LYNN NEARY, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.
Today, voters in Connecticut's Democratic primary are choosing between a three-term senator and a political newcomer. The latest polls show Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman, holding a slight lead over Joe Lieberman - the former vice presidential candidate.
Traditional election year issues like gas prices, the economy, even healthcare are not dominating factors in this race. The Iraq War is. And that's why the Connecticut race is being closely watched by strategists in both parties. They're trying to determine how important the war will be for voters in November and in 2008.
Today, we'll step back from Connecticut and look at how the Iraq War is affecting voters across the country. Is it a top issue for most Americans? Is it more energizing for Democrats than Republicans or independents? Will domestic concerns prove to be a bigger deciding factor for most American voters?
We'd like to hear from Republicans, Democrats, and independents today. How much will the Iraq War influence the way you vote in November? Join the conversation. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And you can send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Later in the program, we'll be talking about Alaska's aging pipelines. But first, voters and Iraq.
Joining us here in Studio 3A are Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
Thanks for being with us, Andy.
Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press): Happy to be with you, Lynn.
NEARY: And Jennifer Duffy, editor of The Cook Political Report.
Thanks for being with us.
Ms. JENNIFER DUFFY: (Editor, The Cook Political Report): Thank you, Lynn.
NEARY: So, Andy, let me start with you. Is the Connecticut primary a harbinger of campaigns to come?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, I think it's probably a better harbinger or might be a better harbinger - especially if Lamont wins - of what the primaries will be like in 2008. But it may not be all that indicative of what the - what the actual congressional votes are all about. Iraq is a very, very important issue, but there are a lot of important issues. This is a election season chockfull…
NEARY: Mm hmm.
Mr. KOHUT: …of concerns for the American public: the economy, gasoline prices, healthcare, a general sense that Washington isn't getting anything done. Iraq is way up there and, you know, sort of the poster child for our not succeeding at what we try to do. But it's not the - this will not be a single issue November in my view, as I look at the polls today.
NEARY: Where does Iraq rank? Is it the top issue? Top five?
Mr. KOHUT: Oh, it's really near the top, but it's got a lot of competition from these other issues that I name. No greater issue is just the general sense that Washington is not succeeding. The president has a 35 to 38 - maybe 40 percent approval rating. Congress is very poorly regarded. And in most polls only 25, 26 percent are saying the country is on the right track - that number of people, only that number of people satisfied with national conditions.
NEARY: Could we - you were describing at this moment - could that change between now and November?
Mr. KOHUT: Of course it could, if there's some dramatically good news, some turnaround in Iraq, or some sense that things are moving in the right direction - capturing Osama Bin Laden, some sense that gasoline prices are going to begin to stabilize, if not go down. All of those things are in the possibility - a realm of possibility.
Are they probable? I don't know. I'm not a fortuneteller. But if things stay the way they are, we have a really very discontented country, which is always a recipe for political change.
NEAR: Yeah. Jennifer, in what other political races is the war playing a major part? Are there any others?
Ms. DUFFY: Well, I think that Connecticut for now is one of these races where it is front and center. It's what earned Senator Lieberman this primary. It's certainly not the only issue being discussed in this race. I think that Iraq is a question that's going to come up in every race. I think every candidate needs to have a position. But it, again, as Andrew said, certainly not the only issue in any of these races.
But in polling, you know, pretty much across the board - when you ask voters what their top concern is - Iraq is usually first.
Ms. DUFFY: The ABC News/Wall Street Journal - I'm sorry, ABC News/Washington Post poll that was released just today, Iraq was first at 21 percent. But it was tied with the economy at 21 percent.
NEARY: Mm hmm. And are there any particular states, though, where this issue rises to the top - besides Connecticut - or where there's more sort of voter anger, let's say, about this issue that could become an energizing fact or mobilizing factor for the Democrats, for instance?
Ms. DUFFY: Well, I don't - I think it's almost everywhere. You know, if Democrats, if there is one issue that they can agree on and be angry about, it's Iraq. And they are joined by more than a few Republicans on this.
So again, I think if you are a candidate who has taken a fairly hard-line on Iraq - you know, that things are going fine and, you know, stay the course - I think that you probably are a little bit more vulnerable than somebody who says well, we've done what we had to do. But now we have to look at either getting out or changing what we do, especially in the advent of civil war.
I guess my point is, any candidate who is very rigid on this issue - and I mean that at both ends of the political spectrum…
NEARY: Mm hmm.
