'Bellwether' New York Race Too Close To Call Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco are vying to replace Kristen Gillibrand in the House. The race is so close that a recount is under way. Also, the Justice Department moved to drop all charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens.
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'Bellwether' New York Race Too Close To Call

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'Bellwether' New York Race Too Close To Call

'Bellwether' New York Race Too Close To Call

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

Sixty-five votes separate congressional candidates in New York, 225 for the Minnesota Senate seat with 400 left to count, and another Obama nominee owes back taxes, $7,000. It's Wednesday, and time for an arithmetic 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 Senator BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

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

Secretary Hillary Clinton (U.S. State Department): Lipstick.

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

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Democratic Governor of Vermont): Ayyyyahhhhhhh!

CONAN: On Wednesdays, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics. G-20 is another number. President Obama arrived in London for the economic summit. The second time's the charm for former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. The Justice Department drops charges. And the DNC sends a rolling billboard through Rush Limbaugh's hometown.

But we begin, as always, with a trivia question. Political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, of course the hoopla is over the NCAA basketball tournament - hoopla.

CONAN: Hoopla, I like that.

RUDIN: Thank you very much. Okay, so we got to the Final Four, and here's a basketball trivia question, probably an easy one.

CONAN: Connecticut.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Who was the first NBA player later elected to the House?

CONAN: The first NBA professional basketball player later elected to the House of Representatives. If you think you know the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And of course, if you're the first person with the correct answer, you'll be sent one of our fabulous no-prizes, a T-shirt. And so 800-989-8255 or e-mail talk@npr.org.

In the meantime, we're going to focus a little bit later on the nail-biter in upstate New York, but Democrat Scott Murphy ended the night a whisker in front of Republican Jim Tedisco in the race to replace now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. But there's no doubt this was a national election.

RUDIN: Oh, it was, and both sides portrayed it as a referendum on President Obama's economic stimulus program. Of course, Scott Murphy, the Democrat, first-time candidate, a venture capitalist, said from the outset that he would have voted for the package.

Jim Tedisco, who is the assembly minority leader in New York has been in office for 29 years, obviously not a first-time candidate. He took a month before he finally decided how he would've voted, and I guess once the populist outrage over the AIG bailout became so pronounced, then there was the first time he said that, well, you know, I would've voted against it.

Now, all the polls had Murphy ahead. First of all, about two months ago, Tedisco had a huge lead because nobody ever heard of Murphy, and everybody knew Tedisco.

CONAN: They knew his law but nothing else.

RUDIN: Exactly right, but the last polls seem to show clear momentum toward Murphy, toward the Democrats. President Obama had endorsed him. As we heard earlier in the billboard, Vice President Biden spoke on Murphy's behalf.

And there were a lot of negative ads, mostly run by the Republicans, and I think it seemed to backfire against Tedisco.

CONAN: Let's hear one of those Tedisco ads that ran in the New York 20th Congressional District.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Here's what Scott Murphy never wanted us to know. He brags about bankrolling jobs in India then changes his resume to hide it, and Murphy gave huge incentives to corporate executives who were losing millions.

Murphy's just another Wall Street millionaire, hiding a past that's threatening our future.

CONAN: And of course, what's worse than a Wall Street millionaire? How about an Albany politician?

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Announcer #1: They're hurting through no fault of their own. Still, Jim Tedisco refuses to support Barack Obama's economic policies. He calls the job-stimulus law pork, but when one of his biggest campaign contributors needed a job, Jim Tedisco created a $100,000 government job just for him - at taxpayer expensive.

Refuse to support jobs for Americans who are hurting, but take care of your friends. That's an Albany politician for you.

CONAN: Don't you love American politics?

RUDIN: I do, and I don't think the listeners realize this, but the music in the background, that's from "Tedisco Inferno," the famous disco song.

So anyway, the Democrats are saying well, of course, it's a big victory for us because there are 71,000 more Republicans in the district, and until 2006, when Gillibrand won her first seat, the Republicans have been winning it forever.

