MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation.

It's been quite a week in politics. With just 34 days before the midterm elections, Republicans are grappling with the scandal surrounding former Congressman Mark Foley. His House seat in Florida, which was considered safe, is now open. But the shockwaves are being felt all across the country; so today, a special Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of Political Junkie opening montage)

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaaaaagh!

MARTIN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor joins us, as he does every Wednesday. The big story, of course, is the resignation of Mark Foley after e-mails and instant messages he sent former congressional pages who were teenaged boys, became public.

At the same time, allegations surfaced last week about Republican Senator George Allan's use of racial epithets during his college days in the ‘70s. This comes on the heels of previous charges of racial insensitivity regarding Senator Allan. He singled out an Indian-American at a campaign rally, and reacted poorly to questions regarding his recently revealed Jewish heritage.

All this has made Republicans nervous. Even before these troubles, the Democrats were insisting they were within striking distance. Now the question is if these scandals prove the tipping point? So today, we will talk about that with our Political Junkie, a polling expert, and a Republican strategist. Later in the program, is this the year of the black Republican?

But first - character, politics, and the midterm elections. Will questions of character be on your mind when you go to vote? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And now, our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, here in Studio 3A.

Hi, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Michelle.

MARTIN: Now, I'm guessing people know the gist of the Mark Foley story by now, unless they've been, you know, hiding in their closet all this week. So what…

RUDIN: That was probably a poor choice of words.

MARTIN: Probably is a poor choice of words. Thanks. Thanks for pointing it out.

RUDIN: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, what we're interested in though, is what impact this will have on his House seat? And are we seeing an impact beyond his seat?

RUDIN: Well, we certainly are. First of all, his seat many Republicans think is now gone. Mark Foley first elected in 1994, won pretty comfortably every time, 60, 65 percent of the vote. This in like Palm Beach County, Florida where he's seen, you know, he's a moderate Republican, very well liked. But now, he's pull - he's withdrawn from Congress too late to get his name off the ballot. So the name, Mark Foley will be on the ballot.

There is a replacement Republican nominee by the - a state representative - by the name of Joe Negron. And basically his task is to say, look, vote for Mark Foley, because all the votes that Foley will get would go to the new Republican. But just the thought of having to go around saying, you have to vote for Mark Foley's name is just really is an ugly task, and I don't know how the Republicans survive this. So…

MARTIN: Why can't you just say vote Republican?

RUDIN: Well, they do. But when they go to the ballot and see Mark Foley's name, they may shriek, for all we know. I mean, this is a horrific scandal. And given the fact that the Republican Party is the party of values - and it probably sells itself as such - and I think that's a little more of the reasons why Republicans suffer more, bigger, political loss when a scandal like this comes up than Democratic candidates.

But it's not only the Foley district. Tom Reynolds who's the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee - upstate New York, a Buffalo Republican - now has a serious challenge on his hands. Because we - there are a lot of questions. Who in the Republican leadership knew about Mark Foley, when did they know it, and what did they do about it? Did they try to protect Foley? Did they try to cover it up? Or did they try to alert speaker Hastert? So, Hastert, Reynolds, Foley's seat; the whole Republican apparatus really is in shambles, given the fact that - with 34 days to go before the election.

MARTIN: And the speaker, Dennis Hastert, is under particular scrutiny. But is it really reasonable to believe that he would have known about this? I mean, that was the argument that he was making. He went - he made the rounds of - it has to be said, you know, reliably friendly talk show hosts - to make his case. But is his defense that there's no way I could have known about this, or how does he defend himself?

RUDIN: Well, did we know that Mark Foley was a gay member of Congress? Yes. Did we know that Mark Foley was the chairman of the Exploited - the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus? Yes, we knew that. Did speaker Fol - did Speaker Foley. I'm going back to Tom Foley. Did speaker Hastert know about inappropriate e-mails that Mark Foley sent to pages? Yes, he did, because he said he did. Tom Reynolds - the aforementioned Tom Reynolds - told Hastert, other members of the leadership told Hastert.

