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NEAL CONAN, host:

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

The year in politics was marked by dramatic change and the story of the year were sweeping Republican losses in midterm elections. Six years after Republicans took control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, once confident hopes of a permanent majority evaporated amid a deepening public belief that the president and his party offered no clear plan for victory in Iraq and no way out.

It was also a year of scandals - Florida Congressman Mark Foley's lewd e-mails to congressional pages, Vice President Cheney's poor marksmanship, Louisiana congressman William Jefferson's cash in the freezer. It was a year that showed politics at its ugliest. And thanks to YouTube's parallel rise, we saw every mis-delivered joke and every macaca moment over and over again.

Later in the hour, we'll follow up on some of the people we visited last May in New Orleans. But first, it's the Political Junkie.

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): Aaaagh!

CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our political junkie, joins us here in studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And as always, we want to hear from you. If you have questions about 2006, or 2007, or 2008, for the political junkie, let us know. What did you think were the major stories of the year? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

And of course, Ken, one of the major stories of the year happened just last night, the death of former President Gerald Ford.

RUDIN: Well, when you think of it, not only the year but the last 25 years, 30 years, you'll think of Gerald Ford and what he did to this country in a positive way. Given what we saw with Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal and what was going on in the nation in 1974, Ford came in and almost like a breath of fresh air - a breath of fresh air that didn't last that long. But when he came in that August day of 1974 there was a sense that America was changing and a sense the mood of Washington had shifted as well.

CONAN: As you mentioned, the mood did not last long. His pardon of Richard Nixon just a month after he took office, or after Nixon left office, depending on how do you want to look at it, that really soured a very positive public mood.

RUDIN: It did, and he never really recovered. And when you think of all the reasons Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976, it was only by 2 percent of the vote. You think of all the things that went wrong, and there was, you know, the bad way that Vietnam was going, certainly the pardon, certainly the choice of Bob Dole as running mate who didn't distinguish himself during the debates. Ford's debate himself against Jimmy Carter when he basically freed the people of Poland before they - even the people of Poland knew it. But ultimately, it was the pardon that did it. And again, in such a close election, anything could have changed the difference there and it probably was the pardon.

CONAN: And listening to that montage with which we open your segment every week, Lloyd Bentsen left us this year.

RUDIN: He did, the 1988 Democrat nominee for vice president. We always remember him as that very apt putdown to Dan Quayle in the '88 VP debate with, you know, Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy. What people also should remember is that the Bush-Quayle ticket defeated Dukakis-Bentsen 48 out of 50 states. But again it was the Democrats' shining moment.

That and another person who passed the scene this year, Anne Richards, the keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic Convention at Atlanta who also had a stinging putdown of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Said that, you know, you're born with a silver foot in your mouth. But of course what she did to the senior Bush, she got in return from the junior Bush. Because in 1994 when he was governor of Texas, she underestimated George W. Bush and he beat her.

CONAN: And some lesser known names in politics that I know you wanted to mention before we left.

RUDIN: Well, there are people like Joseph Ungaro. He was the guy from the Philadelphia - I'm sorry, the Providence Evening Bulletin who asked President Nixon a question in the press conference that elicited the famous I am not a crook answer. My favorite of all time of course is Lou Carrol. He was a traveling businessman from Texas who saw in an ad that the daughters of a California senator wanted a puppy. So he boxed up a cocker spaniel, sent her - sent the dog to Washington by train. These two girls, Julianne and Trisha, loved this dog and they named the dog Checkers. And of course that basically saved Richard Nixon's career, saved - certainly saved him on the 1952 Eisenhower ticket with that famous Checkers speech.

CONAN: As we look back, though, at this year in politics, it is a year that -clearly, the midterm elections much more dramatic than most people even anticipated a few weeks out.

RUDIN: Right. We knew the war was unpopular. We knew that President Bush was unpopular. We knew there was a lot of questions about the economy. Some statistics showed it's going well, but of course we saw rising gas prices and we knew that the Republicans were on the defensive about that.