And Republicans, of course, point out the fact that Obama is very popular there, Schumer…

CONAN: He won by 51 percent.

RUDIN: Well true, but I mean, it just shows what's happened to the Republican Party in New York State. Now they only have three out of the 29 seats. The Republican Party has not been doing well, and of course with the momentum seemingly going in Murphy's direction, Republicans kind of were happy.

CONAN: Well anyway, we'll go more in-depth on the New York 20th later in the broadcast. In the meantime, we have some people who think they know the answer to our trivia question: Who was the first NBA, former NBA professional basketball player to be elected to the House of Representatives, and let's start with - this is Jim(ph), Jim calling us from Elkins Park in Pennsylvania.

JIM (Caller): Yes. Would that be Bill Bradley?

CONAN: Bill Bradley, of course a professional basketball player with the New York Knickerbockers and won a championship.

RUDIN: Yes he did, and of course, he was elected to the Senate, not the House.

CONAN: From the state of New Jersey.

RUDIN: So not the correct answer. He was the first, probably, elected to…

CONAN: Jim, Jim calling us from Elkins Park in Pennsylvania.

Oh, sorry Jim. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: Oh, how does Neal Conan wind up in that guy's house?

CONAN: Here's an e-mail from Gregory(ph). He says Udall of Arizona.

RUDIN: Well, that's interesting because he was a basketball player, and I think - I don't know if he played for the NBA. Oh, I hate when I'm…

CONAN: Oh, now you're confused. We got another one, this from Ken(ph) in Pittsburg who also says Mo Udall.

RUDIN: Well, Udall was a basketball player, and I think he was a professional basketball player, but I don't believe he played for the NBA.

CONAN: Well, we'll take these under advisement. We'll do a little research, and if they're right, they'll get a no-prize.

RUDIN: By the way, the interesting thing is when Mo Udall was hurt, they took his name upside down, and it said ow. I just thought I'd point that out to you when he was…

CONAN: Let's go to Larry(ph). Larry's with us from Afton, Virginia.

LARRY (Caller): Yay. I think it's Tom McMillan from Maryland.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Right. Tom McMillan played for the University of Maryland. He also played for the Buffalo Braves, and the Knicks, and the Washington Bullets, when it was then known as the Bullets - and then he was elected a congressman from Maryland in 1986.

So I believe McMillan's the first former NBA player to serve in Congress, but we should check on Mo, Larry and Curly Udall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We'll put those emails aside. Larry, we'll put you on hold and get the information so you can collect your no-prize.

LARRY: Hey, can I just say that I love Ken's sense of humor?

CONAN: I knew there had to be one out there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Wait, dad? Is this dad?

LARRY: Someday, Neal, you're going to have to reveal where you are from, from New Jersey.

CONAN: Englewood.

LARRY: Oh there you go. I'm from Teaneck.

CONAN: Hey, neighbor.

RUDIN: Wait, Fort Lee.

CONAN: Hey, Ken is in Fort Lee. We're all in the same district.

RUDIN: All from Bergen County.

CONAN: Thanks, Larry, hold on.

LARRY: All right.

CONAN: Just to mention another former NBA player, I'd say an even better player than Tom McMillan and Bill Bradley - Dave Bing is running for mayor in Detroit.

RUDIN: That's right. Dave Bing is running for mayor of Detroit in the May 5th runoff against the current mayor, Kenneth Cockrel. Of course, Cockrel became mayor when Mr. Kilpatrick left to go to prison. So Dave Bing has a possibility of becoming the next mayor of Detroit.

CONAN: Let's go to that other landslide election we've been watching, that, of course, the Senate race in Minnesota.

RUDIN: My goodness. Well, there's some news, and I think it's significant news, but who knows how quickly this will resolve everything. Yesterday, the three-judge panel in Minnesota announced that instead of the 1,700 or the 1,100 votes, previously rejected absentee ballots that Republican Norm Coleman wanted the panel to review, the panel said okay, on April 7th, which is next Tuesday, they will look at 400 previously rejected votes.