Now, at the time, they thought it was - maybe it was just overly friendly, and they told Foley to knock it off. Did they know about how salacious these instant messages were? Probably not. But again, the fact that Tom Foley - the fact that Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker of House, runs the page system - it's a Republican-run operation - you know, if he didn't know he should have known. If he didn't know, then the Republicans were completely out of touch. If he did know, why didn't he do something about it to get Foley out of this, out of this situation where he would be dealing with underage pages?

MARTIN: And the reason that this is a particular problem - because of the importance of social conservatives as part of the Republican base. And is there a sense on their part that he failed to take this seriously enough, or…

RUDIN: Certainly seri - failed to do it - seriously enough to call for the Washington Times, yesterday announced that they - on their editorial page -that they wanted speaker Hastert to step down as speaker, because they were just outraged. And there's been a lot of hints from Richard Vickery, other conservative leaders, saying that the conservative right, which is, you know, steeped in moral values, may very well sit home in November. If that's the case, then we don't have to worry about dumping Dennis Hastert as speaker this week, because the voters will dump him on September - on November 7th.

MARTIN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. Andrews Kohut is here with us also in Studio 3A. He is the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Hi, Andy.

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press): Happy to be here.

MARTIN: Let's pick up where Ken left off. You know, obviously Republicans are not the only ones to get involved in scandals this year. I mean, who can forget the Democratic lawmaker who is alleged to have had, you know, $90,000, you know, wrapped up in his freezer. But is there a sense that this is cutting more deeply on the Republican side and if so, why?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, this particularly is cutting more deeply on the Republican side. The Republicans are in a lot of trouble. The polls have consistently shown the Republicans trailing the Democrats for the popular vote for Congress. They need - every day is important for them to get out their message that gasoline prices are falling, the economy's really pretty good, you know, if we turn that control of Congress over to the Democrats the country's not going to be safe. They want time to say these things.

What are we talking about today? We're talking about Foley. We're talking about a Republican. And Foley to Duke Cunningham, and Abramoff, and all of the things that seemed to have gone in Washington. Who's in charge of Washington? The Republicans. That's why only 27 percent approve of Congress hurts the Republicans, not the Democrats, because the Republicans are in charge.

I don't think we're going to see an immediate impact in the polls. They're not going to go way down. They've been very stable. But it's going to affect the ability of the Republicans to get out their message, but it's also likely to demoralize Republican voters.

What we've seen this year, which is very unusual, is that Democrats are more enthusiastic about going out and casting a ballot. Generally, Republicans have the enthusiasm advantage. It begun to close a little bit in August, but I suspect now, ordinary Republicans - not only Christian conservatives or social conservatives - but I think ordinary conservatives, Republicans are going to be embarrassed about their party because of this. And that's the real impact for the Republicans.

And you know, they don't have to slip in the polls to be in big trouble. What they have to do is move out of the position that they're in or they are in big trouble. And Foley gets in the way of that, big time.

MARTIN: Ray LaHood, in our introduction - Congressman of Illinois - said that, you know, I went home last week and then this is what the media is talking about. And so one could see there, a sort of an effort to kind of put this on, kind of, media coverage. I think that's kind of a logical strategy. But is that really accurate? I mean, is this a media story or? Clearly the media's talking about it because it's a huge story, but are the voters talking about it? Is there any sense that this really has taken hold among the voters, as something that is a top-line issue when they're thinking about the election?

Mr. KOHUT: I don't think it is a top-line issue. What our surveys show is Iraq is a top-line issue. That's really the issue that's going to drive those people who say they're voting on national issues when they go into their local districts. But, this absorbs a lot of attention. This is not a complicated story. This is something that people can understand and people will say, oh my gosh, how did this happen? So, you know, I think that this is not a product of media coverage.

MARTIN: Let's go to a caller. Let's go to - Is it New Braunfels, Texas, Natasha(ph)?

NATASHA (Caller): That's correct, New Braunfels, Texas.

MARTIN: Okay, what's your question or comment?

NATASHA: My question is about essentially the whole scandal issue seems to involve both Democrats and Republicans. We've had scandals on both sides but it's always incumbents and career politicians. Does your panel feel as though the voters are going to turn away from incumbents and maybe bring some fresh blood into Congress?

MARTIN: Okay.

NATASHA: I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

MARTIN: Okay, great. Thanks for calling.

