NEAL CONAN, host:

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

It's mid-June, four months to go before the mid-term elections, and Democrats are generally smiling. Though President Bush's approval rating has ticked up a bit recently, both he and his signature policy - the war in Iraq - remain unpopular. His push for an immigration bill looks all but dead. Approval ratings for the Republican-controlled Congress are in the tank, a Republican former official was convicted yesterday in the widening Jack Abramoff scandal, which helps Democrats who campaign against a culture of corruption, and history argues persuasively that the mid-term election in a president's second term is always bad news for his party. Add it up, and the Democrats see a replay of 1994, when Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and his contract with America, seized control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.

Republicans say, not so fast. We are the party of values. We're the party of ideas. We've become the natural party of government. We still control both houses of Congress, which gives us control of the legislative agenda. And with so many safe seats come November, we can concentrate our money and our resources on the relatively few races that might be close.

Well, later in the program, a conversation with one of the stars of the new documentary Word Play. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Democrats in the Democrats in the midterms, today, another giant-sized edition of our regular Political Junkie feature. If you have questions about Republican's tactics and strategies for the midterm, give us a call. If you voted Republican before, are you going to vote the same way in November and why, or why not?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255; that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Joining us now, as he does every Wednesday, is NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin. The latest edition of his Political Junkie column is up - is going up?

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Is up, as we speak.

CONAN: On our Web site, at npr.org. And he's with us here in Studio 3A. Ken -welcome to the program, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal. Before we talk about the midterms, some of the news of the week. Instead of hammering out an immigration bill between the House version and the Senate version - very different versions, though - Congress decided to hold hearings around the country about this thorny issue. This was not the normal way reconciliation works on Capitol Hill.

RUDIN: Well, not Congress, the House. Specifically, the House. And the House Republicans have never been happy with what the Senate passed, which was more in tune to - regarding guest worker programs; whereas the House version was mostly about border security. And most Republicans care about border security more than they do about the guest worker program.

Dennis Hastert said yesterday - yesterday, I think it was - that he goes home and nobody talks about the guest worker program. They talk about securing our borders, and most House Republicans feel the same way.

CONAN: So what is this tactic going to do, other than punt this issue?

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly what it does. They want to push it beyond the November 7th elections, perhaps maybe putting it into a lame duck post-election session. But what it does is they'll have seven or eight Congressional hearing in Washington and around the country - in July and August - and basically what it does, it gives opponents of immigration a chance to, you know, get further enflamed and hold these hearings - because they watched what happened to Brian Bilbray, the Republican Congressman, San Diego, California 50th District, last month. And basically what he did was he ran against the Senate immigration bill...

CONAN: And his president.

RUDIN: And his president. That's a very important point to mention. He - John McCain was supposed to come in for a fundraiser for him, but he cancelled because Bilbray opposes McCain, opposed what the Senate Republicans put together, and supports the House bill.

I should say also that in - even though we talk about the Senate bill that supports guest worker programs, 32 of the 55 Republicans opposed it.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: Matter of fact, now the Republicans are calling it the Ted Kennedy bill. Not even calling it the Specter-McCain bill anymore.

CONAN: Right.

RUDIN: So both Republicans in both Houses of Congress are not happy with this bill.

CONAN: The House can schedule those hearings, because the Republicans control the House of Representatives. They can schedule whatever bills they want to hear; and the same kind of deal in the United States Senate, where they also control. And that's why both the House and the Senate have been debating the war in Iraq. But strictly, for the most part, on Republican terms.

RUDIN: Absolutely, and, you know, what you said when you led off the program was a very important point - that the war is not popular, the president is not popular, the Republican Congress is not popular, and yet you look at the front pages of all the newspapers, and it's the Democrats who seem to be tied in knots over what to do, what kind of language to have about an Iraqi resolution. John Kerry's offering a resolution that's to be debated on tomorrow in the Senate that puts a date certain for U.S. troops - would leave from Iraq. And Democrats are scared to death that Karl Rove and, you know, those kinds of folks are going to paint the Democrat party as a cut-and-run party. And they say that's not the way to go. So even though the war is popular - even though the war is so unpopular, the debate seems to be, and the angst seems to be, on the Democratic side.