Now right now, Coleman - I mean, I'm sorry. Al Franken, the Democrat, has a lead of 225 votes. So…

CONAN: If they're only counting 400, it gets very tough for Norm Coleman.

RUDIN: You need like 57 percent. Coleman needs to win 57 percent of the votes that are about to be counted for him to surpass that 225. So except it may not be over then.

Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, says that when the three-judge panel rules, which will probably be on April 7th, it's very possible that the Democrats will declare yes, Al Franken is the next senator, but Ben Ginsberg, who's the attorney for Norm Coleman, has said we are going to the state supreme court. You are disenfranchising, you know, thousands of legitimate voters. So it'll - it's not over yet.

CONAN: So this could drag on for years, the fact of the matter is. But nevertheless, we may get a senator seated within months.

RUDIN: We'll have a winner in New York 20 before then.

CONAN: Okay, which could be later in this month. Anyway, Governor Kathleen Sebelius - not-yet-Secretary Sebelius - on Capitol Hill, where she had to explain, among other things, why she didn't pay some taxes.

RUDIN: Right there was $7,000 in back taxes. This is regarding the sale of a home, I believe, and while, you know - except that everybody will look at the headline, saying one more Obama Cabinet official has tax problems.

And again, it's just, you know, more embarrassment, more damaging stuff for the Obama administration. The size of the mistake or the, you know - may not be a big thing, but again it's the headlines that matter.

CONAN: The Republican ranking member on that committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, says no big deal. These are understandable mistakes. Nevertheless, the impression.

Beyond that, there was a corruption charge against Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. He was found guilty just before election day, a race that was tight as a tick up there in Alaska - he barely lost - and now the Justice Department has admitted prosecutorial misconduct and it's dropped the charges.

RUDIN: It's remarkable. A lot of people, you know, NPR broke that story, Nina Totenberg broke that story, and when she did, a lot of people thought it was an April Fool's joke because they couldn't believe it was true.

And of course, this is very interesting because it was the Republican, well with quotes around it, "Republican Bush Justice Department" that brought the case against Ted Stevens. And of course, had they not brought this case and had he not been indicted and later convicted, it's very possible that Ted Stevens would still be in the Senate today.

I just wanted to let you know, I put a little, a note on my political junkie blog today that the Justice Department has also thrown out the results of the 2008 Alaska Senate race and that Mark Begich, the Democrat victor, is very upset. That was an April Fool's joke.

CONAN: That was the April Fool's joke. Okay, just to make that clear because you got some hostile reaction.

RUDIN: Mostly from this building, yes.

CONAN: Mostly from this building. I can understand that. In the meantime, polls show that while President Obama's policies are having some difficulty - not only with Congress but some with the American people - he himself remains very popular.

RUDIN: It reminds me - those exact words - that's exactly what they said about Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, that personally he's very popular, but a lot of people are having problems with his policies.

Now, there's a lot of questions about whether President Obama has done the right thing regarding Rick Wagoner at GM and how to deal with the auto industry, compared to what they've done to the banking industry and the insurance industry.

And there are some questions about more troops to Afghanistan. Some people on the left are not happy about that. But he remains very personally popular.

CONAN: And we have found out, our crack research staff - Carlene(ph) Watson -has looked it up on Google, and according to Wikipedia, Mo Udall played for the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball League, which predated the National Basketball Association.

We just saved ourselves a couple of T-shirts there. Thank you, Ken. We'll be back with more on the New York 20th and why this is going to take some time to figure out. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Today in upstate New York, the campaign is over, the election, though, too close to call.

At last count, Democrat Scott Murphy is ahead of Republican Jim Tedisco by less than 70 votes. President Obama was not running, of course, but his policies were a major factor in the campaign.

Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday afternoon. You can read his blog and download his Podcast at npr.org. And now we'll go to New York.