But we always thought that while the House certainly would be in jeopardy, that the Republicans could lose the House, they were going to keep control of the Senate. There was no way George Allen was going to lose. There was no way other senators were going to lose. And ultimately, the Democrats needed six in the Senate, they got six and they won the House and the Senate.

CONAN: Again, if you'd like to join the conversation with our political junkie - we're looking back at the year-end politics - give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. What did you think were the big stories this year in politics? You can call or send us e-mail, talk@npr.org.

If there was one political event of the year, Ken Rudin, what did you think it was?

RUDIN: Well, I mean there isn't one because nobody has - once upon a time, Tom DeLay was the House of Representatives, the most powerful person in the House of Representatives, and he resigned. He resigned as majority leader. He resigned from Congress. And suddenly the Republican leadership in the House seemed rudderless.

The Macaca moment - again we talked about YouTube and the effect of those kind of surreptitious videos - but again, a comment that George Allen made in the campaigning in August of 2006 that would have been forgotten or disappeared had it not been for that camera suddenly filled the airwaves, filled our airwaves, filled the front pages of The Washington Post and newspapers elsewhere. And ultimately George Allen, who was once upon a time thought as a frontrunner, if not the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2008, suddenly lost his seat, completely unexpected.

CONAN: And again that clip we began the show with - John Kerry in an awkward moment during the political campaign. If he had hopes of running again for president of the United States, that may have evaporated too.

RUDIN: Well, that - it certainly wasn't a good year for John Kerry and Democrats were like, you know, wringing their hands thinking that he may have cost them control right before the election.

But what I thought 2006 was always about was the fact that Hillary Clinton was clearly the Democratic leader, the frontrunner, if you want to call it that. And what Democrat was going to come out and challenge her, who's going to be the non-Hillary? You had Evan Bayh, you had Mark Warner, you've got all these people, but many dropped out. Evan Bayh dropped out, the senator from Indiana. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner dropped out basically because somehow Barack Obama, his statement on meet the president on October saying that he was considering running at 2008 basically cleared the field. And many Democrats ran, said, look, it's hard enough trying to compete against Hillary Clinton, but to compete against two stars like Obama and Clinton is really, really tough.

Tomorrow in New Orleans, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina will make his announcement. The question is will anybody be paying attention in the week between Christmas and New Year's? But I guess Edward felt his hand was forced, given the fact that so much attention has been placed on Clinton and Obama.

CONAN: And of course it was just two years ago that a freshly reelected George Bush talked about the political capital that he had gained, political capital that seems to have been expended.

RUDIN: Absolutely. And we saw that in the elections on November 7th, when the Democrats took both the House and Senate.

CONAN: Who lost big in 2008? You mentioned, of course, it was George Allen in Virginia, but Rick Santorum also in Pennsylvania.

RUDIN: Right. I mean we've said this on the show - a little trivia fact that no Republican senator from Pennsylvania has been defeated since 1956. Rick Santorum was an unyielding conservative, very strong. But he had the bad luck of running against a very popular name, Bob Casey, the son of a former governor, who's also pro-life, who's also very socially conservative. And the Democrats who really wanted Santorum out bit their tongues and voted for Bob Casey.

CONAN: Well, let's see if we can get some listeners involved in the conversation. What did you think was the political story of 2006? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. Let's go to Mary, Mary calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

MARY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MARY: I've just gotten back from Minnesota, where I spent time with my son who is just back from Iraq. He's been in and out of Basra, Kuwait and Qatar(ph), I think. And he's also served in Korea. I have a sister-in-law that served in Afghanistan and three nephews that have served overseas, one in Iraq and one in Kuwait and one in Japan and New Orleans. And it's like, you know, my - their father, my kids' father was a Vietnam vet, and when I look at how little news is coming out of any of the war zones it's appalling to me that there's really not very much insight on how the Iraqi folks are doing. There's even less on how our troops are really doing. There's some in the print news; there is absolutely zero on the television news; and I think that the very fact that it's a non-news item should be a news story, you know, the almost total censorship of the war.