Ms. DUFFY: …is going to have a problem.
NEARY: Has too much attention been paid to Connecticut? Is too much being made of it?
Ms. DUFFY: I know. Had that debate in my office this morning.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DUFFY: In some ways it has, because it's nationalized this race. And the war was a catalyst in this race, but it is not the root cause of Senator Lieberman's problems. You know, he's made two national bids in the last six years. He hasn't been home much. They find him to be perhaps a little too moderate for a very, very blue state. Iraq's at the top of the heap, but this was a case that was six years in the making.
NEARY: Yeah. So in some sense, you're saying the Iraq War can make a candidate vulnerable, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat. I mean, that's - Andy?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, I think that's true. And the other thing about the Iraq War as a campaign issue which makes it so difficult is that the parties are so polarized. Republicans and Democrats have almost completely opposite views about the war, and independents fall somewhere in between them. On some cases, they're closer to the Democrats. In some ways, they're closer to the Republicans.
But going out and speaking to all people - as what you have to do in the general election, as opposed to Democrats or Republicans - what you do in primaries gets really tricky. Because if you're going to try to appeal to the other side, and you say well, we might have made a mistake or be equivocal about whether we made a mistake, 83 percent of Republicans think we didn't make a mistake in going to war.
But the overwhelming number, almost the same percentage of Democrats think we did. And the independents are evenly divided. Same on the issue of will we succeed? Same on the issue of should we get out now?
So it's really tough to talk to all of the people with one voice, especially when you had these swing voters who are going to - the independents, by the way, are going to decide this election because they decide all elections. And it's hard to speak - harder on this issue than any other issue that I can think of. Certainly harder than it was in Vietnam. When Americans lost faith in Vietnam, Republicans and Democrats more or less agreed. Republicans and Democrats don't agree on Iraq.
NEARY: So you think the division is different this time. It's not similar to the divisions we saw during the Vietnam War.
Mr. KOHUT: This is the most partisan polarizing military involvement we've had in recent modern history.
NEARY: So Jennifer, then it's just an extension of the partisan polarization that we've been seeing over the last number of years anyway, then? Is that what you're - is that…
Ms. DUFFY: Exactly. And if you look at what's going on in Michigan today and what's going on in Connecticut, what will go on in Rhode Island in September, you see incumbents getting primaries because they are viewed as too moderate. And that's just one more sort of outgrowth of this polarization.
NEARY: We're talking about the Iraq War as a political issue. If you'd like to join the discussion, the number's 800-989-8255. Let's go to Ed. And Ed is in San Francisco. Hi, Ed.
ED (Caller): Hi, how are you?
NEARY: Good. Go ahead.
ED: Well, I consider myself a moderate Democrat and, well, I find myself wanting to sit this election out - although I know that's not the right answer - because I feel the Democratic caucus failed us in not asking questions when we were cynically manipulated to going into Iraq.
I mean, I don't think the answer at this point is leaving Iraq prematurely, but why weren't the questions - there were thousands of us, I demonstrated in San Francisco and in New York - questioning the reason for going into Iraq. We knew there was no connection to al-Qaida. We knew that there were people investigating weapons of mass destruction and that they only needed a couple of months. Yet somehow the Democrats wrapped themselves in American flags and stood behind the president and this great need to go to war, which many of us questioned.
So, I feel - you know, I have two Senators, Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer, that I don't really - I'm not inclined to support because they didn't question. Where was their staff? Where was the Democratic caucus? How can they be manipulated and many of us in America weren't? And were convinced of what actually in the end proved to be true.
NEARY: All right, Ed. Thanks so much for that calling and reflecting a level of Democratic anger that we know is out there. And, you know, how deep is that anger within the Democratic Party? I mean, Ed is saying I'm inclined not to even vote.
Mr. KOHUT: Well, it's pretty substantial and that's why suddenly - like Lamont, who doesn't have to accept - the man who's running against Lieberman - doesn't have to deal with this issue of, you know, I voted for it but now I'm against it. And it really sets up an interesting proposition for 2008 should he succeed, because it will send a signal to the insiders that real anti-war candidates who have those bonafides could do very well among the strong Democratic constituencies in the next - in primary season. But there's no question that Democrats don't feel that their party has done as good a job of standing up for their principles as Republicans feel about their party leadership.
NEARY: And if Lieberman wins, will the message be as clear or will it just muddle the picture?