Brian Mann is a reporter for North Country Public Radio who's been covering the race for now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's old seat in New York's 20th Congressional District.

If you've been following this race, if you have questions about what it meant and, well, who's going to win, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Brian Mann joins us now by phone from Saratoga Springs, in the heart of the New York 20th. Nice to have you with us.

BRIAN MANN: Great to be here.

CONAN: And what's the latest? When are they going to start counting the absentee ballots?

MANN: They've already started going through, you know, the recount, and the margin is now down to about 25 votes. Because of military ballots, a court case decided last week, they're going to wait until April 13th to even start opening the absentees. So it'll be mid-April before we really get close to knowing how this thing's going to turn out.

CONAN: And the military ballots, they're waiting for those to make sure that they have time to come in?

MANN: That's right. This was a special election. It was thrown together very quickly, and at first, there was some concern that folks stationed, you know, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places just wouldn't have enough time to cast their votes.

So the Justice Departed waded in, and that was the compromise that was reached.

CONAN: And the recount should be over today?

MANN: Yeah, the local, you know, what they've actually got in the boxes now, and they've started that, and I've started to see some new numbers coming out from across the district, and it has tightened up.

It's hard to imagine this thing could get any tighter than it was, but really it's down to just, you know, a razor margin.

CONAN: Twenty-five votes out of how many cast?

MANN: It was 150,000 votes. So you know, you just can't get any tighter. All those people who didn't vote yesterday, feeling sheepish today.

CONAN: And - all right, we'll take this argument from two sides. Democrats would say hey, this is a Democratic businessman, never ran before in politics, a virtual unknown who comes into this district with 71,000 - increase advantage for the Republican in terms of registration there. The Republican National Committee and others spent twice as much money as we did. Even a tie is a victory for the Democrats.

MANN: Well at this point, they don't want to settle for a moral victory, but I do think they've got a moral victory, at least, on their hands.

This is a district that was literally designed for Republicans to win. It was sort of gerrymandered, created for a GOP House seat, and the fact that the Democrats have been able to come in and compete with a complete unknown. And remember, Scott Murphy's running against the most powerful Republican in New York State politics.

Jim Tedisco is a name brand, powerful, well-connected, and you know, scandal-free. This is a solid politician. And so for him to be caught up in a tie of this kind, it's just not a great showing for the GOP.

CONAN: From the other side of the equation - hey, this is a district the Democrats have carried, not just now-Senator Gillibrand, but in fact, Chuck Schumer won in that district, and Barack Obama won in that district, and Hillary Clinton won in that district. So for us to even tie, we're doing well.

MANN: Yeah, well, the question that they are trying to answer is why is it that Chuck Schumer and those folks are starting to win districts like this? But yes, they are looking for a floor.

They're saying we want to prove that we can now start moving back into these districts where the Democrats were doing better and better and compete again and start winning again.

And so if they can pull this off, if they can squeeze out a few extra votes and Jim Tedisco can make it to the House, this will be a big morale boost. It'll certainly be a big credibility builder for Michael Steele at the RNC who threw a lot of his weight and money behind this.

So yeah, this will be a big start for their efforts to sort of look towards 2010.


RUDIN: Brian, first of all, great reporting on the election - excellent job. I have a question. There's a discussion that if Tedisco actually wins this race, the Democratic legislature - and they control both the assembly and the state senate - when they redraw the districts in 2010, and New York has to lose a seat, this is the seat that they're going to get rid of if Tedisco wins. Have you heard that?

MANN: I think it's almost certain. This is - you know, you look at the shape of this district. It was clearly gerrymandered pretty extravagantly to create a Republican district, and we are going to lose a House seat here after the census.

And so, there was some theory that that was why the Democrats initially didn't throw much weight behind this race and only sort of charged in after Scott Murphy began to really build momentum. So I think that redistricting thing is very real.