And granted we're trying to pull out of there, but it's just - it's a complicated thing. There's no coverage of the hardships on the families very much. My son had to pay $1,000 to come home on leave. He's regular Army, four years…

CONAN: Mary…

MARY: …that kind of thing. It's like, where is that in the news?

CONAN: I hear what you're saying but, Mary, clearly Iraq was the dominant story in politics this year, was the reason the Republicans lost.

MARY: You know, it was the - you're right, it was the dominant story in one way. But actually when you think about it, where's the coverage of the fact that there's almost utter censorship of the actual war? When you contrast it with Vietnam, or even the first Iraqi war where there were news reporters on top of hotels, you know?

CONAN: Well, Mary, thanks very much for the call, we appreciate it.

MARY: It's just remarkable to me that there's almost - say if there wasn't a Marine sending something over YouTube there would be absolutely no prints or pictorial, you know, reporting on this war.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mary.

MARY: …initial investment.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another call in quickly before we go to the break. This is Michael. Michael with us from San Francisco.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, hi. I also want to say - yeah, well done, Mary. I agree with Mary, first of all. Second of all, I wanted to just comment on the best story, “political story,” in quotes, of the year I think is the slow but very real awakening of the American people about the fiasco that has been the Bush administration. I see that happening and I see people becoming more aware. While the media still maintain the same, you know, inability to ask the right questions, I think the people around me, at least in my life, are waking up a bit to this. So…

CONAN: Well clearly, Ken Rudin, in the few seconds we have left before the break, President Bush's deepening on popularity clearly among the stories of the year.

RUDIN: And duly reported by the press. Why else would the popularity be so low?

CONAN: We're going to continue this conversation after the break. It's mostly politics this hour. We're rounding up the major political scandals, triumphs and defeats this hour with our political junkie. If you have questions about electoral politics in the last year, give us a call - 800-989-8255. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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

Right now we're rounding up the year in politics with our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. A year characterized, as we mentioned, by scandals and political gaffs, and for course major changes here in Washington, D.C., where a new Congress controlled by the Democratic Party in both Houses will take office early next month.

Joining us now is Matthew Continetti, a staff writer for “The Weekly Standard.” He's joined us here in Studio 3A. Nice of you to be with us.

Mr. MATTHEW CONTINETTI (Staff writer, The Weekly Standard): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Also with us is Anna Greenberg. She's a partner with Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, a political consulting firm and a Democratic strategist. She's in our bureau in New York. And nice to have you on the program today, too.

Ms. ANNA GREENBERG (Democratic Strategist): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And Matthew Continetti, why do you think the GOP started out on such a rough road this year?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I look at one event at the beginning of the year. That's the Dubai Ports deal, something that - we always tend to focus on the events that happened closest to the moment where we're speaking, but I think the way in which the administration handled the Dubai Ports deal and the business dealings there really set them off on the wrong track because it alienated President Bush from a large constituency of his own party, which was already expressing anxieties towards his stance on immigration, and those fears were only exacerbated by this idea of a Dubai company taking over the security of American ports.

CONAN: And it sounded as if the president had a tin ear at that moment, a president who'd been famed for keeping a very close ear to particularly his political base.

Mr. CONTINETTI: That's right. We saw the beginning of the fraying between the relationship between the Bush White House and the conservative movement with the Harriet Miers selection last year. That fraying even continued and grew worse with Dubai Ports and continued throughout the year.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, was this, as we've heard, a victory for the Democrats, a snatch from the jaws of defeat.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, I think that it - I don't know if I'd go that far, but I would say that this was more of a referendum on Republicans and less of a mandate for Democrats. And I think that Democrats actually did a terrific job, whether it was fundraising or candidate recruitment or the campaigns they ran, so I think that we did a pretty fantastic job. But at the same time I think this is very much an opportunity, not necessarily a mandate for any particular - it's for change but not necessarily change that is well articulated.