Mr. KOHUT: I think there will be less reverberations if Lieberman wins. It'll say that there's a centrist wing of the Democratic Party - the Democrats will only vote on one issue, those kinds of things. But it's a bigger story, it's a bigger reaction. Bigger ripples.
Ms. Duffy: I also think if Lieberman were to pull out this - it would also send a message about nationalizing elections, you know, special elections, primaries in states. Voters in states want to make up their minds. They don't want national groups to do it for them.
NEARY: We are talking about Iraq as a defining issue in American politics. We're going to continue our discussion after a short break.
Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. I'm Lynn Neary. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington.
We're talking today about the politics of war. Candidates in both parties are trying to figure out how the conflict in Iraq will influence voters at the polls this November. We want to hear from you, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or independent. How important is Iraq as you consider how you will vote in a few months? Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address:
Still with us are Andrew Kohut, Director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and Jennifer Duffy, editor of the Cook Political Report.
In the face of growing public concern over how and when the Iraq War will end, some Republican politicians are choosing to distance themselves from their party and their president.
For more on Republican positioning in this election season, we go to Whit Ayers, President of Ayers, McHenry and Associates - a GOP polling firm based in Virginia. He joins us from his office. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. WHIT AYERS (President of Ayers, McHenry, and Associates): Hello, Lynn. How are you?
NEARY: Good. Recently, Senator John Thune - the Republican senator from South Dakota - said mistakes have been made in the Iraq War. Also, Maryland GOP Senate candidate Michael Steele criticized the president's handling of the war. Has the war become a liability for Republican candidates?
Mr. AYERS: Well, you're clearly going to have some Republicans showing some independent judgment, but I don't think you're going to see a large number of Republicans. Fewer than one out of five Americans want an immediate withdrawal, but a third of Democrats want an immediate withdrawal. And that puts Democrats very much at odds with the feeling of the country, where we want some return on our enormous investment in resources and lives.
NEARY: Now it's very important to the White House that Republicans win. So I've read that one strategy the White House can take is to allow there to be some distance - to not get concerned about that in any way. At the same - with the larger, long-term goal that more Republicans will win.
Mr. AYERS: I don't think you'll see the administration berating political candidates or demonstrating a measure of independence from the White House.
NEARY: Some Republicans are not even showing their part affiliation on TV ads. What is that a sign of?
Mr. AYERS: Well, I don't think you would find that occurring in Mississippi or Alabama but in Connecticut, in Maine, it demonstrates that blue states are getting bluer and it's becoming increasingly challenging for Republicans to win in Democratic leaning states.
NEARY: Yeah. You know, it's a tricky situation for Republican candidates to try and sort of distinguish themselves from the party and perhaps from the president's foreign policy decisions, and yet still stand firm as Republicans and win. I mean, what are you hearing from candidates who are trying to ride that line?
Mr. AYERS: There is no mileage in the Republican candidates running against the president. And you're not going to see that, I don't think. What voters want, I think, is a loyal Republican who is not going to go in lockstep with the president on every decision, on every issue, but is still going to be generally supportive of the president. And I think that's a position you'll find most Republican candidates taking.
NEARY: You think the war can energize the Republican base.
Mr. AYERS: Energize is not quite the right word. If they think there's a prospect of Democrats getting in and forcing a pullout - regardless of the circumstances in Iraq and regardless of the number of lives lost - then I think you'll find Republicans rallying around to oppose what they think is a very unwise policy.
NEARY: All right. Let's take a call now. We're going to go to Monica, and I believe calling from Indiana. Is that right, Monica?
MONICA (Caller): Yes, it is.
NEARY: Great. Go ahead.
MONICA: I have - the number one issue in our area is: Number one, first the war. Secondly, it would be the gas prices. In our area it is $3.29 and it seems to be continuously going up - especially on weekends, by the way - and then it comes down during the week, it seems.
And, you know, I have friends that are Republican and they're just so disgusted with the way things have been going. They feel like they've been lied to. They feel just a whole bunch of different feelings, and I have always, most generally, been a Republican but more or less a swing voter, you might say. Whoever I think is the best, and most generally it has been a Republican. And my question would be, let's say that the Democrats come out on top - whether it be the presidential election coming up or whatever it may be. Let's say that the war escalates. Let's say that the scenario comes out the Middle East - I call it a crisis right now - turns out bad. Let's say that they pull out even and it turns out bad. Are the Democrats going to be left setting the bag if they come out on top in these elections even though they weren't the majority when we got into all of this? And would it be best if the Republicans just stayed in and suffered the consequences of their decisions?