Mr. KOHUT: There is a real strong anti-incumbent sentiment in the polls these days. We find almost a third of our respondents saying they're not going to vote for their incumbent. That's not very unusual. It's only about 20 percent typically. The last time we had a third was that great moment of political change in 1994. But, the anti-incumbent sentiment now translates into anti-Republican.

Of the contested races, 26 out of 34 - make that 27 out of 35 - are Republican - because we've got to add Foley's into there. Back in '94 the contested incumbent seats were disproportionately Democrat. The people in power are the people who get hit by the anti-incumbent sentiment, as a consequence.

MARTIN: Ken, we have to take a break soon, but what's your take on this?

RUDIN: That's absolutely true. In 1994, not one single Republican incumbent was defeated in that anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic landslide. It's very possible, that on November 7th, not one Democratic incumbent of the house may lose his or her seat, which would be absolutely remarkable.

MARTIN: Some are making the analogy to 1994, which is when Republicans first took the House in the modern era. That Republican base is kind of very angry. They had a message that was very, sort of, clear and, you know, resonated with the voters. Do you buy that analogy - it's the reverse, so obviously the Democrats are poised to take advantage?

RUDIN: I mean, most midterm elections all politics is local, and there'll be a turnaround of maybe three, four seats either way, but this seems to be a national theme. As Andy said, Iraq; Bush's unpopularity; and just this sense that the Republicans have failed the voters.

MARTIN: We're talking about what impact the latest scandals may have on next month's midterm elections. We'll talk more with Ken Rudin, our political junkie, and Andy Kohut when we come back. And, a Republican strategist joins us. Plus, your calls at 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail. The address is

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Michel Martin in Washington. With the midterm elections less than five weeks away, the last thing Republicans wanted was the Mark Foley e-mail scandal. Today we're talking about ethics, politics, and how much the voters care.

Still with us here in the studio are Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. His Political Junkie column is available online at npr.org. Also, Andy Kohut is here. He's director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

You're invited to join the discussion. Tell us, will issues of character and ethics be on your mind when you vote? Give us a call at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And speaking of e-mails, I have one. Foley's seat… It's from Illinois, from Mike in DeKalb County, Illinois, and he writes: Foley's seat is lost to the Republicans but does Speaker Hastert have to worry about retaining his House seat? Will the Foley scandal have an affect on that race?

RUDIN: No. There is a challenge. There is a probably more rejuvenated challenge than there would have been a couple of weeks ago, but this is solid Republican country in Illinois. I mean, sometimes when you see a major wave there are incumbents who go down to defeat - you'd never expect to happen. That's not going to happen with Dennis Hastert, though.

MARTIN: We also have a call from DeKalb County, Illinois. So Chris(ph), what's your take on this?

CHRIS (Caller): I have to agree. I'm not really seeing a whole lot of press for Hastert's challenger John Laesch. I think he's just too well liked in this district to really worry seriously, even though I'd really like to see him go.

MARTIN: You would? Why?

CHRIS: Well, I'm a Democrat and I pretty much don't agree with a single position he's taken, and he voted for the gutting of habeas corpus. He voted for a bill that erodes the separation of church and state by making it harder to prosecute in court, and now this.

MARTIN: Okay. So - but you weren't liking him anyway, right? I mean, that's fair to say. He's not your party. You're a Democrat. You'd prefer to see the Democrat. Do the details of this - are the details of this important to you, Chris? Do you feel that there's a lack of oversight here that should be called into question? Because sometimes people don't feel that way. I mean, sometimes people will say look, I don't like the guy, I'm not going to vote for him, but I think this is extraneous. So I'm just curious if the details of the Speaker's role in this Foley situation are important to you.

CHRIS: I definitely think they are important. I think that if the leadership knew that he was doing inappropriate things with minors then they should have taken care of it, but frankly I'm upset that the public is not more outraged about the erosion of all of our constitutional freedoms. Instead, you know, they're dealing with this sexy scandalous stuff and not focusing on the really important issue.

MARTIN: Okay. Thanks for calling, Chris. I appreciate it.

RUDIN: Can I just say something quickly on this, because I think - The reason I think we're focusing on this is because people - when you see children being abused or predators involving children, you can relate to that. But the Jack Abramoff scandal (unintelligible) well, some Congressman got a favor and got some money. A lot of people will shrug it off and say well, you know, what else is new? This is exactly what happens in Washington all the time. But this is something that people can really see and get revulsion from, it as opposed to the run-of-the-mill Congressional scandal involving money or power, or things like that. I think that's why this is really hitting home so much and why Republicans are so worried.