But I wanted to agree with Matthew about the question of the dynamics of the elections being set in place long before November. I actually think you have to go back to Katrina. There's no doubt there was discontent with the war in Iraq, really for the last couple of years, that was eroding the president's standing long before this election.

But Katrina really - the caller who talked about people waking up, I think that Katrina was actually that moment when people - when real doubts were raised about the competence of this administration, the values of this administration, you know, how they were going to deal with security, homeland security, a whole range of issues that frankly were very tough for Democrats to take on in both 2002 and 2004. And it really changed the mood and really locked in place I think a dynamic that was very difficult for Republicans to change in the year leading up to the election.

CONAN: And Matthew Continetti, again a White House very careful of the images that it put out. And there was that image of President Bush looking down at New Orleans from the window of Air Force One as he flew over.

Mr. CONTINETTI: And that's the moment, Neal. You know, former Bush advisor Matthew Dowd has an excellent new book out called “Applebee's America”, and in that book he talks about the importance of gut connections in politics, how the electorate forms a gut connection with political figures. I think it was Katrina where that gut connection between the American people and George W. Bush was severed.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. This is Patrick. Patrick calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to ask your political junkie what he felt the influence was from Comedy Central with “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”

CONAN: Yes, we mentioned YouTube, Ken, but what about Comedy Central, Jon Stewart and “The Colbert Report?”

PATRICK: I'll take it off the air, thanks.

CONAN: OK. Thanks, Patrick.

RUDIN: Well, we know that, you know, fewer and fewer people are watching the network news. We know that of the three networks - four or five if you include CNN and Fox - the viewership is way down and a lot of people I know get their news mainly from Jon Stewart and Colbert. So clearly, you know, if you have an unpopular administration, an easy target for ridicule and satire, and you have two, you know, people doing this very effectively, it obviously plays a part.

Ms. GREENBERG: You know, if I could jump in here. One of the stories that's gone relatively unreported from this election was what happened with younger voters. And there was some reporting on the fact that there was actual higher turnout among voters under 30 than there had been in at least ten years in an off-year election. But the other story that's interesting is that in both 2004 and 2006, voters under 30 are trending very heavily Democratic. In fact, 60 percent of voters under 30 voted for Democratic candidates. A big place where people this age get their news from is late-night television.

Pew Research Center does very interesting work about media use habits, and you can see there's obviously a very distinct age trend on where people that - and I'm not suggesting that that's the only place they get information and the only reason they voted Democratic, but I think it's part of the story.

CONAN: Yeah, I think there was also a study recently published that showed “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” disparaged Republicans I think 98 percent of the time, Democrats 94 percent of the time, and of course the response was we're going to work real hard to get that to 100 percent every single time. And Matthew Continetti, it is (unintelligible) at this point if you're running for any kind of national office to appear with Jon Stewart.

Mr. CONTINETTI: It is. I had a book this year. I had to go on “The Daily Show.” It was the highlight of the entire tour. And especially when I talk to audiences, college audiences particularly, they all want to talk about “The Daily Show.” It's true they criticize on that show and on “Colbert” both Republicans and Democrats, but I look at another study that came out earlier -I think it was the University of California at Berkeley - which showed that there was connection between viewership of “The Daily Show” and cynicism about American democracy. I find that worrisome. I think these types of shows that lambaste any type of authority figures slowly erode kind of the confidence in American institutions. I think that's a confidence we need to work to rebuild.

Ms. GREENBERG: I think it's probably the things the Republicans have done to erode that confidence, not the lambasting or satirical treatment of it, to be perfectly honest.

CONAN: Well, we do remember the cash in the freezer - I think that was a Democrat who did that. But anyway, let's see if we can get another caller on the line.

RUDIN: And he was reelected.

CONAN: And reelected, yes indeed. Michael's with us, Michael calling from San Antonio, Texas.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yeah, hello.

CONAN: Hi.

MICHAEL: OK. This is for political junkie, concerns Mr. Obama. I read some really virulent and racist reply in a leading magazine not long ago, and up around Pasadena, Texas people - Mr. Obama, please proceed with your campaign most seriously, meticulously and with much caution.

