NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
After months of arm-twisting, sausage-making, and epithet-flinging...
Unidentified Man: Hell, no, you can't.
CONAN: President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law. It's Wednesday and time for a big (bleep)-ing deal edition of the Political Junkie.
President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?
Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.
(Soundbite of scream)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics, and the military metaphors flew around Washington the past couple of days: pyrrhic victory, Waterloo, Armageddon. We'll focus on what's likely to be a raucous run from here to November with Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber in a bit.
But there's other political news this week too: caucuses in Utah, a well-heeled Republican candidate for governor in New York, and deaths to note: Stewart Udall, Liz Carpenter and Edmund Dinis, the prosecutor in the Chappaquiddick case, plus a chance to talk with Rajiv Shah. The administrator of USAID took office five days before the earthquake in Haiti.
But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, just back from a trip to North Carolina Public Radio and our member station in Chapel Hill, WUNC. Ken, always good to have you.
KEN RUDIN: Thank you, Neal. Where they love as a matter of fact, they said they loved the Political Junkie and what's-his-name on Wednesday.
CONAN: And what's-his-name.
RUDIN: It was very touching.
CONAN: Heartwarming, yes, indeed. But as usual, we begin with a trivia question.
RUDIN: Okay, well, a lot of attention has been placed on the health votes of Democratic freshmen. As you know, first-term House members elected in a presidential year are always seen as the most vulnerable. Sixteen Democratic freshmen were defeated in 1994, for example, in Bill Clinton's first midterm election.
CONAN: The Contract with America.
RUDIN: Thats right. Okay, so name the two House Democratic freshmen elected in the Bill Clinton year of '92, defeated in '94, who are back in public office.
CONAN: So if you think you know the two Democratic freshmen who were defeated...
RUDIN: House freshmen, re-elected defeated for re-election in 1994, who are back in major political office - right now give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And, of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt. You've got to get them both. So 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Ken, we're going to be focusing on the electoral fallout of the health care bill, but this was, to quote the vice president, a really big deal.
RUDIN: Is that what he said?
CONAN: That's what he said.
RUDIN: Yeah, okay. Well, it was a very big deal, and for all the complaints about what President Obama did over the last 14 months, saying that he wasn't twisting arms like Lyndon Johnson used to do actually, Lyndon Johnson twisted more than arms (unintelligible) but he didn't do the kind of job, and you know, the Democrats were about to drop it, and when Scott Brown won on January 19th in Massachusetts, everybody said, well, that's it for health care.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats, stayed with it. President Obama stayed with it, and you know, whether it's a winning decision for November, the voters of course will decide, and we'll talk about that later with Anna and Vin, but a big victory for the Democrats on Sunday.
CONAN: In the meantime, some people were concerned with the level of vitriol both inside and outside the Capitol. Here's a moment from the debate. This is when Bart Stupak, the pro-life Democrat who'd been holding up approval of this bill, he and his allies, demanding clarification of the anti-abortion language in the bill, finally got an assurance from President Obama that he would sign an executive order. That was good enough for Bart Stupak. This is what happened when he got up to speak.
Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): Those who are shouting out are out of order.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Representative RANDY NEUGEBAUER (Republican, Texas): ...baby killer.
(Soundbite of crowd)
Rep. OBEY: Mr. Speaker...
CONAN: David Obey was there in the chair, and somebody yelled out baby killer, and of course, it turned out to finally find out who it was.
RUDIN: Right, it was Randy Neugebauer, a Republican, a conservative Republican from Texas. He says that he did not yell baby killer at Bart Stupak. What he did was, he yelled it's a baby killer, meaning the bill itself. So he apologized to Stupak, but of course that doesn't take away from the fact that the vitriol, as you say, was very ugly.
It was also very ugly when Democratic members were coming on Sunday, you know, going, walking from the Capitol, from the vote. There were protestors out there. There were homophobic, racist epithets hurled at Democratic members of Congress.
CONAN: And spit.