MARTIN: And in fairness, I do think it's important to say that Congressman Foley, or former Congressman Foley, gave a press conference yesterday where he said that this - you know, the Congressman did not make an effort to have physical contact with these young men. You know, we obviously don't know whether - further infestation will bear that out, but I think that is important to say.

Let's bring in a Republican voice here. Joining us now is Republican strategist Joe Watkins. He was a member of President H.W. Bush's administration. I'm sorry, President George H.W. Bush's administration, or Bush 41. He now works in government relations at the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney and is a frequent guest on NPR's News and Notes program. Welcome, Joe.

Mr. JOE WATKINS (Republican Strategist): Thank you, Michel. Good to be here.]

MARTIN: What about Ken's point, that this is the kind of thing that's especially damaging because people understand it. I mean they understand that this is behavior involving kids - vulnerable people - and they don't like it and that (unintelligible). This is one reason this is particularly damaging. Do you think that that's accurate?

Mr. WATKINS: Well, he's got a great point. I mean, times certainly have changed. Remember back in 1982 you had a Democratic member of Congress - a male - Gerry Studds - who was caught having sex with a male page and then was censured by the House in 1983, but he continued to serve in his House seat until 1996. So the appetite of the voters certainly has changed from allowing members who are actually having physical contact and sex with pages of the same sex - to this case where clearly this Congressman has committed a wrong. He has sent very inappropriate e-mail messages to a page, and he's resigned because of it.

But it has legs because it seems to me that the Democrats don't really have anything else to hang on to. What they had to hang on to this year - the message they're giving is: We're not Republicans. And every time there's any kind of a Republican slipup, even in this case by a single member of the Republican House, then they cling to that saying: See, we're not Republicans and this is what all Republicans are like. And that's kind of a tough message for the party to have.

In 1994…

MARTIN: Which party, Joe? I'm sorry - tough message for which party to have?

Mr. WATKINS: For the Democrats to have. Because in 1994 when Republicans took over - took control of the House, they had a message. It wasn't just we're not Democrats. They had a very strong message and a platform. And Democrats really have yet to do that - to really craft a message that says this is where we stand on these issues. We're proud to be identified with these issues. And this is why you ought to vote for us.

MARTIN: Okay. Joe, I'm sorry. I'm understanding that you're critical of the way you believe the Democrats are taking advantage of this message, but what I'd love to hear from you is whether you think it's effective. I mean, do you feel that…

Mr. WATKINS: Oh yeah, it's clearly very effective. Right now, as long as they keep - as long as all the media keeps its attention on the Foley scandal - as long as that's the thing that's at the center of the mindset of the voters, Democrats have a very, very good chance to make hay. It's a very, very difficult issue to overcome, because you're absolutely right, any issue involving children and the abuse of children really resonates with voters.

MARTIN: Okay. Joe, I want to talk to you a bit more about how Republicans - or what Republicans can do to get control of this story. But before I do Ken has a point of clarification he wanted to offer.

RUDIN: Two quick things: First of all, Joe, if this was just about Mark Foley, then it wouldn't be a scandal that has legs. I think the reason why this has reached the point it's reached is because of possible knowledge by the Republican leadership, and that's really what's gotten the GOP in such trouble.

Two, going back to the 1983 scandal with Gerry Studds - it's not that voters were more tolerant of sex with underage pages back then, because the Republican who was also involved in the scandal back then…

Mr. WATKINS: That's right.

RUDIN: …Dan Crane of Illinois, he was defeated.

Mr. WATKINS: He lost his seat.

RUDIN: Right. Exactly. Just as Studds is a more liberal member from a more liberal district where I guess it's more tolerant - they were more tolerant of him - but Crane was a pro-family conservative in a conservative district and that's why he was voted out.

MARTIN: He was also involved with a 17-year-old girl, and I think - Andy Kohut, you had a point?