CONAN: Barack Obama is positioning himself possibly for a run for President of the United States, and Michael's not the only caller we've had, Ken, who said this might be premature.

RUDIN: Well, look, he's due, and obviously this is the peak, the apex of his popularity. We feel that with almost every presidential candidate once they announce, once they have a platform, they're there to be torn down by us, by voters, by cynics, by columnists, so that happens. But again, you know, I've been watching this game for many, many years - decades even - and Obama seems to have the kind of excitement associated with a new candidate that I haven't seen since Bobby Kennedy in the fact that he brings a sense - you know, they say he transcends race, he transcends ideology even though he's a very liberal Democrat. But the point is, he represents something new. And I think after what happened the last six years - and we saw this in November - that people are looking for something new.

CONAN: Matthew Continetti and Anna Greenberg, though, I think the caller's asking about the racial component in here and that people may react very - some people may react very negatively.

Mr. CONTINETTI: According to published reports, Obama's wife Michelle is actually reluctant to endorse a presidential bid for that very reason. She's afraid Senator Obama…

CONAN: As Colin Powell's wife was.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Exactly. Would be the target as a major African-American presidential candidate. I look at Barack Obama, I don't think you need to go even decades to find a case where portions of the Democratic electorate become enthused about a candidate only to abandon him. We can go back only about two years - Howard Dean. And what happened there, of course. Leading in the polls, leading in the money race and then popped.

Ms. GREENBERG: I think it's very difficult to know. I actually am a pollster. That's what kind of strategist I am. And we do, you know, some research on this, and it's very difficult to measure simply by asking people, you know, would you be willing to vote for an African-American candidate. You know, a vast majority of people say yes. It's not a socially desirable response to say you would not. So I think it's actually very difficult to know what the racial dynamics will be.

But I think that part of the appeal of Obama is that he, unlike some other Democratic presidential candidates in the last, you know, two elections cycles, he's actually able to articulate who he is, what his values are, what his vision is for this country and for the future in a way that's enormously compelling. And I think that that has great power and, you know, potentially does overcome some of the challenges because of his race.

RUDIN: What Anna says is worth remembering because we saw this with Harold Ford, Jr. in Tennessee this year. That, for the longest time, many whites were saying, oh, I don't see race involved in this at all. I see him as perfectly acceptable to vote for. And when it came down to it, whites abandoned Harold Ford in Tennessee.

CONAN: And of course there was a famous ad that forced people to remember Harold Ford in Tennessee with a punch line from a very attractive young lady in a political advertisement.

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Unidentified Woman (Actress): Harold, call me.

CONAN: An ad denounced as racist, yet Harold Ford lost that race.

RUDIN: Well, I'm not sure. I think what that ad really seemed to set the tone and change - because everything was going Harold Ford's way. He was quoting Ronald Reagan, he was quoting the Ten Commandments, he was talking about how conservative he is on illegal immigration. And suddenly I think the voters got a different picture when that ad came out.

CONAN: Matthew Continetti, you mentioned immigration before, which seemed to be last spring the emerging dominant political issue of this campaign. An issue, but certainly not dominant.

Mr. CONTINETTI: No, not according to the exit polls. Immigration's a fascinating issue because the few people who were excited about it are very excited about it. But unfortunately for any anti-immigration candidate, there are relatively few of them. And we saw leading restrictionists in the Republican Congress, people like John Hostettler, people like J.D. Hayworth, lose their seats in the 2006 election.

CONAN: And it is not an issue that is exactly a partisan Republican/Democratic issue, Anna Greenberg.

Ms. GREENBERG: No, it's not. And it divided the Republican Party as much as it divides the Democratic Party. And to be honest with you, this was when I was thinking about some of the big stories, what are some of the surprises from this past year, and immigration is actually one of them.

There was a fair amount of concern I think, at least on my side, about the issue, about it being used against Democratic candidates. We did a fair amount of research on it. And what we discovered throughout the election cycle was that it mattered a lot to single-issue immigration voters. But it didn't matter so much to a whole lot of Republicans, and it certainly didn't matter to swing voters.