CONAN: And that shows up in the State of Connecticut, where Joe Lieberman, just a few years ago the Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States, is facing a very tough primary challenge, as it turns out.

RUDIN: And it's all about Iraq. I mean, Ned Lamont is a former selectman from the city of Greenwich, who really opposes Lieberman for the fact that Lieberman has never apologized or backed down from his vote in 2002 to authorize to go to war. He supports the war in Iraq, he has questions about the way the president is conducting the war; but he's still pro-war, and he defends that vote, and many Democrats are opposed. And now, they're even talking about if Joe Lieberman should lose the August 8th primary, there's some rumors that he might even run as an independent against this non-entity of a Republican candidate and Lamont, who would be the Democratic nominee. But that's how scared, apparently, the Lieberman campaign is on this one.

CONAN: And one more item before we get to the main news that we're talking about this, and that's Republicans in the mid-term elections. And if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255; or e-mail us: talk@npr.org.

And that is a surprise action in the House of Representatives on the Voting Rights bill. The Voting Rights Act, of course, was passed in the heyday of the civil rights era. It's hailed as a great piece of legislation. It's up for renewal, I think, in 2007...

RUDIN: The end of 2007, yes.

CONAN: ...but I think the leadership in both parties said they wanted to get it out this session. I think it got out of committee in the House 33 to 1.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: How did it get hung up?

RUDIN: What happened is that there are still a lot of southern Republicans who are not - do not like the fact that the Act, as written now, states that many states have to go to the Justice Department to get federal clearance for them to have their voting rights, because of past instances of discrimination. Dennis Hastert, the Republican leader, the Speaker, and John Boehner, the Republican leader, Majority Leader in the House, say, look, they will pass it. They have until the end of 2007 for this to come up, and they will pass it. But there are some conservatives who are very unhappy about being singled out, as they say, and so they want to have their - some time to cool down the passions.

But, again, it was pulled - it's not a good sign for the Republican Party, especially in their effort to win African-American votes, to pull the Voting Rights Act, even though it may be very temporary.

You know, there're only two people of color in the Republican Caucus. It's Bobby Jindal from India...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUDIN: ...and John Boehner, who's very tan.

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Mr. RUDIN: But that's about - that's the only Republicans they have.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Jason(ph). Jason's with us from Statesboro.

JASON (Caller): Hello. I wanted to ask about, like, offensive Republican districts. I know they've done a redistricting down in Georgia when Sonny Perdue took over as governor. And there's - I mean, the district I'm in down near Savannah, that's really more competitive now that they've got one of the -a Congressman that had already been in power, now he's running again, Max Burns. I was wondering to hear your thoughts about offensive districts.

Mr. RUDIN: Well, actually what's so fascinating about Georgia, is that when the Republicans took control of everything this was with a Democratic drawn legislature. I mean, it was the Democrats who drew the House - the Congressional districts in Georgia. And yet, the Republicans really did far better than expected. Now that Sonny Perdue became the first Republican governor since reconstruction and now that Republicans have made major gains in the state legislature, the lines have been drawn to help Republicans.

So Max Burns, who was defeated two years ago, was out for a rematch. He's trailing in the polls, he's trailing in fundraising and my guess is, given the national atmosphere for the Republican Party, he'll be hard pressed to win back the seat. But, again, you know, we're talking about Republicans in Georgia. You know, not too many decades ago, that was something that we'd never even mention, except for the fact that Barry Goldwater won the state in '64.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Jason, thanks for call.

JASON: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's introduce now Adrian Wooldridge, the Washington bureau Chief for the Economist magazine and co-author of the book, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. He's with us here in studio 3A and nice of you to join us today.