RUDIN: And there was spitting at black members of Congress as well. It was very ugly, and Republicans at some point look, Republicans can't be held responsible for the activities and the tactics of some of the more extreme people, and yet if they are part of the inciting of these people, at some point the party is going to have to decide which way to go, especially in the aftermath of the bill's passage.
CONAN: Well, Congressman Neugebauer backed away a little bit in an ad that he's running, trying to raise money for his re-election.
(Soundbite of advertisement)
Representative RANDY NEUGEBAUER (Republican, Texas): You know what? I'm never going to quit speaking on behalf of the unborn. I'm never going to quit speaking on behalf of the people of Texas and the people of the United States of America that find this policy unacceptable, and I will continue to speak with the same passion that I spoke last night, maybe in a little bit different form, but still with the same intensity.
CONAN: And we will see how the ad wars go as this runs up to November.
RUDIN: Yeah, and what Neugebauer is doing - we've seen this before -remember, it was about health care when Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled out you lie during the president's speech last September. It was Alan Grayson of Florida who said that Republicans want you to die, and of course he is also both Wilson and Grayson have been raising money, as have their opponents, on these so-called outbursts or whatever you want to call it, and Neugebauer is doing the same.
CONAN: In the meantime, we have - I think we have one person on the line who thinks they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Remind us. It is of the 16 freshmen Democrats who were elected in Bill Clinton's year of 1992, 16 were defeated for re-election. Two are now back in public life. If you think you know who they are, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Adam is calling from River Falls in Wisconsin.
ADAM (Caller): Yeah, is the answer Congressman Jay Inslee and Senator Maria Cantwell?
RUDIN: Well, we'll give you Cantwell because she did resurface as a U.S. senator, Maria Cantwell...
CONAN: Apparently he Can-well.
RUDIN: Yes, and of course, she's the answer for two weeks in a row, but Jay Inslee did not is not in Congress. So no, he's no longer in Congress. So...
ADAM: Actually, doesn't he serve in the First District in Washington?
RUDIN: Is Jay Inslee back in Congress?
CONAN: Oh, boy. We'll leave you on hold for a minute, Adam, while do a little Google research.
CONAN: In the meantime, we're going to put you on hold and see if we can but in any case, we were looking for another answer. It could be a two T-shirt week.
RUDIN: Or it could be Jay Inslee, too.
CONAN: In the meantime, it was the candidate for governor in the Republican primary in Texas who said that if she was either way the election came out, she would stand down from her seat in the United States Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison. News on that this week.
RUDIN: Well, she announced, of course, that she - either win or lose, as you say, she would withdraw from the Senate, resign from the Senate. And of course, a lot of people want her to do it before the gubernatorial race to show how serious she was about running against Rick Perry.
She lost to Rick Perry in the March 2nd primary, still hasn't resigned, and now there's a petition being circulated by all 30 of the Republicans of the Texas congressional delegation, Republican delegation, saying that, look, we'll never have on-the-job training. We'll never have somebody as strong, as effective as Hutchison. She should stay in office.
Now, a lot of people say that this may be a face-saving thing for Hutchison because it clearly, she didn't want to go voluntarily, and so maybe she may be talked out, shall we say.
CONAN: A draft.
RUDIN: Yeah, a draft, keep her from resigning. I think - you know who's behind that bill? Jay Inslee of Washington.
CONAN: It could be Jay Inslee of Washington. Adam is back on the line because our crack research team has shown that Inslee represents Washington state's First Congressional District. So Adam, congratulations, ding, ding, ding.
ADAM: Thank you. I've called in many weeks and I couldn't get through.
CONAN: And you're going to be the recipient, proud recipient, of well, and even better, you one-upped the Political Junkie. You're going to get a political junkie T-shirt, no prize, and you just put on hold and we'll of course, you have to send us a digital picture we can put on our Wall of Shame.
Meanwhile, there is one other of those 16 Democratic freshmen who lost in 1992 who is back in politics, and we'll accept answers on that too. But anyway, Adam is one of our winners this week. There may be another one.
RUDIN: Neal, what's happening to me?
CONAN: I don't know. I don't know. Meantime, there's also some progress or at least a candidate in the race for governor in New York on the Republican side.
