NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And now it's time for the Political Junkie.
(Soundbite of Political Junkie introduction)
President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.
Mr. LLOYD BENTSEN (Former Senator, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaagh!
CONAN: We all expected it, now it's official. I've got a coughing fit. Obama puts his hat in the presidential ring, at least a little bit. That, and other news from campaign trail. Could 2008 be the year of the split ticket? Former Clintonite Lanny Davis explores the what if - excuse me. Plus, Colorado Republican Wayne Allard's decision not to seek a third term in the U.S. Senate could make the centennial state the Ohio of 2008. If you want to discuss any of these things or the rest of the week's news in electoral politics, give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Ken, I guess no big surprise to the Obama semi-announcement.
KEN RUDIN: No, but you're all choked up. Apparently, it's a surprise to somebody.
RUDIN: No. Actually, but it's still very exciting. The fact is that for somebody with two years in the Senate with very little legislative accomplishments, he is - besides Hillary Rodham Clinton - the leading Democrat for 2008.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we have from Tom(ph) in Illinois. It's frequently noted that Obama's limited experience in public office is negative for his candidacies - state legislature, just two years in the Senate. I've never heard it noted that another Illinois politician was elected president after serving only a state legislative experience of two years in the House of Representatives: Abraham Lincoln.
RUDIN: That's exactly true. And actually, if you look at all these senators who've been elected president and their history, well, two - and none since Jack Kennedy - maybe some people can argue that having 30 years in the Senate like Joe Biden or like Bob Dole did, you know, all these people who've been spending a career in the Senate, that may not be the way to advance to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
CONAN: And it should be noted that shortly after Mr. Obama's announcement, a news conference with Hillary Rodham Clinton...
CONAN: ...on her return from Iraq yesterday was canceled.
RUDIN: And she's having it today at three o'clock?
RUDIN: The day after Barack Obama had all the headlines?
CONAN: And interestingly, in between those two events this morning, Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, was on a lot of the talk shows, on television, even on public radio talking about how she sees the future for Iraq.
(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)
Senator HILARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): Well, I was listening for a level of commitment to securing Iraq by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi army and police force that has been missing, and I didn't hear that. I don't see where our putting in more American troops is likely to bring that about. So what I came away with, Steve, is a very strong opposition to the president's plan for escalation. And instead, I would like to see us cap the number of American troops in Iraq at the level that we had as of January 1st and begin to deploy them out of Baghdad and eventually out of Iraq.
CONAN: Hillary Rodham Clinton, talking about her meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, talking to some guy named Steve.
RUDIN: Well, let me get this straight. So Hilary Rodham Clinton was on NPR this morning with Steve Inskeep. She was on "The Today Show" this morning. She was on CBS morning news this morning - hence the title "CBS Morning News." And this is was a day after Barack Obama announced his exploratory committee.
CONAN: And she declined to say when she was going to announce her exploratory committee.
RUDIN: Well, no. I'm making fun of this. But basically this seems to be a lot of people are already deciding that the Democratic nomination is between these two people. And for all the headlines and all the headlines that Barack Obama had yesterday with the announcement, and it's in all the papers today, Mrs. Clinton is really front and center stage today.
But I wonder if Mrs. Clinton is running not so much against Barack Obama, but against Hillary Clinton from 2002. She was supportive of the war. She voted to authorize the use of troops in 2002. She's called for more troops for many, many years. She's a late bloomer to the antiwar crowd. And I wonder if what Hillary Rodham Clinton is doing is trying to firm up her antiwar credentials for an obvious run for president.
CONAN: And in the meantime, presidential candidates just seem to be coming out of the closet.
RUDIN: Well, I don't know if that's the right way - the way I'd put it. But certainly Tom Tancredo, a congressman, an anti-illegal immigration activist congressman from Colorado, announced he's going to have an exploratory committee. On Saturday, Senator Sam Brownback, the senior senator from Kansas, is going to officially declare his candidacy. Very conservative. He hopes to, you know, fill the void that many other Republicans are not filling. A lot of social conservatives, and I've spoken to many of them, are not exactly thrilled with McCain and Mitt Romney, and certainly Rudy Giuliani. So maybe Brownback, even though he's not widely known, could be the real deal.
CONAN: And you mentioned Tom Tancredo in Colorado, a congressman. The Republican senator from Colorado, Wayne Allard, has announced that he does not plan to run for reelection in 2008. He is one of those that people were looking at to say where - how many seats are Republicans going to have to defend because numerically, just the way the wheel turns, they've got an awful lot of seats to defend.
RUDIN: They do. Of the 33 Senate seats that are up in 2008, 21 of them are held by the Republicans. Now in fairness to Wayne Allard, he said when he first was elected in 1996 that he would only run for two terms, but he was in big trouble if he was going to run for a third term.