Mr. ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE (Washington Bureau Chief, Economist magazine; Author, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America): Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And as you looked at basic politics, you know, the issues of the legislation aside. If you have Republicans holding up the Voting Rights bill in Congress, and a lot of African-Americans upset - newly upset with Republicans after Katrina; the immigration bill, which if the Republicans were hoping to make inroads amongst the Hispanic community - these are the two largest minority groups in America, what's happening to the Republican coalition.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely. It's an extraordinary position you had not that long ago. Republicans thinking about making major advances amongst Hispanics, major advance amongst African-Americans. Indeed, they did make big advances in the 2004 election amongst Hispanics. And it that's Ken Melman concentrated very heavily just after the 2004 election on wooing black voters. He saw them as a potential voting block that could shift at least a little bit...

CONAN: On values issues.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: ...on values issues, absolutely. And what you saw really with Katrina, I think, was the end any possibility of making a big advance amongst African-Americans. And now, again, exactly the same thing with Hispanics. And I think the card that the Republicans - particularly the Republicans in the House are playing, might be a short-term victory for them. I think there's a lot of real worry about the breakdown of law and order, people coming illegally across the border. But, as a long-term strategy, it's really, really dangerous.

CONAN: And do you see this, as many have said, as a play basically for the Republicans base, as they see eroding support in those numbers, amongst Republicans they say, we need these people first.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, I think the White House is very nervous about that sort of strategy, because Karl Rove has been particularly keen on expanding the Republican Party and bringing in Hispanic voters. But, yes, amongst the Congressional Republicans they're playing to their base, and their base is very preoccupied by the issue of law an order, of a broken border, of people coming across illegally. And I think it's the illegal argument which we'll keep hearing over and over again.

CONAN: And so that's why we have seen, just in the past little bit, a gay rights amendment to the United States Constitution, which stood a zero chance of being approved. And I guess we're going to see another attempt to have a Constitutional amendment on flag burning.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely, bringing up the base. Although, I think that Mrs. Clinton is not in favor of Constitutional amendment, but she's certainly playing both sides on the value issue of flag burning.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So it's not just a Republican issue...

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: No.

CONAN: ...but they're seeking to divide Democrats, as Ken was saying earlier, on the issue of Iraq...

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Absolutely.

CONAN: ...if you're going to vote against the war, you're voting against support for the troops, as long that we can phrase these resolutions that people are voting on.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: I'm not sure that they're seeking to divide the Democrats. They're seeking to expose the differences that are already there amongst the Democrats.

CONAN: Some divisions amongst the Republicans, as well, as we'll talk about when we come back from a break. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Our guests are NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin and Adrian Wooldridge, Washington Bureau Chief of the Economist magazine. We'll be speaking with a Republican -well, with an instapundit, if you will, when we come back from the break. And later, Representative Ray LaHood will be joining us, as well.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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

The midterm elections are about four months away now. Republicans are looking to keep their hold on Congress. Today, a jumbo-sized version of our regular feature, Political Junkie. We'll be talking with Republican Congressman Ray LaHood in a few minutes.

Right now, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin is with us. Also, Adrian Wooldridge, the Washington Bureau Chief of the Economist. And you're invited to join us. If you have questions about Republican strategy or tactics for this fall, if you voted Republican in the past, are you going to do so again in November? Call and tell us why or why not: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK; e-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's get Eric(ph) on the line. Eric's calling from Boise, Idaho.

ERIC (Caller): Good afternoon, gentlemen, and thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ERIC: My question revolves mostly around Karl Rove and, you know, even amongst - I'm a Democrat, but even amongst some of the Republicans that I speak to, Mr. Rove seems to be a little greasy, kind of damaged goods. And I'm wondering if you think that with, you know, with - I realize he escaped indictment, but he's had his fingers so close to so many dirty things. Do you think he is an asset or a liability at this point?

CONAN: Ken Rudin, the White House seems to regard him as...

ERIC: ...is the president an asset or a liability in campaigns?

CONAN: All right, that's another question. Ken Rudin, though, first about Karl Rove.

Mr. RUDIN: Well, look, Karl Rove is Karl Rove. I mean, the fact is, I think, had he been indicted - and I guess everybody in Washington was expecting an indictment, but - and had he been indicted, he would have been not only damaged goods, he would have been gone. I mean, obviously, the president could not have had somebody like that formulating a 2006 and 2008 election strategy.