RUDIN: Well, all along all the talk was about the Democrats, how David Paterson was self-imploding, how Andrew Cuomo would be the next governor unless Richard Ravage, the lieutenant governor, would take over once David Paterson resigned. But now there is pressure, there is interest on the Republican side.
First of all, the only Republican for the longest time who had been running is Rick Lazio, the former congressman who lost to Hillary Clinton in 2000. Then what happened last week is Steve Levy, the Democratic county executive of Suffolk County, which is on Long Island, who is a very conservative Democrat, anti-illegal immigration, things like that, announced that not only will he run for governor, but Ed Cox, Nixon's son-in-law, who is the state chairman of New York Republican Party, announced that he would endorse Steve Levy over Rick Lazio.
And now comes another millionaire Buffalo businessman by the name of let's see, Cal(ph) Paladino. I think that's his name, Carl Paladino, who says he'll spend $10 million of his own money in the race, and if he doesn't get it, then he'll form his own Tea Party third party thing to run anyway. So it's now there's some attention on the Republican side, not all good.
CONAN: On the Republican side - not all good. In any case, here's somebody else who thinks they know the other person who is the right answer in our trivia question this week. Kitty(ph) is on the line from Naples, Florida.
KITTY (Caller): Yeah, but I know I'm wrong. I got the dates wrong. It's Jane Harmon had a break in there, but I think she survived, actually, after the '92 or was it '94 slaughter?
RUDIN: Right, she barely she barely survived in '94, then ran in '98, left to run for governor in '98 and then came back.
KITTY: That's what it was.
RUDIN: She wasn't defeated, though, for re-election to the House.
CONAN: Thank for the call, Kitty.
KITTY: That's what it was. You win. You win.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: (Unintelligible) I knew an answer.
CONAN: Jerry's(ph) on the line, Jerry calling from Corpus Christi in Texas.
JERRY (Caller): Yes.
CONAN: What's your guess?
JERRY: It's Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas.
CONAN: Who may not be holding on to that seat for too long. Is she the person who has come back?
RUDIN: No, Blanche Lincoln was never defeated in her bid for re-election as a House Democrat. So she was not defeated. She retired when she had triplets, I think, and then she was elected senator, but she was never defeated in her bid for the House.
JERRY: All right, thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jerry, and this from Nathan in Minneapolis.
NATHAN (Caller): Is it Ted Strickland?
RUDIN: That is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding. Oh, and oh my gosh, it's a three-T-shirt week. Wendy has just emailed with Cantwell and Strickland, now governor of Ohio.
RUDIN: Yes, Ted Strickland, who was defeated after one term, came back, and he's now supposedly governor of Ohio right now.
CONAN: That's what we hear.
RUDIN: In a tough race against John Kasich, former congressman.
CONAN: So stay on the line, Nathan. We'll get your information. And Wendy, Wendy from I'm not sure where Wendy's from, but anyway, they have to promise digital pictures of themselves. It's going to be a busy Wall of Shame this week.
RUDIN: It's all my fault, though.
CONAN: It is your fault. It is your fault. Anyway, stay with us. When we come back, we're going to be joined by our regular political analyst, Vin Weber, who's a Republican political strategist, and Anna Greenberg, who's a Democratic pollster. We're going to be talking about the fallout from the health care debate, which wound up, well, on Sunday night after Democrats finally pulled together enough votes to pass the legislation. There's another vote in the Senate. We'll have to see how that goes, but nevertheless, President Obama signed it into law yesterday.
Stay with us. Political junkie Ken Rudin is 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. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
Political junkie Ken Rudin is here with us in Studio 3A, as he is every Wednesday. Last week on this program, Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union, the SEIU, said that his union would go after Democratic representatives who voted against the health care overhaul. On Monday, after the bill passed, in an interview with the National Journal, he promised to make good on that threat.
And also after the vote, Sarah Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, vowed to go after vulnerable Democrats who voted for the overhaul.