And one of the - I worked on Gabby Giffords' race in Arizona 8, which includes Tucson and Cochise County, which is the home of the Minutemen. And we ran against one of the founders of the Minutemen. And we actually, in our polling late in the race when we asked on the immigration issue who you trusted more, we were actually beating him - not by a lot, but by some.

And it really was in the place that, you know, this should be ground zero for the immigration issue, I think that that was a bit of a surprise to a lot of us and obviously, you know, a relief that the issue could not be used effectively against Democrats.

CONAN: And finally, Matthew Continetti, was the failure of the Congress and the president to get a bill out on this issue that everybody seemed to be talking about for so long? How much did that play?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, the fact that the Republican Congress denied Bush a significant legislative victory in a comprehensive immigration reform plan I think hurt Republicans in general because there was nothing that they Republicans could go home to their districts and say this was what we accomplished. Instead, the story was scandal, scandal, scandal and Iraq.

CONAN: Matthew Continetti is a staff writer for the "Weekly Standard." Anna Greenberg is a partner with Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, a political consulting firm and a Democratic strategist. And of course, Ken Rudin. I guess he gets paid for being NPR's Political Junkie.

RUDIN: Whatever he does, right.

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

And let's see if we can get Roc(ph) on the line. Roc calling us from West Palm Beach.

ROC (Caller): How you doing?

CONAN: Very well.

ROC: Calling you from the car, so you'll forgive the fidelity. But I just have to say one of the things that sparked my mind was Al Gore keeping himself alive in the national spotlight with the release of his movie, "The Inconvenient Truth."

CONAN: And Anna Greenberg, that of course did put Al Gore back in the spotlight. And certainly that's not going to go away anytime between now and Oscar night.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, and it's not just that movie. He actually has been doing, since 2000 but more recently, a series of speeches cosponsored with groups like MoveOn.org on lots of issues, including climate change. And I don't think it's going away. I have no idea if he's going to run for president or not, but I do think that he really has found his voice and is enormously effective communicating about the issues that he is most passionate about.

ROC: If you believe what he said in the movie, he's been doing it since the ‘70s, you know. So I mean he's the patron saint of the environment.

CONAN: Right after he invented the Internet.

ROC: Yeah, exactly. Not that I voted for him with the butterfly ballot here in Palm Beach. But, you know, I got a lot of respect for the guy because he was like a robot master when he was the president of the Senate or the Congress. When he was in there. Watch him on C-SPAN. He was amazing.

CONAN: Roc, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

Let's go now to Cathy(ph). Cathy calling us from Bynan(ph), Washington.

CATHY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi there.

CATHY: Hi. I've been watching the impact of the religious right on politics in America since 1974. And as a Christian myself, I've been very distressed to see its influence. And so I'm glad to see that the Christian right is beginning to change its attitude, and I think you really see that coming out in this last election.

CONAN: Matthew Continetti?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, the religious right, part of the Republican coalition, obviously or apparently not that influential since that Republican coalition broke apart in these midterm elections. Interesting thing the caller raises, the religious right shifting its attitudes towards some issues.

One of those issues, global warming, and that is related to Al Gore, of course. There are some conservative pastors now who recently published an ad in The New York Times saying that President Bush needed to devote attention to the climate change issue.

RUDIN: Neal...

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: But did the Christian conservatives change their position or did the Republican Congress change its position? And the reason I ask that is because a lot of Christian conservatives stayed home on Election Day because they saw sex scandals, they had scandal after scandal in Washington. They saw a Republican Congress, not a Democratic Congress, a Republican Congress unable to rein in spending.

There were a lot of things that the Republicans promised when they took over Congress in '94 that they reneged on. And I think a lot of religious conservative voters just felt betrayed.