But having said that, the fact that he's, you know, he's apparently off the hook in this Valerie Plame investigation. Nothing is stopping him. Matter of fact, the day it was revealed that he was not going to be indicted, he was in New Hampshire giving a, you know, a red meat speech to New Hampshire Republicans.

So, Karl Rove, I think - look, Karl Rove got George Bush where he is today. He probably is responsible, if no one else is, for the Republicans holding Congress as long as they have. They've held it since 1995. And nobody better than Karl Rove can come up with a strategy for 2006. Now, has he gone to the well too often with these you know, divisive social issues? We'll see, but I think nobody does it better than Karl Rove.

CONAN: Adrian Wooldridge, Eric's second question, is the president at this point, for most Congressional Republicans, an asset or a liability?

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: It depends which poll you look at. He went down a long way in the polls. He started to go back up in the polls. So he may become an asset if he gets over 40, he may be an asset. The bases - the large chunk of the base of the party that really likes this man, and it's always the case that the president has a sort of star power and a fundraising power. He hasn't lost his ability to raise money from Republican donors. So I think he's probably still an asset.

CONAN: All right. Eric, thanks very much for the question.

ERIC: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And let's turn now to Glenn Reynolds, publisher of the political blog Instapundit.com and author of the book, Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People. He's with us by phone from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee. Nice of you to join us today.

Professor GLENN REYNOLDS (Professor of Law, University of Tennessee; Publisher, Instapundit.com; Author, Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And what are you hearing from people out there in the blogosphere, if you will? Are Republicans considering the president an asset at this point?

Prof. REYNOLDS: You know, there's enormous disappointment among the sort of Republican base, if you read the right wing - serious Republican blogs. Though, I'd say the disappointment is greater with regards to the Republican Congress than with Bush himself. The two biggest splits are on immigration, where the base is generally much more protectionist and much more anxious to build a fence and close the border than either the administration or the Congressional Republicans.

And then, the other big issue is earmarks and pork, where there's a tremendous amount of anger that Republicans have turned into big spenders after the fashion of Democrats in very short order...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. REYNOLDS: ...and a real sense of betrayal on that.

CONAN: Yeah and, Adrian Wooldridge, let me bring you in on this. Republicans always say - I think we heard some people saying yesterday - we're the party of ideas. Our opposition is just obstructionist, but we're the party - and other people say, look at their ideas. They're the party of small government and lower taxes. Small government? They're spending like crazy.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: They're the party of ideas. The trouble is the ideas don't bear very much relationship to what they've actually been doing, certainly when it comes to policy over spending. And I think this tension between what they claim to stand for and what they've actually doing as an incumbent Washington inside-the-beltway party is leading to an enormous amount of disillusionment among activists.

CONAN: So, Glenn Reynolds, are you hearing an aspect of throw the bums out?

Prof. REYNOLDS: Yeah, a lot of that. There is some talk of a third party candidacy, though that's more for 2008, among some of the more disaffected Republicans on this front. There is a sentiment you see on a lot of the Republican blogs of basically just sitting out the Congressional elections, thinking that if the Republicans lose and the Democrats take over the House or the Senate, that maybe it'll convince the Republicans they have to get serious.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. So reform the party by attrition. Ken Rudin, Congressional Republicans have to be quailing at that...

Mr. RUDIN: Absolutely. I mean, the fact is, you know, is not just having Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House, it's also giving the Democrats investigative powers. And while the Democrats insist no, impeachment is not in our agenda, but all the hearings that have been held up from being held with Republican control will happen if the Democrats take over the House.

So the Republicans could say these guys are not pure enough for me and I'll sit home in November...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUDIN: ...but, you know, they're inviting doomsday scenario if they have the Democrats control either house of Congress.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on this. Tracy(ph). Tracy's calling from Hamburg in New Jersey.

TRACY (Caller): Yeah, hi, Neal. I just want to say I always - I love your show and you seem to be always fair to both sides of an argument.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for that, but go ahead with the question, if you will.

TRACY: Well, it's not a question, but I am somebody who usually always votes conservative. And my father's 91; he's always voted conservative. And he said George Bush is the worst president since Herbert Hoover. You know, he hasn't vetoed any spending bills whatsoever. He hasn't addressed the immigration problem. We have an immigration policy; it's called a work program.