NEARY: All right, Monica. Good question. We'll pose that to our guest. Whit Ayers, how would you respond to Monica's question?
Mr. AYERS: Well, I think it's an interesting scenario for the 2008 presidential election, whether it helps Republicans or hurts Republicans if Democrats take over Congress. I think Democrats are incapable of doing some things that would seem really crazy in the eyes of most of the people in the country, and so it might perversely help Republicans in 2008 if the Democrats took over the House. But I don't think that's going to happen, and I think what you're caller has asked for is probably going to occur, and that is Republicans will continue to make policy for the next two years.
NEARY: I was just going to ask if you - what Republicans are thinking about the war as an issue in terms of its potential for unifying the Democrats - of being a rallying point for Democrats.
Mr. AYERS: I'm not sure it's possible to unify Democrats, but I'll let a Democrat speak on that issue.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Okay. Well, thanks for joining us today, Whit.
Mr. AYERS: My pleasure.
NEARY: Whit Ayers is the president of Ayers, McHenry and Associates. That's a GOP polling firm based in Virginia, and he joined us from his office there.
My other guests - Andrew Kohut is the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Jennifer Duffy, editor of the Cook Political Report.
If you'd like to give us a call to join the conversation, the number's 800-989-8255.
Jennifer and Andy, I'd like to pick up on that last call since that woman identified herself as a swing voter. And Andy, you were saying earlier that it's going to be the independents, the swing voters. She sounded like she swung a little more to the Democrats than to the Republicans. I wasn't sure. But interesting that she seemed to be saying that she's a swing voter swinging away from the Republicans.
Mr. KOHUT: Yeah. And I was struck by what Ayers had to say that the Republicans have to seem loyal but not in lockstep with the president…
NEARY: Mm hmm.
Mr. KOHUT: …with respect to Iraq. That's not an easy trick. For the Democrats, they can be critical of an anti-war, but they can't come across as seeming radical to people like our last caller because the Democrats have this legacy of being seen as the party that's not tough enough to deal with issues like this. So, this is not an easy issue or set of issues for either party. The Republicans are perhaps - have a more difficult position because there are an awful lot of independents out there who want something more than Republicans not just being in lockstep with the president because they're very distressed about Iraq. But what their distress is over is in an issue that the Democrats really have if they can grab onto it. It's not so much whether we withdraw right away or, you know, what the strategy is, but the whole question of the competence - how good a job or poor a job the president, and ultimately the Republicans, have done on this issue.
NEARY: Jennifer Duffy, do you see the Democrats developing a unified position?
Ms. Duffy: You know, it's interesting that this began last fall when Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania - who is highly respected for his knowledge of defense issues - came out and said it was time to get out, it's time to get out now. And rather than being a rallying cry for the party, it seemed to divide the party a little bit. The problem with Democrats right now is once they start going down this road and talking about Iraq, you see the divisions within the party versus, you know, the faction that wants to get out now and the faction that wants to set a deadline, you know, 12 months from now. And then, you know, another group that would like to start implementing a strategy to get out with no defined deadline.
They keep getting caught in this argument, and it prevents them from having a unified message on Iraq, which, you know, doesn't give voters an alternative that they may be comfortable with.
One more interesting number out of the ABC News poll today was who has a clear plan for Iraq? Only 27 percent though Democrats did.
NEARY: And that's of both parties?
Ms. DUFFY: That's of both parties, right.
NEARY: That's not good news, I wouldn't think, for the Democrats if even members of their party feel they have no unified position or unified plan.
Mr. KOHUT: No. And this poll that Jennifer's referring to is very good for the Democrats in lots of ways. They have like a 13 point lead on who are you going to vote for, a Democrat or Republican in your Congressional district? It's a very big margin.
But when the pollsters asked which party do you have more confidence, who do you trust more in Iraq, it was a toss-up. Forty-three percent picked the Republicans, and 40 percent picked the Democrats. The Democrats don't particularly have a good, positive image on this issue, even though the public is so angry with President Bush, about - the public at large. It's a tough one.
NEARY: Yeah. Let's go to another call. Dennis calling from Everett, Massachusetts. Hi, Dennis.
DENNIS (Caller): Hi, can you hear me?
NEARY: Yes I can. Go ahead.
DENNIS: Well, thank you for taking my call. I'm an Independent from Massachusetts. I voted for George Bush in the last two elections. I would never vote for him again. My issue is not just the Iraq War, it's the Middle East, and in a word, it's violence. Violence has become our daily menu on TV.