Look, a lot of people break their pledges on term limits anyway, but he barely was reelected in 2002. Mark Udall, the son of the late Mo Udall, a congressman from Colorado, is likely to run. The Democrats seem to have cleared the field for Udall, and Allard was thought to be an underdog in his bid for a third term.
CONAN: And whose heart is beating faster in Republican chests in Colorado these weeks?
RUDIN: Well, they would love Bill Owens, the former governor, who just, you know, ended his two terms this month. They would love for him to run. The likelihood is that he doesn't want to run for the Senate and come to Washington.
But Tancredo's been mentioned. A lot of congressmen, former congressmen, have been mentioned. But you know, Colorado has really been moving towards the Democrats. In 2004, we saw Ken Salazar pick up a Democratic seat for the Democrats, pick up a Senate seat for the Democrats. His brother won a Republican House seat for the Democrats. And in 2006, you have a Democratic governor for the first time in eight years.
So Colorado seems to be moving more blue than red, and of course the Democrats are having their convention there in 2008.
RUDIN: Let's bring in another guest now. Lanny Davis wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post last weekend about the possibility of a split ticket in 2008. Of course, Lanny Davis, you'll remember, was formerly special counsel to President Bill Clinton, and he joins us by phone here in Washington. And Lanny Davis, nice to talk to you.
Mr. LANNY DAVIS (Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton): Hi. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And most people would say split ticket, fusion ticket, you've got to be crazy. The whole system works against that.
Mr. DAVIS: Well, you mentioned a legislator from Illinois who only served one term in the Illinois House and one term in the House of Representatives. His name was Abraham Lincoln, and he's the last president who defied conventional wisdom, reached across the aisle in 1864 in the middle of the Civil War and picked a partisan Democrat who had supported his opponent in 1860 named Andrew Johnson.
And but for his assassination, we never really ever experienced what it would be like to have a time-out from partisan politics and have both parties protecting one other as they actually - don't be too shocked by this - tried to solve the country's problems rather than playing, as I wrote in - if I may shamelessly promote my book, "Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America."
This country is fed up with the partisanship that even prevents debate on issues, much less solving problems. So for both provocative reasons as well as, I think, realistic possibilities, I wrote this piece that suggested that 2008 may be a year where the Democratic or Republican victor in November 2008 asks his or her vice president to step down and become secretary of state and ask the opposing candidate who's just lost to become vice president and we have a 50-50 Cabinet, et cetera.
Now a lot of people have reacted, you know, well, that's just too whimsical and too fantastical. And I remind them that just a little more than three years ago, we don't know how close we came to exactly that result. John Kerry asked John McCain, a conservative Republican compared to John Kerry, to be his vice presidential candidate.
Certainly it would have offended the liberal base in the Democratic Party, but I don't think there's much doubt, had McCain said yes - and reports are that he considered it seriously before saying no - that John Kerry would've won the presidency, and we would have had exactly what I wrote about in my op-ed piece.
And the question is whether the circumstances in 2008 will lend itself toward that kind of a decision by one of the two nominees or one of the two elected presidents after the election.
CONAN: Ken Rudin, is this an utterly nutty idea?
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: No, no. I mean, I read the piece, and Lanny, I thought it was a great piece. But here are the two things that are striking. First of all, politics by definition is partisan. The people who go to the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, those states, are either angry or defensive, but they are loyal to their party.
Two, in your op-ed you mention perhaps an Obama-Chuck Hagel ticket as possibly bridging the divide because they are both, you know, from different parties. But they both happen to be antiwar candidates. What about McCain and Lieberman? I mean, that would bridge the divide, too, because you have a Democrat and Republican, but they're prowar. So is it - do you have to be opposed to the war to have this so-called nonpartisan ticket, or could it be a hawkish ticket?
Mr. DAVIS: Actually, one of the - you might have missed the headline, which was Clinton-McCain or McCain-Clinton. So there's a combination of prosurge and antisurge. I think to get out of Iraq in a way that leaves this country united rather than terribly divided, we need a bipartisan consensus as to how to get out of Iraq. And we very well may decide that we need a time-out on partisanship to provide protective cover for both parties to get out of Iraq, to solve Social Security, to do something about energy independence and - are you ready for this one? - to raise taxes to actually pay for our deficit and make the investments we need in the future.
How are you going to do any of those things without each party protecting the other from partisan recriminations? This is one of those provocative ideas. I understand the chances may be slight, but this is - try a cab driver poll. Wherever you are in the country, it doesn't matter, liberal, Republican, conservative, it doesn't matter what section of the country. Try this idea out, and people will say oh, they'll never do that, but boy, wouldn't that be great?
CONAN: Our guest is Lanny Davis, formerly special counsel to President Bill Clinton and currently promoting the idea of a split ticket in 2008, that of course meaning one Republican, one Democrat, one for president and one for vice president. Difficult to imagine after coming out of the primary process, but it could happen. In any case, we're here with political junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's get some callers on the line. This is Paul(ph), Paul with us from Dayton, Ohio.