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah, I wanted to make a point about the comparison with '94. That's right, the Republicans did have a message in a way that the Democrats do not today. But the voters weren't voting for that message, they were voting against the Democrats in '94, just as - what they will do is vote against the Republicans, probably, in this election. Most elections, which bring about political change are not elections where people are voting for things, they are voting against things. The best example of it I can think of in my career was 1980; people were not especially voting for Ronald Regan, who became a icon, they were voting against what they thought were the horrors of the way Jimmy Carter ran the presidency.

MARTIN: Let's go to a caller in - is it Floyd Knobs, Indiana? Mark(ph) do I have that right?

MARK (Caller): Yes.

MARTIN: Okay. What's your take on this?

MARK: Well I don't think - I think you're commentary about the Republicans not being as excited about going out to vote this fall is - I don't think that's going to happen. I think the issues have polarized the Democrats and the Republicans to an extent where - obviously the Republicans the first thought they are going to think about this Foley scandal is that it's disgusting behavior.

The second thing they're going to think is why did this come out right before an election? I mean somebody was holding some of these messages I believe since 2003. I don't think that's a coincidence. So I think people are going to go out to the polls. I don't think it will affect how the base of the Republican Party goes out and votes this fall.

MARTIN: Mark, can I ask you what are your top line issues? When you go to the polls, as I assume you will, what's on your mind, what's the thing that's most uppermost in your mind?

MARK: Well, I think it has to be national security, given what's going on right now. You know we haven't had a major attack in this country since 2001. I think that has to be uppermost in our minds right now.

MARTIN: And so is it fair to believe - is it fair to say that you believe the Republicans have done a better job and will do a better job on this issue, is that where you coming from?

MARK: Yes, I totally believe that. But also you can categorize me as a Christian conservative so - I mean there is no - if you look at the Democrats and Republicans, there is no way for somebody that believes in all the issues that I do, I have no option but to vote for the Republicans.

MARTIN: Okay. Mark, thank you so much for calling.

MARK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Joe Watkins, the question we were asking early is - Andy's point, and the caller disagreed, that he feels this could have a depressive affect on Republican turnout, people just turned off by this. Well, first of all, what's your take on it? Do you think that that might be true?

And secondly, you know what do Republicans do to get ahead of this story, regain control of the story?

Mr. WATKINS: Well, I actually agree with the caller. I don't think it's going to have any kind of a depressive affect on Republicans voters. I don't think it's going to stop them from going to the polls on Election Day and voting for their candidates. And this is an isolated incident, a very sad incident, and a serious one and one that deserves certainly the legal attention that it's getting. But it's not one that is going dissuade them from supporting their candidates, especially when you look at the various issues in the various states and localities.

I think that Republicans have to continue to work hard to make this a non-issue by just showing very clearly that Speaker Hastert - now think about this now, anybody - I worked on Capital Hill for a U.S. senator, I worked in the White House for a U.S. president, so I've been around this stuff for a while.

But just think about Speaker Hastert with all of the duties that he has as speaker of the House, and a couple a years ago he gets - now think of all the messages that he gets and sidebar conversations he has with members about other members during the course of a given day, let alone a week.

And so somebody steps up to him and says to him Speaker Hastert, one of the members has been sending overly friendly e-mail messages. Overly friendly e-mail message. So he's told to stop it, but does that warrant an investigation? Does that warrant some kind of legal action against the congressman? And given all the stuff that Hastert would have on his plate, why would he be expected to remember all the details of the conversation that anybody may have had with him about the overly friendly e-mail messages that Foley was sending.

Now of course we know what happened, and what happened was just terrible, disastrous certainly, given the timing of it. And I think the caller made a great point by saying, you know, the timing is not at all coincidental. But I think the way the party gets past it is by just being very honest and saying, you know, here's the deal. And clearly this doesn't make sense to try drag other members to the party, certainly the party leadership, into it and try to drag them down.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. WATKINS: And let's move forward and talk about the issues that are important.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's go to a caller in Goldsboro, North Carolina - and Chris(ph).

CHRIS (Caller): Yes, ma'am. I just wanted to - I guess I kind of want to piggyback on the last caller a little bit. As a conservative Christian I agree with him that as you look at just the main core of issues I feel like we don't really have a option but to vote for the Republican party, at least by the way - what they say.

