RUDIN: He's a very soft-spoken guy.

CONAN: Really, very quiet.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Presidential Presumptive Nominee, Illinois): A year ago I said that we must take action against Bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights and Pakistan cannot or will not act. Senator McCain criticized me and claimed that I was for, quote, "bombing our ally." So for all this talk about following Osama Bin Landen to the gates of hell, Senator McCain refused to draw in my call to take out Bin Laden across the Afghan border. Instead, he spent years backing a dictator in Pakistan who failed to serve the interest of his own people.

CONAN: Senator Barack Obama in repost to John McCain, both of them addressing the veterans of foreign wars. Of course, they were also at the Saddleback conference earlier in the week, I guess at the end of last week on Saturday, in Orange County, California, and appeared on stage for a minute. They won't be back on stage together, I guess, until they're at the first debate.

RUDIN: September 26th, right?

CONAN: Exactly.

RUDIN: In Oxford, Mississippi.

CONAN: Ken needs to go check his BlackBerry again for any new text messages, see if we have word of a vice president. Speaking of vice presidents, we're going to talk more about the pros and cons of those on the short list for both parties in just a moment. Your calls, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting live today from the Knight Studio inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. We're here with Ken Rudin, our political junkie and NPR's political editor. Of course, next we'll talk with him from Denver, from the Democratic Convention, and after that, he heads to perdition(ph) - no, no, to St. Paul, for the Republican Nomination Convention.

Today, we want to focus on the other half of each party's ticket. The buzz this week is all about the veeps. Who will it be? When will we find out? Do you think the candidates should choose a running mate, somebody who will help win the election, or pick a vice president? Who should it be? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And of course, we'll take comments from people here in the audience at the Newsuem, as well.

As we look at the short list, nobody knows, actually, who is on the short list, do we?

RUDIN: Well, no. I mean, Barack Obama aids will say who they would like to see on the short list, and the names we've seen are Virginia governor Tim Kaine, we've seen Evan Bayh, the senator from Indiana, Joe Biden from Delaware, but Barack Obama and John McCain, too, have been very tight-lipped about that. And I think that's kind of good.

CONAN: We're expecting the Obama announcement today, tomorrow, maybe Friday.

RUDIN: Well, he's going to have a big rally in Chicago on Saturday afternoon.

CONAN: Springfield, I think.

RUDIN: Is it Springfield?

CONAN: Yes.

RUDIN: OK. So anyway, so there is - the guess is even perhaps Thursday or Friday, have two days of, you know, congratulations...

CONAN: Media bounce, yeah.

RUDIN: Media bounce, right. Exactly, and then have the big rally in Illinois on Saturday.

CONAN: And John McCain is expected to make the announcement on the Friday after the Democratic convention, and which also happens to be his 72nd birthday.

RUDIN: Exactly. August 29th. Now of course, it's also the beginning of the Labor Day holiday weekend, and the question of whether that news of a running mate might be lost in the holiday weekend. But he obviously wants to curtail whatever bounce that Obama gets out of the Denver convention.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. Jim is with us, Jim from Iowa City in Iowa.

JIM (Caller): Oh, yeah, hello.

CONAN: Hi there.

JIM: Yeah, I mean, I think it's important, obviously, that a qualified vice-presidential candidate be picked, although I think it's possible to entirely separate the politics from it. If you don't pick a good political choice, you may not win the election. So what good - (unintelligible) that he's not vice president.

CONAN: That he will never be vice president.

JIM: Yeah. That's right. But I think the Democrats are loaded with potential candidates. Richardson, Biden...

CONAN: If you had to pick one, Jim, who would you pick?

JIM: I like Bill Richardson a lot.

CONAN: The governor of New Mexico, former...

JIM: Yes.

CONAN: Secretary of Energy, former...

JIM: Although - yeah. Former secretary of a number of things, and although I like him, he's also a good potential secretary of state or defense, as well. Wesley Clark, I think, is a very good choice, too.

CONAN: Former general in charge of NATO and the man in charge during the Kosovo War.

JIM: Kosovo, yeah. And not withstanding, I believe his comment that being a prisoner of war and being shot down absolutely is not a qualification. There are plenty of people who were shot down that are not qualified to be president and there are people who were not shot down who are.

CONAN: You have to remember the first President Bush got shot down, too. So it's not a disqualification, either.

JIM: No, it's not a disqualification, that's not what Wesley Clark said. He just said it wasn't a qualification, which is absolutely correct.

CONAN: Is Wesley Clark on the short list, do you think, Ken?

RUDIN: I don't think so. I think Jim is exactly right that he did not say that John McCain was not qualified because he was shot down, but it did serve to be a distraction to Barack Obama, one distraction that Barack Obama didn't need.