Long story short, health care pro and con could be a key issue across the country. We want to hear from listeners in swing congressional districts or states where there's a Senate seat up this fall. How is health care playing out where you live? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
We're joined by former Congressman Vin Weber, now a Republican political strategist and managing partner at Clark & Weinstock; and by Anna Greenberg, Democratic pollster, senior vice president and principal of Greenberg Quinlan & Rosner. They are both with us here in Studio 3. Nice to have you both back on the program.
Mr. VIN WEBER (Republican Political Strategist): Great to be back with you on this beautiful day in Washington, D.C.
CONAN: And Vin Weber, let me begin with you. You remember that - I think it was Jim Demint who said: If we can beat the president on health care, it's going to be his Waterloo.
Mr. WEBER: An inopportune choice of words on his part, but I think that if you actually take out the vitriol of that statement, sure, the president if the president were defeated on his primary domestic initiative, and he chose to make it his primary domestic initiative, it could've been something else, but it wasn't, it was health care it would have set him back tremendously in terms of his ability to control legislative process.
And that did not happen. I personally never thought it would happen. I thought the big question over the last year was not so much would the Democrats win when they brought something to floor but what would they bring to the floor. Would they see that the politics of a bill like they passed ultimately was too dangerous and scale back to something narrower?
They didn't do that. They decided to press ahead. They got the votes, and they won. Clearly, if he had lost, it would have not ended his presidency. I mean, you know, Bill Clinton lost, if you will, and he came back to be a successful president, but it certainly would have set this president back. And in terms of articulating a distinctly progressive agenda, it would have set him way back.
CONAN: Anna Greenberg, there was - as much celebration as there was in the East Room of the White House yesterday, there was also a great deal of relief.
Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Democratic Pollster): Absolutely. I think I agree with Vin that it would have been a disaster if we had not been able to pass something, and I think at one point people were saying just pass something. It doesn't matter what it is. Just pass something. Because I think that and of course, it does matter, but I think that the perception that he didn't have the political capital or the leadership didn't have political capital would have been devastating to a narrative that I think Democrats need to advance in the 2010 elections.
CONAN: And now, as the Republicans vow to campaign for repeal of course, that would have to be a veto-proof repeal - that's considered most unlikely by most people, at least at this point - but nevertheless, they vow to make this the number one issue between now and November. Anna Greenberg, is it going to play?
Ms. GREENBERG: I don't think so. First of all, I think it's a net positive for Democrats to have passed it. First of all, it helps advance a narrative that starts with, you know, raising the minimum wage, covering all kids under, you know, health insurance, and then here and perhaps even financial services reform, so you can actually go into 2010 saying you've done something.
Second of all, I think that people are going to see that the sky doesn't fall, that probably their lives don't change all. Since many of these things kick in in four years. So all the dire predictions about tax increases and death panels don't happen.
And finally, you know, the most important issue is going to be the economy. And so I welcome Republicans fighting on the ground of the health care bill when what people are really going to be incredibly concerned about in November is whether or not they have a job.
CONAN: Vin, is this going to be the number one issue?
Mr. WEBER: It'll be part of a number one issue. I have to explain that a little bit. As you might expect, I don't agree entirely with Anna on this.
Mr. WEBER: But with a lot of what she says. I do not think a campaign to, quote, "repeal" health care is going to be in the cards for very long. You're already seeing Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan from the House and others starting to replace the rhetoric of repeal with repeal, reform and replace.
My view is that ultimately the Republicans will run on a broad issue of expansion of government - borrowing, spending, deficits, taxing - and health care will certainly be a part of that, maybe even the centerpiece of that, but it'll be a broader issue.
The Republicans have done well on that issue. The polling not just recently but for months and months and months have shown rising public concern about the expansion of the government, particularly deficits and debt, but taxes as well, particularly in states where they have been raising local taxes, and I think that's where health care will help Republicans, is as a part of that broader issue, not as a narrowly focused campaign to, quote, "repeal."
RUDIN: Vin, but are Republicans helped by comments by John McCain, for example, who said that...
CONAN: We have that cut from John McCain. We were just going to play it. Here we go.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I want to make it very clear. People I represent in the state of Arizona are not going to sit still for this. They're going to want this repealed. We will challenge this in the courts. We will challenge this in the towns. We will challenge this in the cities. We will challenge this in the farms. We will challenge this all over America, and the will of the people will be heard.