We see civilians getting killed, attacked deliberately being in the Middle East. So-called - and I hate this term - collateral damage - killing hundreds of civilians in Lebanon. Day after day after day we see burning cars and children and civilians being killed in Iraq.
You know, I'm a Catholic, and I'm motivated by compassion and my love for human beings. And this is just horrible. The world cannot go on and on and on like this.
NEARY: Dennis, do you feel the Democrats have an…
DENNIS: Not really. I mean I couldn't vote for John Kerry. But I'll tell you one thing, I hope to God that Ned Lamont wins tomorrow, and I think he will. It's not an issue with me what party somebody belongs to right now. I want to see a human being who respects the sanctity of life. From A to W - from abortion to war.
Even here in Boston, our murder rate of teenagers has gone up again. A former student of mine - Anna Perry - was shot in the face and killed while she was at the memorial for her brother who was killed four years previous to that. I mean she was a beautiful person. Someone just shot her in the face.
There's got to be a nonviolent transition - transformation. And I'm not just talking idealistically. I mean Martin Luther King Jr. believed this, and he showed it can work. Gandhi believed in it. And certainly Jesus believed in it because he never used violence.
NEARY: Dennis, thanks so much for your call.
DENNIS: Thank you.
NEARY: Thanks for raising those issues, which are clearly important issues to everybody. I'm not sure and political party really has what Dennis is looking for.
Mr. KOHUT: Where we have a Bush voter from Massachusetts who's going to vote for Lamont, a measure of how much emotion there is around these issues and in these times where there's so many awful things going on in the world.
NEARY: Yeah. Let me just remind our listeners that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And if I could just go back to the issue of the Iraq War as a political issue. I think one of the things that maybe we're hearing from listeners - and I have an e-mail here that I think reflects this as well - is that it just, it's not only the war itself that's bothering people, but the issues around that.
Here's one from Dustin in Oklahoma. As an Oklahoma Democrat, I'm already in the minority, but around here it seems that even conservatives are starting to turn on the war. For many, it's not so much the war itself, it's the drain on manpower and the field of law enforcement and other public utility sectors that men from the armed forces often populate. I think more and more conservatives and liberals see that it's not just the war itself, it's all the sectors of daily life that it affects.
So as you both were saying earlier, I think, the Iraq War's one of a number of important issues, but the Iraq War affects those issues as well.
Mr. KOHUT: It affects resources, a sense on the part of the public that domestic issues have been overlooked. It has certainly made American's more restrained about what we're willing to do to deal with other international issues - a little jump up in isolationism in our polls and in other polls. It's not going well, it's a high cost operation, and it has lots of consequences.
NEARY: Jennifer, do you have a sense of what it is the public is most concerned about with the war? I mean is it that there isn't an exit strategy, the broader Middle East crisis, the deaths involved?
Ms. DUFFY: All of the above. I think that the war, you know, places a great weight on the American psyche. I mean even when, you know, the economy was fairly humming along, the president wasn't getting any credit for that. And a large part of that is the war and people's pessimism about the direction it's going, and how do we get out.
And then you look at survey data - I'm sure Andrew has seen some of the same thing - is people are very pessimistic about the future, you know, that they don't see things getting better in six months or twelve months. And it's, and I think it's the weight of Iraq. So it does manage to permeate just about every facet of life.
NEARY: Here's an email from Nancy in Detroit. The Iraq War should be an issue in elections. The war touches everyone, in one way or another. It affects countless aspects of this country's spending and priorities and politics today. Citizens must engage and be part of deciding which way this situation in Iraq turns in the coming months and years. We need candidates and politicians to be straight about what they envision for our presence in Iraq.
Either one of you, do you see a candidate that's really punching through the sort of political divide in any way - that is creating a middle space here that people might go for?
Mr. KOHUT: I don't think you see that sort of thing in congressional elections. Or there may be some that are out of sight. What you see in this particular presidential election - midterm election - is something that's not common. And that is the election being nationalized, with national issues at the top of the list - Iraq playing a higher-than-usual role.
We have the single highest percentage in our poll - going back to six midterms - of people saying, when I cast a ballot in my district, I am going to be voting against the president of the United States. It's three times as high as any other time in which we've asked this question, and I think it's goes all the way back to 1990…
NEARY: And yet according to other poll data, you've said that would be mostly Democrats saying that, right? Because Republicans are still…
Mr. KOHUT: Well, it's a mix of Democrat - it's certainly Democrats, but it's also some independents. And this election is going to be decided by a very small number. It's not going to be a landslide one way or another.