You know, he never held the people - you know, he created the biggest branch of government called Homeland Security and he never held the people accountable. The FBI and the CIA were supposed to protect us, do their job. He never held them accountable.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

TRACY: You know, and I don't think there's any difference between, right now, the Republicans or the Democrats. I mean...

CONAN: So when it comes to a vote in your Congressional race, in your district next fall, are you going to be voting against the president, essentially?

TRACY: I may actually vote for the Green Party. I don't know enough about the candidate right now, but I've always voted conservative. And I'm just - you know, I think we need something new in Washington than what we've had.

CONAN: But you would still vote, presumably, for young Tom Kean, the Republican candidate...

TRACY: No, no, I would not.

CONAN: No?

TRACY: At this point, I would not. I'm just so disappointed. I think that they've been given the reins and they haven't done the job, so they should be taken out.

CONAN: And, Glenn Reynolds, is Tracy one of the kinds of voices you're hearing?

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, absolutely. I'm hearing a lot of that and, you know, the hope of the Republicans is that people will be mad now and by November, will change their minds. But, I have to say, I do a podcast with my blog and we interviewed Ken Melman...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. REYNOLDS: ...the RNC chair, and I just felt that he was either in denial or just clueless about how deep the anger in the base is going, because he just really didn't seem to get it. And I - they're at huge risk and yeah, you know, the Republican base wouldn't like it if there were all these Democratic investigations in the White House, but I can't help but think that the Republican Party would like it a lot less. And I just don't understand why they seem so out of touch on that.

CONAN: Tracy, thanks very much for the call.

For a different view on this, we're joined now by Congressman Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois. He's with us by phone from his office here in Washington, D.C. Nice to have you on the program, Congressman.

Representative RAY LAHOOD (Republican, Illinois): Good afternoon, thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And as Republicans in Congress look ahead to November, are people you're talking to upbeat?

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, look, what our leadership is telling our members is, if you haven't had a tough race in the last few years, you need to take a poll in your district, you need to see how you're doing. You need to take it seriously. Rather than having maybe 12 or 15 incumbent members that our leadership is looking at, they're looking more at maybe 35 or 40 races. People who believe they're in a safe district, but, you know, they really haven't had a tough opponent and they need to check things out.

So the answer is, we're not taking anything for granted and people need to kind of look over their shoulder and make sure things are okay in their district. Because of some of the corruption issues, because of some of the other hot button issues like the war, like immigration. People need to check out and find out how they're doing in their district.

Mr. RUDIN: Congressman, Ken Rudin here. We had Tom Reynolds, the Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee on the show a month or two ago, and he said that it - really he was not that worried because these elections will be decided, local elections - there will not be a national theme. Are your members, the members really saying that? Do they really believe that?

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, look at - a lot of elections will be local. I think if you look at the Brian Bilbray election, it was not about the culture of corruption.

CONAN: Again, the California 50th. Go ahead.

Rep. LAHOOD: The California 50th where Duke Cunningham is now serving eight years, four months in jail, was thrown out of office because he took $2.3 million from defense contractors. Brian Bilbray won that race on one issue and one issue only, immigration.

In central Illinois that I represent, that won't be that big a hot button issue. It may be the war. The answer is, that in these elections, a national issue could turn out to be a local issue, but trying to nationalize this on one or two things I think will not work. You know, still, people consider their congressman sort of the mayor of their district. And they're as concerned about traffic congestion and they're as concerned about roads and they're as concerned about potholes as maybe some people on the border states are about immigration. In a sense, Ken, I think some of these - the majority of these will be, you know, local issues.

CONAN: One of the races in which Democrats seem to have a shot is in your home state, Illinois, the 6th District, where Democrat Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran is vying for what's currently a Republican-held seat. As you look at that race, do you think that's going to be, you know, a bellwether?