CONAN: On the beaches, in the cities. Ken?
RUDIN: But he also said that don't expect cooperation from us for the rest of the year because of this. Now, one, I don't know what cooperation the Republicans have been offering this year, but I mean is a kind of statement like that from McCain helpful?
Mr. WEBER: I think that that I think the Republicans are very emotional about this, including Senator McCain but certainly not limited to him. You're right. There hasn't been a lot of cooperation over the last year or more, and I don't think I would broadcast that to the country.
I think that as we go forward, there are going to be a lot of issues on which there still is not going to be any cooperation. We'll see what the president does on his environmental and climate change agenda, but that doesn't look to me likely any more to be something we can cooperate on because I don't think he's going to want to compromise after having won a progressive victory on health care reform.
On the other hand, we have some issues that aren't really on the front burner with many people right now. We may have a START treaty with the Russians completed.
CONAN: It supposedly is completed as of today.
Mr. WEBER: Okay, well, you're ahead of me. That has to be ratified by the Senate. We do not want to conduct, you know, a centerpiece policy of the United States security policy on a partisan basis. So there's going to be some areas where there ought to be cooperation, as there has been, by the way, in Afghanistan.
This is not a foreign policy election as of today. It may not become one, but those are important issues, and I think at the end of the day there is a potential for cooperation on those issues, much less so on the domestic side of the agenda.
CONAN: There has been on jobs bills. But Anna?
Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely. And I think that the reason we saw cooperation on the jobs bill is that I think that Republicans understand that there's a real danger to being the, quote-unquote, "party of no," particularly when people are hurting the way they're hurting.
And you know, you have someone like Bunning holding up extending unemployment benefits. There's a perception that Republicans don't actually care about people, what people are going through.
I want to follow up on something that Vin said. I completely agree that as part of a larger attack on deficits and spending and expansion of government, that's where health care could be most effective for Republicans, and it is a vulnerability for Democrats, but I would argue mostly because we have not been able to demonstrate how it's affected people's lives in a tangible way when it comes to how they're doing, you know, financially.
And I don't know if we will be able to do that, but it's not because of spending for spending's sake. It's because it's perceived to have helped Wall Street, not regular people, and that's sort of the big challenge for us.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation. If you live in a swing congressional district, or if you live in a state where a Senate seat is up, give us a call. How is health care playing out in that election? 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. We'll start with Hugh. Hugh's with us from Oakland.
HUGH (Caller): So in our state it'll be Barbara Boxer who's up, and the Republicans are saying that they're going to defeat her. As a self-employed moderate, capital-M moderate Democrat, I support both the president and Barbara Boxer.
Our health care costs for our family, which go through my self-employment and small business, have been threatened with dramatic increases and, you know, potential problems due to medical conditions.
Related to that, I find it interesting that the polls out after the vote show that most Americans or close to 50 percent of Americans support the law, which is more...
CONAN: We were going to bring that up first, but Ken, on the senatorial election in California first?
RUDIN: Well, perhaps as Anna says, the Democrats may benefit from this, but we've seen numbers like Barbara Boxer and Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, trailing their Republican...
CONAN: Wasn't he defeated back in...
RUDIN: Yeah, along with Jay Inslee. But trailing because of a generic Republican surge that a lot of people were seeing prior to the vote. Now, of course, last year remember, last year at this time, Democrats were going to win everything, and the Republicans were just Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. Then when Scott Brown won in January, the Republicans were going to win everywhere, and Democrats, Daniel Inouye, they were all going to lose.
So we keep saying that these trends are starting, and they can disappear very quickly, at the turn of a dime, but for all we know, right now we don't know what's going to happen in November.
Mr. WEBER: But for the Republicans, I've got say a party that was, at the last election, shattered. Some people were saying the Republican Party should go out of new business, we need a new party. To be even competitive in the California Senate race shows that the Republican Party has come a long way in the last year.