PAUL (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.
PAUL: I was wondering about the possibility of a McCain-Biden ticket. From what I understand, the two are pretty good friends and both of them tend to reach across the aisle. And it seems especially fascinating given that Biden isn't really entering the Democratic nomination discussion, even though everybody seems to acknowledge that he has the only real Democratic plan that has any chance of success in Iraq and a lot of people have unfortunately realistic questions about the electability of a minority or a female right now.
CONAN: Unfortunately, and I just pose this to Lanny Davis, Mr. Biden's plan does not look an awful lot like Mr. McCain's plan.
Mr. DAVIS: Well, remember, I'm in favor of partisanship. I'm in favor of liberals debating conservatives. I think most of the country wants those debates to take place. We have differences of view about how to get out of Iraq without leaving behind a rogue terrorist state, and we're going to need somebody who's a supporter of the Iraq War and someone who's against the Iraq War to figure out how to do that.
Now John McCain is a supporter of the war, a supporter of increasing military forces there. I'm opposed to both of those views, but I want him at the table to help us get out of Iraq honorably on a bipartisan basis. It's the strongest argument for this happening.
So I placed a bet in this piece that I wrote in the Post. The first party, the first presidential nominee that does this, and if the other party doesn't, that ticket wins because I'm telling you the American people are way ahead of us political junkies on this program and within the Beltway, and they would love to have a time-out on this awful partisanship that has gotten us into this mess.
Do you know that we can't even debate how to solve Social Security? There can't even be a debate on the floor of either house in a representative democracy because both parties...
CONAN: Lanny Davis, though...
Mr. DAVIS: ...so afraid of that subject?
CONAN: That's why there are radio programs.
Mr. DAVIS: Exactly.
RUDIN: Lanny, you mention that people are tired of the partisanship and that people are angry about the rancor back and forth, but if you had a prowar candidate and an antiwar candidate on the same ticket or in the same administration as president and vice president, don't you think that that infighting and that rancor would go on for the next four years between the two of them?
Mr. DAVIS: Actually, that's the only way we're going to get out of Iraq. We're not going to get out of Iraq by the antiwar movement running over people who are going to accuse, as I think happened to the Democrats in the '60s for 30 years, of losing Iraq to a terrorist-dominated al-Qaida Baghdad.
We're going to have to have both parties come together and somehow find a way out of this mess. If this is a partisan solution of getting out of Iraq, we're going to suffer for it for another generation just like we did in Vietnam.
Same thing on energy independence, same thing on Social Security, same thing on the third rail of raising taxes, which we're going to have to do. We've got to figure out a way to partisan debate and then find consensus. It may not be through what I call a bipartisan presidency. That may be too whimsical, but it's certainly the idea for governing this country. We cannot do it on a partisan basis the way the Republicans did it, by running over the opposition, shutting out debate and causing red-and-blue-state America for as long as the eye can see. We've to figure this out, and we've got to try it a different way.
CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call.
PAUL: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate your time. We've got a number of e-mails. What about a ticket of Barack and Powell as VP, that from Jamie(ph). Mickey(ph) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says forget Obama-Hagel, Obama-Chafee is the winning ticket. Chafee is a Republican any Democrat can respect, except of course those guys who didn't elect him in Rhode Island, anyway - or reelect him.
And Virginia in East Norrington, Pennsylvania, says a Joe Biden-Barack Obama presidential ticket would be exciting. They would balance each other. Biden would bring experience with international affairs. Obama would bring domestic state experience and charisma. Both would bring intelligence. They seem to have compatible views that would allow them to work together.
And Ken Rudin, interesting, Barack Obama figures prominently in all of those in part because, though he's been around a little while, he's still an unknown quantity. People really don't know where he stands...
RUDIN: And I think that's a big plus. We talk - I mean, we talk about the guys who have been in the Senate for so long and they have these decades of votes that they have to defend. There's something - when Barack Obama talked about a break from the past, I'm not convinced he wasn't talking just about President Bush, but he may have been talking about Hillary Clinton as well because he has no record to stand on, that's true, but again maybe that's a good thing for voters to see.
CONAN: NPR's political junkie Ken Rudin with us here in Studio 3A. His column comes up on Wednesdays at npr.org, where you can read it. Lanny Davis, thanks very much for your time.
Mr. DAVIS: Thank you. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Lanny Davis, a partner at the law firm of Orrick, formerly special counsel to President Clinton. And this news in, a group of senators, including a Republican antiwar figure - I think that would be Senator Chuck Hagel - has announced an agreement on a resolution opposing the 21,500 troop build-up in Iraq and calling for greater engagement by other countries. Stay tuned to NPR for news on that later today.
I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.
(Soundbite of "I want to Grow Up to Be a Politician")
THE BYRDS (Musical Group): (Singing) ...be a politician and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.