Rep. LAHOOD: I think that the Tammy Duckworth race is the poster child race for or against the war. Tammy Duckworth is a war hero, she's a double amputee, she's never run for Congress, she doesn't live in that district, but Rahm Emmanuel, who's also from Illinois, the D, triple C chair, and the Democrats are going all out to have money funneled into that district; she's got over a million dollars. And it's an open seat; it's been held by a Republican for a long time, but it is the poster child for the war. And if she wins, people are going to say, you know, it was about the war. If she loses, people are going to say it was about other local issues.

RUDIN: If she wins, Congressman, if she wins, do you see the possibility of the Democrats taking the House or you don't see the 15 seats going down?

Rep. LAHOOD: I don't see at this point the 15 seats. But, you know, I've listened to people like Charlie Cook and others who analyze these races district by district, and as they analyze them district by district, the Democrats are going to lose some, we're going to lose some, we'll probably end up with 230, excuse me, 222, 223 members. And, you know, that's 10 less than we have now because we have 232. I believe we'll be the majority party. Well, we're not going to be the majority party of 232 members. We're not going to be the majority party in the Senate with 55 Senators. We'll probably end up with maybe 52. If you look at the analysis, district by district, and there is there's no political tsunami, which is what the Democrats would like, I think we'll be in the majority.

CONAN: As looking a little bit further down the road, some of the things - the immigration bill is being put out for a hearings that could delay it until after the election. This is not going to endear a lot of Republicans to the Hispanics in their districts. There is continued disappointment among the African-American community post-Katrina and now the Voting Rights bill has been held up while Republican concerns are addressed in the House of Representatives. Down the road, these minority groups are going to be key to Republican prospects.

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, in some districts they will be. But let's face it; these hearings on immigration are a way to kill the bill. It's a great disappointment to me, because I'm one of those who believes we ought to have a comprehensive bill. I mean, I voted for border security, I support border security, but we have to account for 12 million people that live in this country. And to put off these issues I think will be some source of irritation to Hispanic voters or to African-American voters, in the case of the Voting Rights. But for the vast majority of Republicans, it's not going to have a great deal of influence on whether they win or lose, because many of their districts are districts where immigration is a lot more important than some of these issues where they, you know, are not going to swing a district.

CONAN: We're having a expanded version of our Political Junkie segment this week. We're talking about Republicans in the midterm elections with NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin; Adrian Wooldridge, of the Economist magazine; instapundit Glenn Reynolds, and with Congressman Ray LaHood, of Illinois. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Congressman LaHood, as you look ahead toward your seat, do you feel comfortable this November?

Rep. LAHOOD: In my own election?

CONAN: Yeah.

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, I do. I do. I have the same opponent as I had last time, and I won with 70 percent of the vote. I go home every weekend; I work my district very hard. We haven't had a Democrat from my district in Congress since 1918. And we have a rich tradition of Everett Dirksen, Bob Michael, Harold Velde, and it's a pretty god district and I work it hard. And I don't take anything for granted. I believe I'll do well.

CONAN: It's funny. Ken and I were just talking about Ray Velde earlier.

RUDIN: Harold Velde.

CONAN: Harold Velde, rather.

Rep. LAHOOD: Ken Rudin is a political junkie in the truest and best sense of the word.

RUDIN: I think that's very true. I had a conversation not too long ago with Martin Forrester, a former member of Congress from Texas, and he said that in 1994, the Democrats didn't even know that things were bad until like August, September. Do you think the Republican party knows - the members know what they face and...

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, I go back to what I said before, I think when Tom Reynolds stood up several months ago and said, if you are a - believe you are a safe incumbent, take a poll, look over your shoulder, find out what people are saying, and don't take anything for granted.

The fact that he said that several months ago I think was a recognition and a wakeup call for all of us that we need to make sure that things are okay in our district. And I think that was not the case in 94. Plus, the other thing is, in 94 we had a whole other agenda, the contract with America. The Democrats don't have an agenda, they can't even figure out what their agenda is. They don't even know what their five points are at this point. The contract with America was developed well before this period in 94, so I think people realize they have to pay attention to things.

RUDIN: Democrats clearly ran against or away from Bill Clinton, an unpopular president in 1994. Do you advise the Republicans to do the same with President Bush this year?