CONAN: We're talking about the New York 20th, which runs up the Hudson Valley from Albany through Saratoga Springs, where our reporter, Brian Mann, is located. He's with North Country Public Radio.

If you have a question about this election, which turned into a national election, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Jason(ph) is on the line with us from Florence, South Carolina.

JASON (Caller): Hey, how are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

JASON: I'd like to know, is there a military base or reserve unit, National Guard unit, that's currently deployed that could sway this towards the Republican side?

CONAN: So is there a unit from that district who's either in Afghanistan, Iraq or somewhere else in the world who may be voting in?

JASON: That's right.

MANN: Yeah, we have a lot of reservists and National Guard soldiers who serve from across this district. It's a very rural area with high military involvement.

So this is something that's being debated by the two parties right now, just how significant the military vote will be. And I've got to tell you, I just don't know the answer yet to that. I haven't seen hard numbers on how many of those ballots will be military ballots. And you know, the Democrats here are also claiming that they're just doing better with those military voters, so that they're not as certain that they would lose that part of the contest. So that's going to be an interesting set of numbers to see as this next couple of weeks unfolds.

CONAN: Jason?

JASON: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, appreciate the phone call. And as we look ahead, were there any local issues in this election?

MANN: You know, there really weren't, and the reason is that this guy, Scott Murphy, this Democrat, is a complete unknown, and so what he did is he just grafted himself onto Barack Obama's political brand.

He started talking about the stimulus package, just immediately, as if it was sort of the Holy Grail for this district, that this would bring the jobs back and kick-start things, and Jim Tedisco obliged.

He said okay, let's talk about that national stuff. And you know, really look. The unemployment in many parts of this district is over 10 percent already. So the recession has hit hard here. The national economy is the issue that voters seem to be concerned about. So I guess you can sort of say that the national is the local.

CONAN: And how was turnout?

MANN: Huge, 150,000. I think that people were simply shocked. I think there had been a lot of predictions that this would be, you know, pretty sleepy and that the person who sort of turned out their grandmother and their cousins would win this election, and instead, all across the district, turnout was very heavy.

CONAN: Let's get Mark(ph) on the line. Mark's with us from New Briton, Connecticut.

MARK (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my call. I was looking at this on CNN. Hello?

CONAN: Yeah, you're on the air. Go ahead.

MARK: Yeah, I was looking at this on CNN's Web site this morning, and there was a little one line note saying that the Republicans have filed suit to impound some absentee ballots. And I'd just like to know, you know, what's the basis for that, and what's the ramification of it?

CONAN: Brain Mann?

MANN: The Republicans moved very aggressively to make sure that state police were literally picking up the boxes of ballots as the polls were closing. They just called it a preventative measure, and you know, they are carefully going back through some of those ballots already today.

But I think it does sort of presage the litigation that's very likely to follow here, if this remains as close as it appears now. Everybody's lawyering up here, and so you know, the kinds of post-election court fights that you're seeing now in Minnesota - very likely that that kind of thing is brewing here.

MARK: Is there any kind of colorable claim that there was some mishandling going on, or is this just a preventive measure?

MANN: I've seen no allegations specifically about any kind of misdeeds here yet, but it's early.

RUDIN: And let me just read something that Jim Tedisco said after the election was over - the voting stopped. In an email he sent out: We need to raise as much money as possible in the coming days to stop Nancy Pelosi and the national Democrats from stealing this election with a lot of lawyers and dirty tricks.

And the NRCC executive director sent out a note and said Democrats have almost succeeded in stealing the election in Minnesota and seating Al Franken. We cannot allow them to manipulate electoral results and seat another tax-troubled liberal. So this is obviously the Republican theme in the intervening days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And has anybody mentioned those who live by the recount should - well anyway. Thanks very much for the call, Mark.

MARK: Thank you.

MANN: You know what I want to say is that as soon as this court fight, assuming one comes, is over, it'll be just about time to start campaigning for 2010 in this district. So really, all of this is going to sort of trail right into the next storyline, I think.