I know Barbara Boxer. I served with her in the House of Representatives. Most of the time you'd say she wouldn't have even had a serious challenge.
RUDIN: Right. She's won the last two elections overwhelmingly, and now the last field poll has her trailing the Republican opponent.
CONAN: Anna Greenberg?
Ms. GREENBERG: But I argue this is generically about the economic environment we're in. It's certainly not about anything Republicans have done. There is no evidence from any poll that there's an improvement in the favorability ratings for Republicans in general, Republicans in Congress. If you look at partisanship...
Mr. WEBER: How about Republicans on this program?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GREENBERG: ...there's been in an increase in the percentage of people who call themselves independent but not Republican. So I think this is more of a generic reflection of the challenges that Democrats face.
CONAN: At the post health care vote polls...
Ms. GREENBERG: Right.
CONAN: ...did show a swing toward approval of health care. But there's an important question about how passionate people are, and it seems clear that those opposed to this are much more passionate than those in favor.
Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I'll make two points. First, whenever you ask the question of whether or not you favor or oppose the plan, for a long time we've seen the majority oppose. But let's be clear that there was still a majority of people saying we needed major - or basic(ph) changes to the health care issue or start fresh - you know, scrap it and start over. So there's - that sentiment has been a majority sentiment despite the fact this package in itself has been unpopular.
Now, you know, one poll, USA Today, had 49 percent, you know, saying that they favor this package. And we'll see, you know, one night, one poll. You know, we have to see where it goes. But, you know, it suggests that post passage there is the potential to build support for it over time in a way that could be very helpful for Democrats.
CONAN: Let's get some more callers on the line. Let's go Julian(ph), Julian with us from Norfolk in Virginia.
JULIAN (Caller): Hi. I'm a Democrat. I'm 23, recently graduated from college. I think - I live in Glenn Nye's district, Virginia, second. I think he's going to lose his race. I think that independents, Democrats, Republican, regardless, people want their representatives to stand for something. And the entire - I called his office dozens of times, and every time I call his office, he had his, you know, finger in the political wind, trying to see which direction it's going, the same thing with both of our senators here in Virginia, Warner and Webb.
CONAN: And, of course, Virginia just elected a Republican governor last fall. Ken, the Virginia second?
RUDIN: Well, what's interesting about that race is that many of the Democrats who are very nervous about the vote were either freshmen or elected in Democrats won by John McCain in 2008. Glenn Nye is one of the people who actually - Obama carried the district. So the caller may be right. There may be enough Democrats who are just angry at the fact that Glenn Nye voted against the bill in September and voted - in November, I'm sorry - and then voted against it again on Sunday. He may find that his base stays at home while the Republicans are still, you know, strongly against him.
CONAN: Julian, thanks very much for the call.
JULIAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate it. Were talking with, of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Also with us is Vin Weber, Republican's political strategist, managing partner at Clark & Weinstock, a former member of Congress. Anna Greenberg also with us, a Democratic pollster, senior vice president and principal of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. They are both with us here in Studio 3A. The Political Junkie is with us as he is every Wednesday. You can also read his blog at npr.org/junkie. You can also his find Podcast there and solve the ScuttleButton puzzle. But, of course, you can join him every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go next to - this is Mark(ph), Mark with us from Salt Lake City.
MARK (Caller): Hi, there. Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
MARK: I live in Salt Lake City, which is kind of an interesting district. It's a Democratic area in an extremely Republican state. And I'd say Matheson is our congressman. He votes with the Democrats more than you'd expect for someone from Utah. But I think Speaker Pelosi releases him to vote with the Republicans quite often. And he was one of the last undecideds in this case. At the last minute, he did voted no, so I think that what's happened here.
CONAN: It was extremely interesting. You have to think that some people were given the nod, Anna Greenberg, to vote no - not just this gentleman from Salt Lake City...
Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely.
CONAN: ...but you think of Frank Kratovil in Maryland and other people like that.