Rep. LAHOOD: Well, I think if people want to raise money, they better invite the president. If people want to raise money, they'll invite the vice president. And these guys can raise enormous amounts of money. As a matter of fact, the president's going into Illinois on July 7th for Judy Baar Topinka, our gubernatorial candidate. I think for raising money purposes, the president and vice president will be invited in. Maybe on issues like immigration and other things, he won't be so welcome.

CONAN: Broadly, do you expect Republicans to try to build the party this year in Congressional races equivalent to the tactic that we're hearing on the Democratic side from Howard Dean or focus a lot of money and a lot of resources on those races that are competitive, that will tell the difference about who controls Congress?

Rep. LAHOOD: I think Tom Reynolds and our Republican organization that funds these races will try and take care of at least 35 incumbents and then maybe try and pick up another 12. And, as I said, I believe a year from right now, we'll be the majority party in the House with about, you know, hopefully maybe 223, 224 members and the Senate I think will be at 52 or 53. That's my guess right now.

CONAN: Congressman LaHood, we hope to have you back on after the election and see how your addition works out.

Rep. LAHOOD: Any time, thank you very much.

CONAN: Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, and he joined us today by phone from his office here in Washington, D.C. We're going to take a short break and when we come back, we'll take a couple of more calls about the Republican prospects, their tactics for this coming mid-term elections, with Ken Rudin, Adrian Wooldridge and Glenn Reynolds. And then, well, we'll be having a special interview with the star of the new documentary, Wordplay - I'm not sure star's appropriate. Back after the break. I'm Neal Conan; you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: But right now, Republican politics strategy in the midterm elections with our own political junkie, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin. You can read his latest column at our website, npr.org. And our guests are Adrian Wooldridge, of the Economist magazine, and Glenn Reynolds, publisher of the political blog, Instapundit.com. And let's get another caller on the line. This is David. David calling from Fort Wayne in Indiana.

DAVID (Caller): Yes, hi Neal. Glad to talk to you.

CONAN: Glad you called. Go ahead.

DAVID: Here's a perspective from fly-over country. I'm a Republican, not a (unintelligible) Republican, more of a centralist Republican and I'm in Dan Quail's former district, so we're a red part of a red state out here. And one of the things I remember when I watched George Bush debate Al Gore that really stuck with me were a couple of comments. One was that he said he was not a nation-builder, and this was in the context of a question about our deployment of troops to Haiti. And that really resonated with me.

I thought that, you know, it was a good idea to use the military appropriately, but not to string the military out and get it involved in missions that were -you know, problems that were really beyond the capabilities of the military. And then the other thing I remember is him saying very pointedly is that he's a fiscal conservative. So now, here I am six years later and I'm wondering what happened. You know, we've sent these folks to Washington and they've got us involved in this protracted war and then, in addition to that, they've spent like a bunch of drunken sailors.

CONAN: And will that change your vote for the Congressional candidate in Mr. Quail's old district come November?

DAVID: You know, I don't even know who the Democrat who's running against our Congressman is. His name is Mark Souder, he's a five-term Republican and he's run very strong campaigns. He campaigns well and I think his political philosophy aligns well with the district, in general. He beat a fairly popular former Democratic mayor, a multi-term mayor named Paul Helmke last time. So I don't think he's in danger. However, you know, I think that if he was, he's the canary in a mineshaft.

CONAN: Well, Glenn Reynolds, as David is suggesting, in many races though, there may be Republican anger, it's not going to matter?

Prof. REYNOLDS: Well, that's right. I mean my local Republican Congressman is I think is running unopposed. And if he's not, he might as well be. He inherited it from his father, essentially, and I don't think you could blast him out. And, of course, the way districts are gerrymandered in a lot of states, that's going to be true in a lot of places for both parties. But I think that the Republicans are maybe counting on that a little too much.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call, David.

DAVID: I have a comment, Neal.

CONAN: If you could make it quickly.

DAVID: Okay, I read your book, Play Ball, I loved it. Anybody who likes minor league baseball ought to read Neal's book. It's a real joy.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much for that. I would just point out that the title of the book was Play by Play, but thank you for that, David. Appreciate it.