CONAN: Let's get Rich(ph) on the line, Rich with us from Lansing, Michigan.

RICH: Yeah. My question is not necessarily about New York. It's about all of them. When there's a tie like this going on, is the incumbent supposed to stay in and vote for these districts, or are they just without representation, or what goes on? I feel kind of strange not knowing this, but…

CONAN: Ken, let's ask the junior senator from Minnesota.

RUDIN: Well exactly. There is no junior senator from Minnesota. Norm Coleman's term ended on January 3, and in the intervening days since then, Minnesota has only had one senator. So there will be no member of Congress until it's resolved.

CONAN: Because Kirsten Gillibrand, the previous incumbent, of course, is now a member of the United States Senate. She can't serve in two bodies at once.

RICH: That's crazy. I can remember Gore backing out, if only for the good of the country, shouldn't - I mean, don't they have any, you know…

CONAN: That was after some months.

RICH: That was. But they…

RUDIN: That was 69 days. That wasn't…

RICH: But it happened before January 20th.

CONAN: That's two months.

RUDIN: Well, yeah.

CONAN: Thanks, Rich.

RICH: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

RUDIN: And that's a good point, because what's going on in Minnesota now, there is a lot people who are starting to say, well, if Coleman cannot win in the state Supreme Court, maybe it's time to give it up. And though there were some Republicans like John Cornyn, who said go to the…

CONAN: Of Texas.

RUDIN: …go to the - who is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who said let's go to the U.S. Supreme Court which, I think, ultimately, they're…

CONAN: They've won there before.

RUDIN: …they'll wear out the patience of Minnesota voters.

CONAN: And let's - one last call on this, John in Reno, Nevada.

JOHN (Caller): Good morning.

CONAN: Yes, go ahead, John.

JOHN: I just love your program, and I'm a first-time caller. And my comment is, you know, if they're challenging the election in the Midwest, now they're challenging it in upstate New York. I'm just getting to the point where why is it - why should I even go and vote, because somebody's going to come along and challenge it and take it to court, and wind it up for the next, well, six months to a year.

CONAN: Well, I guess that's one way to look at it, John. Another way is to say, look, in this election, every single vote counted if you've got a 25-vote lead after 150,000 people went to the ballot.

JOHN: Yes, I understand that. But my point still saying is, if they're going to challenge everything, even if it's a close vote, then just why even go and vote? Let the other people just fight it out in the court.

CONAN: All right, John, thanks very much. Well, we hope you'll get over that by next Election Day.

JOHN: Okay.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

JOHN: Sure. Bye.

CONAN: Well, it should be next Tuesday. There's an election every week.

Brian Mann, what's the next step here?

MANN: Well, you know, I think we're going to see how these numbers come in, and then I do think that we really do kind of slide right into 2010. This race has real implications for what the Republican Party thinks that it can accomplish in the Northeast. They've got some openings in Connecticut, New Jersey. Here in New York, there are some signs of weakness in the Democratic Party.

But if they can't win this one in this very Republican upstate district, you know, they're just going to have to calibrate, you know, where to spend the money, you know, what kind of candidates they can get. So I think people are really going to be looking at this closely to see, you know, what it augurs for next year.

CONAN: Brian Mann, thanks very much.

MANN: Thank you.

CONAN: Get some sleep.

Brian Mann is a reporter for North Country Public Radio, with us by phone from Saratoga Springs in New York, the heart of 20th Congressional District.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Ken, President Obama has gone off to London and the G-20 Summit. He's meeting with the president of Russia, and going on to talk with the prime minister of Britain and meeting the queen, all of that. But before he left, a lot of politics surrounding his announcement about the auto industry in Detroit.

RUDIN: Well, exactly right. There are some people who say that the way he treated the auto industry is almost like punitively, especially given the fact that it affects so many workers in Ohio and Michigan and states who were very crucial to his election, compared to the folks at AIG or the banks and things like that, which almost got, you know, got as much money and much help as it could.