Now I have tried my very best to always hold a principle of voting for the person, not the party. But, you know, I just was curious. My question is, I really hope our country can get to the point where we have a third option, because there comes a point where you get frustrated with I don't have a choice but to vote this way mentality. And I just wondered if your callers have anything to say about that - your guests there.

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

Andy Kohut, the caller wants to know is this - well it is a very interesting question. Is there a possibility...

Mr. KOHUT: ...for a third party candidate, or a third party to emerge. That generally happens when a party is malfunctioning. The Republicans split in '80 and John Anderson went off and had a independent candidacy and Perot came out of the right in 1992.

I think this is not - the presidential campaigns are more likely give birth to third party candidacies, not midterms. But, you know, when there is so much discontent you often see a group of people with a set of ideas saying, hey, Democrats don't suit my needs, the Republicans don't suit my needs. And you could have a groundswell for something different. But we have to see how this election turns out before we see what the frustration level is either on the left or on the right.

MARTIN: Chris, what would a third party look like for you, that would please you?

CHRIS: Well, honestly, I'm not really sure. I mean I guess the third party would be what the Republicans say they believe in, and then that party would actually do it. Yeah, I guess if you think - I mean I get frustrated over and over again by Republicans saying that this is a priority or that's a priority, and then it gets pushed to the back burner.

And not to say that I disagree with everything the Democratic Party holds important. I just I feel like there could be a third party that could take some strength from both of the current to present a valid option.

MARTIN: Andy, we have to say goodbye to you in just a couple of minutes, so I wanted to ask you before you go: If there were to be a fallout from these - you know what? I'm sorry. I want to change my mind here. We wanted to talk about George Allen and the Senate race. So in the time we have left, let's talk about George Allen.

Let's talk about, you know, I think people are pretty well acquainted with the details of this. There was a series of kind of stumbles that seem to have put his Senate campaign off track, and is there a concern that this will have an affect on the Senate side?

Mr. KOHUT: Well, character matters in big-time races like this, and Senator Allen has made his character an issue by the comments that he has made and the way he's reacted to the reactions to the comments that he made. And it's not only issues; it's a balance between making judgments about the person as a person and where they stand on the issues. And he's clearly hurt himself.

MARTIN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Well, I agree. And I think that some people are saying, then why are we focusing so much of George Allen's past? What about Jim Webb's past when allegedly he - I mean somebody accused him of driving through Watts and making disparaging remarks to African-Americans.

But the point is that George Allen was one of the top two or three Republican candidates for president in 2008. He was a leading candidate. He was thought to be the next coming of Ronald Regan among - many conservatives felt that way. And I think there is a certain scrutiny that you may not have if you're just running for the Senate or a local office. But when you're a possible presidential candidate, you know, everything is on the table.

MARTIN: Joe Watkins, what would you - first of all, George Allen has been pretty proactive at addressing this. I mean he created a special lengthy ad where he addressed some of these issues head on. He took ownership of his own role and he said, look, I'm responsible for some of this; let's focus on the issues. Do you think that he's getting ahead of this story now, or do you think he's already damaged himself badly?

Mr. WATKINS: No, I think he is getting ahead of it. Obviously, there was some -the fact that it did linger as long as it did in the news media means that it was an issue. And every day that it lingered caused him a little bit more damage. But I think he's gotten past it.

The whole idea here is just to be clear with people about who you are and what you stand for. And then with regards to these 35-year-old accusations, the accusations that just came out last week about what he's alleged to have done when he was in college or alleged to have said that is...

MARTIN: Using the N-word liberally to describe his, you know, classmates and such.

Mr. WATKINS: Right, right and so on and so forth. I think that the best way to address that is just to say, you know, if you didn't do it, as he says he didn't, just to say I didn't do that. And then to clear the air by saying to every and anybody else that if there is anything that I did 35 years ago when I was a teenager in college that was inappropriate or silly, please know that I'm not that person anymore.

MARTIN: Okay, okay great.

Mr. WATKINS: And look at my record.

MARTIN: Okay. Joe Watkins, stay with us. Ken Rudin, stay with us. We're going to take a short break.

Thank you, Andy. Andy Kohut is the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. He was with me here in Studio 3A.

And when come from a short break the Republican Party's outreach to African Americans. Is this the year of the black Republican?

I'm Michel Martin. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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