Ms. GREENBERG: Well, Ken's right. And really it's not that the coalition fell apart, it was that a lot of them stayed home and there was some erosion. But regardless, Republicans still won 70 percent of white evangelical Christians. So I think that the Foley scandal in particular had a major impact on the Republicans' ability to mobilize those base voters. But I think we're going to still see a pattern of very strong support for Republicans from conservative Christians.

CONAN: And Matthew Continetti, the tactic that seemed to work well for Republicans in 2004 with gay marriage amendments on a lot of ballots around the country. Fewer of those this time around and there were issues on the other side - on minimum wage and on stem cell research.

Mr. CONTINETTI: We've reached a point where basically every state that could host a ballot referendum on same sex marriage has done so. In fact, the same sex marriage referendum in Arizona failed actually to pass, though the same sex marriage referendums in many Southern states - including Virginia - ran ahead of Republican candidates.

So that issue seems to be gone for now. We'll see what the Supreme Court has to say about it in the future, though.

CONAN: Cathy, thank you very much for the call.

CATHY: You bet.

CONAN: And as you look ahead - first of all, Matthew Continetti - who's in the lead for the Republican nomination for president right now?

Mr. CONTINETTI: No question that they are two titans in this Republican race -John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. I think Giuliani, even though people here in Washington like to talk about his liberal stances on social issues, has that gut connection with Republican voters; he's popular, he draws great audiences. If he has the institutional framework over these next two years, he has a strong shot of winning the Republican nomination in 2008.

CONAN: And Anna Greenberg, quickly, we know of course about Senator Clinton and Barack Obama. Are any of the other Democratic candidates likely to survive those two giants?

Ms. GREENBERG: Absolutely. And I think that one person to watch is John Edwards, who I guess is announcing - I didn't realize that - this week that he's running for president. He's number one right now in polls in Iowa where we'll have the first presidential caucus. And so I think this is actually a pretty wide-open field.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Ms. GREENBERG: Thank you.

CONAN: Anna Greenberg, a partner with Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner, a political consulting firm and a Democratic strategist. Matthew Continetti was with us here in Studio 3A. He's a staff writer for “The Weekly Standard." Thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, we'll have some more questions for our Political Junkie Ken Rudin. 800-989-2855.

It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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

Today we've got the Political Junkie with us, Ken Rudin. We're taking your calls about the year in politics 2006 and looking ahead to 2008. You can give us a call: 800-989-2855, 800-989-TALK. Or send us an e-mail: talk@npr.org.

And Ken Rudin, the political battleground of 2004 was unquestionably the state of Ohio, and it's pretty easy to argue that the state of Ohio was the political battleground again in 2006.

RUDIN: It was, and the Democrats surely took advantage of it. There was a Senate seat. Mike DeWine was running for reelection, the Republican, and he was defeated. Sixteen years a Republican rule as governors ended too with the election of Ted Strickland as the governor there. They also picked up Bob Ney's House seat.

So obviously there will be a big battle in 2008. No Republican has ever been elected a president without winning Ohio, and Republicans know. Look, this could be a very cyclical thing. And they said, look, Bush is unpopular, the war was unpopular. This may not last until 2008, obviously when there will be a new president elected.

CONAN: And the other story of the year, another story of the year, was the slaughter of liberal moderate Republicans in the Northeast.

RUDIN: There's only one Republican left in the entire northeast in the House, and that's Chris Shays of Connecticut who I think - I thought was actually going to go down to defeat as well. It's interesting that if there was anger at Republicans and conservative philosophy and conservative positions, you know, it was the liberals, certainly in the Northeast, who paid for it.

Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, not because he was unpopular, not because he voted the wrong way, but voters there wanted a Democratic controlled Senate and reelecting Lincoln Chafee wouldn't accomplish that.

CONAN: Let's see if we get another caller on the line. Charlotte with us. Charlotte from Meriden, Ohio.

CHARLOTTE (Caller): It's Meriden, New Hampshire, actually.

CONAN: Please excuse me. I saw NH and I saw an O there. I apologize.

CHARLOTTE: That's OK. I think that the most significant piece this year from the election standpoint is that New Hampshire, for the first time since the Civil War, has gone Democratic in its legislature. Both the Senate and the House, as well as the executive council, are all Democratic.