DAVID: Bye bye.

CONAN: Bye bye.

RUDIN: Glenn, Ken Rudin here. I have a question to ask you too, because it seems like in this immigration bill, and you see how the House Republicans are so angry with the president and angry with the Senate-passed bill, the supposed frontrunner - and I hate that word - but the supposed frontrunner for 2008 among the Republican party is a fellow by the name of John McCain who strongly supports this Senate bill, this guest worker program. What are you hearing from the rank and file on McCain in 2008?

Prof. REYNOLDS: McCain's tried to cozy up to the Republican's base. He's never been very popular with them. I think that the immigration stuff has hurt him again. He sort of won a lot of points on the war, but then kind of threw them away again on the immigration. To the credit of people in both parties, I think they're both actually trying to do what they think is right rather than what's politically expedient, which is unusual on this front. But I think that it's just explosively damaging for the Republicans. And frankly, you know, open immigration's not very popular among most Democratic voters either, so it's actually an interesting case of both parties doing things that are at odds with their base. But I think it's going to hurt the Republicans more.

CONAN: Adrian Wooldridge, let me ask you a broader question and that is, the whole idea of Karl Rove as he came in, he saw this as a transformational opportunity, the chance to build a Republican majority that would endure past this administration, indeed, stretch out for the foreseeable future. Do you see as the president, the Republican-led congress or so, unpopular at the moment, and, of course, all of this really hinging, much of it on the war in Iraq and spending, as we hear on the Republican side as well, do you see that changing?

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Well, I think that what is interesting about the current situation I think is, given all the problems with the Republicans, the fact that they betrayed their base on key questions such as spending, the fact that the war has gone not as it might have been intended to go. The interesting thing is how we still presume, I think, that Republicans will just about hold on and I think that most people think if there were a match-up, let's say between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, John McCain would win in a walk. So I think it's still the stronger of the two parties.

And I think, given what's gone on, it's remarkable it should be the stronger of the two parties. And, again, if you look at a lot of the underlying things that went on in 2004, the Republicans won 97 out of the 100 fastest growing districts in the country. It still seems to be the base of the Democratic party is in big towns which are declining, amongst unmarried people who, by definition, or people who don't have children by definition in some sense, declining. And the Republican party is a stronger party when you get to the world of Applebee's and Home Depot's and McMansion. That's a pretty solid Republican area. So I see that this is still the stronger of the two parties and even having played its cards very badly or having been unlucky or having made major miscalculations, however you want to look at it, they ought to be weaker than they are now.

CONAN: I wonder, Glenn Reynolds, do you agree? I mean, we saw demographic figures reinforcing Adrian's point earlier today.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Oh, totally. I agree and I think the Republican's salvation is in fact that they only have to run against the Democrats. And the Democrats have a lot of their own problems. This is like the World Series if it were played between single A teams.

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Prof. REYNOLDS: I mean, both parties are not really performing to a very high level of skill here. So that makes it both more frustrating and I guess more interesting in a way.

CONAN: More interesting, Ken, for sure.

RUDIN: Absolutely. And the fact that the Democrats still don't know how to deal with the war in Iraq is just startling, given the numbers; the fact that it is a front page story in The New York Times today that John Kerry's proposal to have a date certain exit from Iraq has really given the Democrats heartache. Not giving - I mean, Republicans all along the question was, how do you get out of Iraq, how do you win in Iraq, how do you win in the war on terror, and yet all the (unintelligible) seems to be on the Democrats and their internal goings-on.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, will be back with us next Wednesday. You can read his column, Political Junkie, what a name for it.

RUDIN: What a name, who thought of it?

CONAN: ...at npr.org. thanks very much for being with us. Adrian Wooldridge, Washington Bureau Chief of the Economist magazine, co-author of, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America. Nice to speak with you again.

Mr. WOOLDRIDGE: Thank you very much.

CONAN: And Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee and publisher of the political blog Instapundit.com. And thank you very much for being with us.

Prof. REYNOLDS: Thank you.

CONAN: And when we come back, well, who knows what's going to happen.

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