And we could talk about, you know, great running mates in history, but one of the most ridiculed running mates in history was Dan Quayle, who was an embarrassment from the moment he was picked because of his connections, how he got out of Vietnam, how he served the National Guard in the middle of the Vietnam War. And yet, the Bush-Quayle ticket, 1988, won 40 out of 50 states. So we can wave all we want about VP choices, but ultimately, I think voters pick the presidential candidate.

CONAN: Thank very much for your call, Jim.

JIM: Oh, I wanted to mention, too, about the ad you had on earlier. It's sounds like from John McCain's rhetoric, one of his comments was that listen to the troops on the ground, they say, just let us win, just let us win. Does he know which war he's fighting? It's sounds like to me he's still fighting the Vietnam War.

CONAN: Well, we'll leave that right there. Thank you very much for the call, Jim.

If you wanted to go to NPR's Web site at npr.com, you can read the Political Junkie's column this week, which...

RUDIN: Except it's on npr.org.

CONAN: npr.org. Well, I think it will switch over on there automatically.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Nevertheless - I do know who I work for, don't I? Or maybe not. Anyway, Ken Rudin's column this week is about the various selections for vice president in the recent past.

RUDIN: Going back to 1964. And there were some doozies(ph), I mean, we talked about Spiro Agnew and Bill Miller, but even good ones like Geraldine Ferraro broke history and women were ecstatic and feminist groups were ecstatic and yet ultimately, the conversation turned to her husband's - Geraldine Ferraro's husband's finances. Fairly or unfairly, it proved to be a distraction. Nobody was going to beat Ronald Reagan in 1984, but Mondale didn't need that kind of distraction.

CONAN: So that's at npr.org for Ken Rudin's Political Junkie column. And we've been talking about the Democrats. Who's on the Republican short list?

RUDIN: Well, let me just say one thing because I'd like to say that because I am always wrong - I want to put this out - but Jack Reed, to me, the senator from Rhodes Island, makes the most sense of all the Democrats because remember, when Barack Obama was running for the nomination against Hillary Clinton, he said that it was his judgment, he made the right judgment to oppose the war in Iraq from the beginning. Jack Reed, unlike Joe Biden, unlike Evan Bayh - and Bayh was actually a cheerleader for the war - unlike at least several others of those, Jack Reed opposed the war from the beginning. He's very strong on foreign policy.

CONAN: West Point graduate.

RUDIN: West Point graduate, former army paratrooper, very strong on the foreclosure part of the housing bill, and he accompanied Barack Obama to Afghanistan and Iraq. The fact that I'm predicting it's Jack Reed, you know it will not be Jack Reed.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Marie(ph) on the line, and Marie is calling us from Syracuse in New York.

CONAN: Marie, are you there? OK. Let's not go to Marie. Let's go instead to - this is going to be Terry(ph) in El Dorado in Kansas.

TERRY (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

TERRY: Where Barack Obama's parents - grandparents were from. But the question I had was, I always - I'm 60, and I always thought that it was after the political conventions or at the political conventions where the vice president was announced and even the candidates, you know, weren't too sure until the convention happened. But it's like, why do we have conventions if they have already picked their - going to pick their running mates and started debating one another?

CONAN: The answer to that question is pretty simple: TV. But Ken, when did that change happen?

RUDIN: It changed - first, the Democrats - well, first of all, he's absolutely right. The famous story of 1952, when Natalie Stevenson walked into the Democratic Convention as a non-candidate, came out as a nominee. I mean, things used to happen at conventions. The Democrats - then the vice presidents were always picked at the conventions until '84 when Walter Mondale named Ferraro about four days prior to the convention.

Republicans always picked their vice presidents at the convention until 1996, when Bob Dole picked somebody he couldn't stand, Jack Kemp, and it showed during the campaign, but after the Dole - Jack Kemp was the first VP on the Republican side picked before the conventions.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Terry.

TERRY: Thank you, and that's interesting.

CONAN: Let's get a question from here at the Newseum.

RUDIN: Is that the first person who ever said that anything I said was interesting?

CONAN: Yes, I think it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I like that.

CONAN: First time for everything.

Unidentified Audience Member: Hi. How important is it for Obama, in this election in particular, to choose a vice-presidential candidate that puts Obama in the best position to bite into the southern red states?

RUDIN: Well, that's why they're talking about people like Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia. Virginia has not voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, but they feel with Mark Warner running for the Senate, with Jim Webb being very popular there, with Tim Kaine on the ticket, perhaps that gives Obama, you know, some "in" there. But ultimately, you can make the case that the presidential race will be won and lost in the Midwest, as it was in 2004. Had John Kerry won in Ohio, he would have been president today and John Edwards would be vice president.