Now there's a big difference between the collapse of the - of the insurance industry and General Motors. But still, a lot of people are saying that there's a disproportionate reaction to Obama's policy.

CONAN: And to demand the resignation of the head of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, who stepped down after he was told by White House officials that he ought to do so, a lot of people said, hey, they didn't do that with the head of the banks.

RUDIN: Exactly right. I mean, when you head of GM looked like that Obama had his head and his hands when he held that press conference. But again, I think there's a disproportionate reaction of what, you know, what it portends for the future of - and there's still a lot of Republicans who are saying, well, this is government control of private industry. This is the socialism that we warned about if Barack Obama wins. But, of course, we haven't had an economic situation like this in a long time.

CONAN: And stories today in the papers, the government, the executive branch plans to have control over the appointments to the board of GM.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: Right. And so the story goes on.

In the meantime, getting back to more normal politics - if anything in politics can be considered normal. Sarah Palin - of course, the Republican vice presidential nominee last time around, governor of Alaska - was set to come into town to make some speeches for the Republican Senatorial and Congressional Campaign Committees.

RUDIN: Well, this is very bizarre. I mean, there have been a lot of bizarre stories, and this is especially bizarre. Apparently, the offer was made some time ago and the people who were running her pack said, sure, she'll attend. This is a June fundraiser for the Republican Senate and House and Congressional Campaign Committee. But then when you ask Sarah Palin's gubernatorial staff, they knew nothing about it.

There are two sets of people who seem to be advising Governor Palin. It's the folks up in Alaska that - and some people in Washington. And it's very possible that two of them don't talk to each other. So, ultimately, Sarah Palin begged off from the speech. She says that, you know, she has budgetary problems in Alaska that she has to deal with, and Newt Gingrich will be ultimately the speaker in Washington.

But for all that well-oiled march towards 2012 that some people see for Sarah Palin, there are a lot of stumbles.

CONAN: Let's get Will on the line, and Will is calling us from Evanston, Illinois.

WILL (Caller): Hey, Neal. Hey, Ken. You guys were just joking about elections every week, and I wanted to remind you that next week, we have a special election in Chicago to replace Rahm Emanuel.

CONAN: Rahm Emanuel, of course, now the White House chief of staff.

WILL: Right. And we had the primaries several weeks ago, where they - there was something like 25 candidates in the primary. And they ended up with three candidates for the general election. And we're having municipal and a special election next Tuesday.

CONAN: And this is a seat, an election that is not necessarily going to be considered a cliffhanger.

WILL: Well, no. But actually, the Democratic candidate was considered somewhat of an underdog, a sort of reformer type on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. And so now he is expected to handily win that seat in the 5th Congressional District.

CONAN: This is one of those areas where the verb tantamount, the word tantamount is often used.

RUDIN: Well, we're talking Mike Quigley, a former Cook County commissioner. And, of course, he was endorsed by both the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune back in - when they used to have newspapers back then.

CONAN: They're both bankrupt, yeah.

RUDIN: Exactly right. But…

WILL: That's correct.

RUDIN: And I think only one Republican has won that seat. That's the guy who beat Dan Rostenkowski. That's the old Rostenkowski district. Only one Republican…

WILL: Who is that, Mike Flanagan?

RUDIN: Michael Patrick Flanagan, exactly. And he's the only Republican since, I think, 1066 to win in that district.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: So I think Quigley is assured of victory on April 7th.


CONAN: Will?

WILL: I was just going to say, next Wednesday, you guys can have another election to talk about.

CONAN: We will definitely have another election to talk about. Will, thanks very much for the call.

WILL: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

WILL: Have a good day, now.

CONAN: You, too.

Ken Rudin is going to stay with us because coming up, say it ain't so, Sam. ABC newsman Sam Donaldson signs off from full-time work. We'll look back on more than four decades of change in Washington, D.C. If you'd like to talk with the longtime White House correspondent and host of "This Week," give us a call: 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us.

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

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