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean it was an amazing year. There were a lot of states to pick but New Hampshire is certainly one of them. First time since 1874 that the Democrats won both houses of the state legislature. There were two Republican members of Congress in the House. Both were defeated. Governor John Lynch, the Democrat, was elected by a record-breaking margin.

And the same thing is true about another early 2008 state, Iowa. Both houses there went for Democrats as well. So the two early states - Iowa, New Hampshire - big days for the Democrats.

CONAN: Charlotte, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

CHARLOTTE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. The state of Connecticut, though, progressives around the country, the bloggers and MoveOn.org celebrated the defeat of Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary for United States Senate. And then Joe Lieberman romped to election in the general as an independent candidate.

RUDIN: It's very interesting. Ned Lamont was the keyword for the left for the longest time. They didn't like not only Joe Lieberman's views on the war but the way he treated other Democrats about criticizing President Bush, whether that was proper or not to do so.

And the blogosphere was filled with we've got to get rid of Joe Lieberman. And even though he narrowly lost his Democratic primary, there were still independents to vote for him and Republicans to vote for him. They came up with a Republican candidate by the name of Alan Schlesinger, who got a whopping 10 percent of the vote in November. It was the votes of Republicans and independents that put Joe Lieberman back in the Senate, even though he's nominally a Democrat.

CONAN: And as we look ahead to 2008, there are some interesting numbers to look forward to. Among them, the United States Senate, where Democrats currently enjoy that razor-thin majority of one vote, 22 of the 33 seats up in 2008 are going to be defended by Republicans.

RUDIN: Exactly right. I mean a lot of Democrats were very nervous about the condition of Tim Johnson, the senator from South Dakota, and whether that would shift the balance of power to the Senate back to the Republicans. But all you have to do, Neal, and you're exactly right, look at 2008. Twenty one of the 33 are Republican seats, plus there are some Republicans in their eighties or elderly Republicans, like John Warner of Virginia, like Ted Stevens of Alaska.

They say they're probably going to run again, but they may not. And it's very interesting. We saw this with Democrats after the 1994 debacle for the Democrats. A lot of them said, well, I've been in the majority for so long, why stay? And a lot of Democrats retired after the '94 elections. It'll be interesting to see how Republicans who have been in power for all these years may decide not to run again because the likelihood of them being in the majority is not good.

CONAN: And we heard about the Democratic control of the legislature in New Hampshire. Obviously, this is going to be incredibly important if they can sustain these gains for 2010, when redistricting happens.

RUDIN: Right. And they pick - and they have, you know, big states. They picked up New York. They picked up Ohio. They have Michigan. They have a lot of these states. Of course, the Republicans kept some of the fastest growing states - California, Florida and Texas - so all is not bad for the Republican Party.

CONAN: Let's get one last caller on the line. This is Mindy(ph). Mindy with us from Amherst, Massachusetts.

MINDY (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MINDY: I think that there are two top stories that you haven't covered, is Nancy Pelosi being in succession to be president. It seems like she is closer to the White House at this point than Hillary Clinton. And Deval Patrick becoming the first black governor of Massachusetts.

CONAN: Of course, the Speaker of the House-to-be Nancy Pelosi, third in line for the presidency, and Deval Patrick, of course, a black man elected governor of Massachusetts.

RUDIN: And not only the first black of Massachusetts, he's only the second in the nation's history after Douglas Wilder in Virginia in 1989. Historic event in both cases.

CONAN: Mindy, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MINDY: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin's next Political Junkie column will be up on our Web site next week.

RUDIN: Right. The next one will - all the people in politics and the world of political journalism who passed away in 2006.

CONAN: NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin with us here in Studio 3A, where he joins us every week. Thanks as always, Ken. Happy New Year.

RUDIN: Same to you, Neal. Thank you.

CONAN: When we come back, we'll follow up on newsmakers of the year with some people we've meet in New Orleans.

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