Ms. GREENBERG: Right. I mean, Nancy Pelosi is very smart, and she knows that she's got a lot of freshmen and sophomores running for reelection in Republican districts. And they are looking for every opportunity, Ken, to distance themselves from the leadership, call themselves independent. You will see their ads in November, will say that they're independent and they voted against the leadership X number of times. And so I think this is exactly right. She's smart enough to know that she needs to get people from these tough districts out on some big policy issues.
But, you know, what's interesting is that they also understand that we have to win some of these things in order to actually have something to run on in November. And so, obviously, people like him are prepared to vote for it if needed.
CONAN: And you couldn't get just 216 votes, the minimum, because then everyone would have been the deciding vote.
Ms. GREENBERG: Exactly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinski, right?
CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.
Mr. WEBER: And although it is a smart route for Matheson, probably, and others like that, it's limited protection. I mean, an off election is a turnout election. If the broad winds of politics, this time, turn more Republicans out because they're mad about the health care bill. They're going to kind of forget the fact that the Democrat from their district might have voted against it and they're going to just vote for the Republican. So it's limited protection. It's smarter than going - than throwing yourself on a sword in a conservative district, but it doesn't protect you completely.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mark.
MARK: No problem. Thanks.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Craig(ph), Craig with us from Wauwatosa in Wisconsin.
CRAIG (Caller): Yes. Wauwatosa, thank you.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
CRAIG: I was wondering what the panel thought of the Senate race, here, where you've got a Russ Feingold progressive advocate for this, who could very well be challenged by a very popular Tommy Thompson, a former governor, you know, health secretary. And he hasnt really come out, one way or the other, in terms of his position on this health care bill?
CONAN: We mentioned last week, Ken, that rumors that Tommy Thompson might be declaring for the race in governor.
RUDIN: He's still about a month away from the decision, but the fact is the polls showed very, very close, even though Thompson has been out of the governorship for a couple of years. He came to Washington for the Bush cabinet. But look, Russ Feingold is a good campaigner but he doesn't spend a lot of money on his campaigns and that's his decision. He just believes in that. So I mean, he's always vulnerable to a good challenge. And if anybody could beat him, it's probably Tommy Thomson.
Mr. WEBER: I pay a lot of attention to Wisconsin. It's actually my favorite state, east of Minnesota. And the upper Midwest, where I come from and where the caller comes from, is an area of the country that has probably swung fairly more dramatically than other parts of the country. You go back 20, 30, 40 years. When I first started out in politics, the five-state Upper Midwest region, I think, was nine Democrats and one Republican. A couple of election cycles, it's eight Republicans and two Democrats. Now, it's kind of going back the other way.
I don't know that you have seen that kind of a swing in another region in the country. So Wisconsin is a state that can go either way. Feingold is a very capable politician, but he's vulnerable in this climate if it continues to favor the Republicans - which is an if.
RUDIN: You also have strong unemployment in Wisconsin, one of the reasons why Democrat Jim Doyle decided not to run for reelection as governor.
CONAN: Yeah. And but...
Ms. GREENBERG: But keep in mind that, you know, for people like Russ Feingold - and he look at fund raising in terms of the parties and not the individual candidate, the DSCC will be in there helping Russ Feingold. So even if he himself doesn't raise a lot spend a lot, that's not a seat that the DSCC wants to lose.
CONAN: But very broadly, Republican fund-raising has been I would say, excellent thus far?
Mr. WEBER: It's picked up a lot, yeah. We've done a really good job. The House campaign committee still has a - is at a disadvantage from to the Democrats in terms of the amount of money they got on hand. They're raising as much but they didn't raised as much earlier.
CONAN: Thank you all very much. Anna Greenberg and Vin Weber who join us from time to time to analyze big-picture politics and, well, races in Minnesota and Wisconsin as well. And of course, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, our political junkie with us here in Studio 3A as he is every week. You can read his blog and download his Podcast at npr.org/junkie.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio; House Minority Leader): Hell, no, you can't.
CONAN: Oh, yes, you can. Ken, thank you very much.
RUDIN: I owe it all to Jay Inslee.
CONAN: When we come back, Rajiv Shah, the new administrator of USAID, joins us. He'll talk about the challenges of Haiti. He was into his job five days when the earthquake struck.
Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.