CONAN: He would. Yes.

RUDIN: So perhaps they are looking at the Midwest for a running mate there, you know, in that location.

CONAN: You also mentioned earlier, you didn't think that the Republican vice-presidential nominee would be a pro-choice nominee, yet there's still a lot to talk about Tom Ridge and Joe Lieberman.

RUDIN: Yeah, I know. The names are out there. I have a feeling that they're trial balloons, and I think John McCain wants to make people think that, well, you know, he's moderate, he's listening to those kind of voices, but there would be a mutiny at the Republican Convention in St. Paul if they picked Tom Ridge, with whom he's very close, and actually, he's very close with Joe Lieberman, as well. But with Lieberman, Lieberman is also, you know, on every issue except for the war and national defense, Joe Lieberman is a solid Democrat.

CONAN: But Joe Lieberman can help him carry Georgia, the one in the caucuses. You don't mean the Iowa caucuses.

RUDIN: No.

CONAN: No, I just wanted to say. The other people on the list are supposedly still Mitt Romney, the former governor or Massachusetts, and Tim Pawlenty, the current governor of Minnesota.

RUDIN: Right. Pawlenty seems to be a conventional pick, although I think it would be Pawlenty. He's very popular with the evangelicals, he's young, he's very close with - unlike Mitt Romney, who McCain doesn't really get along with that well, Pawlenty is close with McCain. They get along well, and I think having the convention in St. Paul, to have their favorites on governor come out as a nominee, would be a dramatic moment.

CONAN: So we put the kiss of death on Jack Reed and Tim Pawlenty.

RUDIN: It will be Good and Plenty.

CONAN: Good and Plenty. Anyway, let's see if we can get a...

RUDIN: Wait, there are boo's. There are boo's. There are boo's.

CONAN: Are those - Choo Choo Charlie up here. Come on.

RUDIN: They got in for free and they're booing.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to - S. Barry is - have I got that right?

BARRY KENSIE(ph) (Caller): Yes, Barry Kensie.

CONAN: Go ahead, Barry.

BARRY: Yeah, I'd like to ask that gentleman if there's any of the vice-president picks that are capable of being able to put the organizational skills together in order to get us off of foreign oil in the next 10 years, and if he has any ideas on Republicans or Democrats, of people that have the skills and the belief system in order to believe that we can do that?

CONAN: Yeah. If you look at the campaign ads, Ken, the one thing that you all seem to agree on is windmills.

RUDIN: Right. You've been tilting at them. But clearly, you know, you see the candidates saying all along that - I mean, we've been going back for decades, since Jimmy Carter, saying, we've got to rid ourselves of the dependence on foreign oil. But ultimately, I think, though, it seems that things seem to be changing. There are fewer and fewer miles have been driven since the prices shot up. And of course, if the price comes down again, I think people will go back to their old habits.

CONAN: Nevertheless, it seems to be a central tenet of both campaigns. A national security issue, as John McCain paints it, and more of an economic issue, as Barack Obama paints it.

RUDIN: Right. But I think the Democrats have been much stronger on that, yes.

CONAN: Thanks for the call. We have a question from here at the Newseum.

CECILIA (Audience Member): Hi. I'm Cecilia from Chantilly, Virginia. And I'd like to know, what are the chances that Colin Powell is under consideration by Obama as the VP choice?

CONAN: Colin Powell would be a dramatic choice.

RUDIN: It would be because if you go back to 2000, he was the keynoter at the Republican National Convention. And here he is, a possible running mate for Barack Obama. I suspect, no, even though - I think Colin Powell certainly took a hit by defending the Iraqi War with the information he had before the UN, and I think his star has faded. But there's a speculation in Washington that in the next couples of weeks, if not by October, that he will endorse Barack Obama, which would be a dramatic move on Colin Powell.

CONAN: Of course, the last buzz was that he would appear at the convention and speak on Obama's behalf, and he sent an email to the Washington Post saying he's not planning to go to either convention.

RUDIN: Right, that's right. But the expectations and endorsement of Obama - but of course, he would also be 72 years old, and if you're going to make fun, as many Democrats have been doing about John McCain's age, it's kind of interesting to put a 72-year-old guy on the ticket, as well. Colin Powell will be 72.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Ryan in Alexandria, Virginia. He may be listening to you. "Jack Reed, Jack Reed, Jack Reed, Jack Reed, Jack Reed. Can I also suggest Jack Reed?"

RUDIN: Well, that's proof that it will not be Jack Reed. Here's what we know. The speculation in Washington also seems to be on Joe Biden, and here's why it could be Biden. One, Biden has not said anything in over two days.