NEARY: If you can both stay with us a few minutes longer, we're going to keep this discussion going past the break.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
NEARY: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following today here at NPR News.
The White House says it's willing to consider a Lebanese proposal to move peacekeeping forces into Hezbollah-controlled areas in Lebanon, near the Israeli border. The issue of who will patrol southern Lebanon has become the main sticking point in cease-fire negotiations at the United Nations.
And the Federal Reserve left a key interest rate unchanged today, marking at least a temporary pause in what had been the longest unbroken stretch of Fed rate increases in recent history. It was the first time the Fed had met and not raised rates in more than two years.
You can hear details of those stories and much more, later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Tomorrow at this time, we'll talk about the atrocities of war. Numerous allegations about the mistreatment of Iraqi citizens by U.S. forces are under investigation. We'll explore how and why such events occur and how Iraq compares to other wars. Plus, Political Junkie Ken Rudin with the results of today's primary race in Connecticut. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.
Today we are talking about that race in Connecticut, and about the Iraq War as a political issue - with my guests Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and Jennifer Duffy, editor of The Cook Political Report.
And, of course, if you'd like to join the conversation, it's 800-989-8255.
And, Andy, before the break, you were talking about the fact that you're seeing in polling, that what people are voting on in this, is they're voting against the president.
Mr. KOHUT: In very large numbers. And what we see in this, in the polls about the election, in the polls about the state of the country is so much passion. For the first time in a long time we see more Democrats saying they will be -they're enthusiastic about voting - more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans almost always have an advantage in enthusiasm when it comes to voting. They generally win the turn out war.
This time we see the Democrats enthused. We see the Republicans dispirited. As you know, Lynn, we do a survey about people's news habits and what they follow, and we found this precipitous decline among Republicans following international news and news about Iraq, compared to two years ago. So, you know…
NEARY: And Democrats?
Mr. KOHUT: And Democrats are no different. But, you know, Republicans being dispirited, not walking away from the story, but, you know, understandably demoralized by the climate of opinion, as the man in Oklahoma said. The caller in Oklahoma said. You know, they're quite aware of how people feel about these issues.
And on the other hand, the Democrats so angry that we have these record numbers of people saying they want to vote against the president.
NEARY: Yeah. Let's take a call from Peter in Minneapolis. Hi, Peter.
PETER (Caller): Hi. I had a point about that no one seems to be talking about, and that's populism. If you look at a lot of the candidates that are going around in the Democratic Party, you'll find that there is a populist streak, especially the ones that are supported by the so-called net roots.
And, you know, you think about it, I mean Lamont's one. He's got kind of a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington character. I mean you've got Tester in Montana, who is this whiskey-drinking rancher. And even Howard Dean, you could say he was a kind of candidate like that. Because, you know, he's a pro-gun, straight-talking, kind of shoot from the hip kind of guy. And populists require that you be upfront and forceful in the way you do your politics. Which is different from, you know, going down a checklist of issues.
So if you compare the two, you know, it's kind of the opposite of the DLC model where, you know, you pick your lists and you kind of triangulate. You know, the populist approaches it from a totally different perspective.
NEARY: And is that…
PETER: And I think that's one of Lieberman's problems is he doesn't realize that these people are not just someone you can, you know - this is the issue that I can shovel around them and then they'll be quiet. It doesn't work that way.
NEARY: Alright. Well, Peter from Minnesota - which now we know is one of the birthplaces of populism - are raising the point that perhaps what we're seeing is a new kind of populism is emerging. I don't know if that's the case. What do you think, Jennifer?
Ms. DUFFY: He is right. There is some populist streaks in a lot of the net root-backed candidates. But I think more than that, it's straight talk. I think the voters of both parties want more straight talk from their politicians, you know? And I don't think that this is a repudiation of the DLC model or moderate Republicans, it's just they're sort of sick of politicians dancing around issues. And they want somebody who will be blunt, even if what they're saying is not terribly popular.
NEARY: Is that your take, Andy?
Mr. KOHUT: Well, I think there is a desire among the Democrats to hear someone, you know, speak the gospel. Again, I'll come back to the risk on that with regard to Iraq is that it might scare independents.
NEARY: Okay. Well, thanks to both of you for being with us. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and Jennifer Duffy, editor of The Cook Political Report.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.