CONAN: That's a shock.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

RUDIN: Believe me, it's a shock. I mean, he was just - you know, he was in Georgia. He met with Shaskashvili...

CONAN: Saakashvili.

RUDIN: Thank you very much. And - but I mean, he - you know, he's a very - he'd be a great attack dog, he's a very good debater, and he's quite funny. But I suspect, though, that the fact that he hasn't said anything...

CONAN: He's also very presentable, don't you think? And clean?

RUDIN: Well, can you imagine Barack Obama saying, I'd like to announce Joe Biden, my clean and articulate running mate.

(Soundbite of audience laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Ken Rudin, our political junkie about the pros and cons of the veep candidates. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's see if we can get - this is Carrie(ph). Carrie's on the line with us from Buffalo, New York.

KARL(ph) (Caller): It's Karl.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize.

KARL: No problem. Anyway, first, let me preface my question with the fact that you and all of your staff over there are a breath of fresh air on the radio, and that's not a pun, seeing that Fresh Air is one of your shows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

The first time ever in this morning's newspaper, I see Obama losing in the polls. Not that I am a big fan of polls. But at this point, I can't seem him winning with anyone else as VP except Hillary. And I say that not being a big fan of Hot Hillary, either. I'll take your answer off the air. Keep up the great work.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much for the compliments and your kind words, Karl. Hillary Clinton, any chance that she's still on the list at all?

RUDIN: Let me think for a second - no. No, actually, though, what's interesting about this is in this most unconventional year, you know, everybody feels that the Obama people and the Clinton people don't like each other. You bring Hillary Clinton on, you have Bill Clinton, which we've seen can be, you know, disruptive to many Democrats as we've seen during the most of the year.

But having said that, there are lot - there's a sizable contingent of Clinton supporters who have not gotten over what happened, the way the primaries ended up, that some polls show that up to 25 to 30 percent of her supporters say they will not back Barack Obama. Some are threatening to vote for John McCain. That could be, you know, in such a peevishness that it would go away when you - considering what the choices are. But again, there are some people who really feel that such a ticket would unite the party. I just don't think it's going to happen at all.

CONAN: By the way, there is apparently some question about the condition of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. Our earlier report that she had died was from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, their Web site, cleveland.com. So remains to be - CNN has also been reporting it, as well. But - so we'll leave that question open, at least for the time being. Anyway, let's go to Ryan, Ryan with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

RYAN (Caller): Hi. Thanks so much for taking the call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

RYAN: I wanted to ask you if you believe that Mitt Romney might enhance John McCain's chance to taking the Midwest, particularly considering his history in Michigan and his father is governor.

CONAN: His father, of course, governor of Michigan, and Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary, and he would also help with the - well, not that he needs any help in Utah.

RUDIN: Right. I mean, he's won his three home states - Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah. There are some evangelical conservatives who said that they feel an uneasiness about Romney. He's Mormon in religion. That still has come up above something. But I think more importantly, Romney - first of all, Romney and McCain clearly did not like each other during the primaries. They sniped at each other, unlike Mike Huckabee, who got along well with John McCain.

But also, Mitt Romney is a late convert to the abortion - the anti-abortion position. He was pro-choice when he ran for governor in 1998. He was pro-choice when he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. A lot of people feel that he converted to this pro-life position, you know, anti-stem cell position because he was trying to get conservative votes running for president. So there is that flip-flop angle that has been raised against Mitt Romney.

CONAN: Thanks...

RYAN: All right, thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Ryan. And before we go, one other news item out today, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the Republican from Alaska long term, appealed to a federal court that his trial could be held in Alaska so he could simultaneously campaign for re-election, and that appeal was denied today.

RUDIN: It was denied today because they said that the thing that Ted Stevens had been indicted for, lying on the Senate records, that lying took place in Washington, D.C. I mean, Stevens' argument, of course, is that there's no place like gnome.

CONAN: Aah.

RUDIN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. They're booing again. But it's going to hurt him. He probably will win the August 26th primary, but he's in trouble to win in November.

CONAN: And they said that they could hold the trial just four days a week. That will allow him to get back on weekends. Of course, that would delay a verdict. He hopes to be vindicated as soon as possible so he might win that race in the Senate in Alaska.

RUDIN: One more state that looks pretty dicey for the Republicans. It looks like Democrats will pick up at least four or five Senate seats in November.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much, as always.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: We'll talk with Ken Rudin next week from Denver at the Democratic Convention. Up next, what you know about the economy may depend on whether you get your news from the newspaper, the radio, or the TV covering the economy. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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