Who's Your Nominee For Politician Of The Year? As 2010 wanes, we're looking for Talk's Politician of the Year. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, Republican lobbyist Alex Vogel and Alaska Public Radio Network correspondent Libby Casey give us their picks. Host Neal Conan and NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving judge.
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Who's Your Nominee For Politician Of The Year?

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Who's Your Nominee For Politician Of The Year?

Who's Your Nominee For Politician Of The Year?

Who's Your Nominee For Politician Of The Year?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/132441779/132441716" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As 2010 wanes, we're looking for Talk's Politician of the Year. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, Republican lobbyist Alex Vogel and Alaska Public Radio Network correspondent Libby Casey give us their picks. Host Neal Conan and NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving judge.


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

Republicans continue to rumble in Alaska, where the loser just won't quit. Democrats duke it out in Chicago. And brace yourself for tweets from the House floor. It's Wednesday and time for a touchscreen edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

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

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: This week, Rahm says Chicago is the Wrigley Building, but Bill Clinton is warned to stay in Harlem. Obama basks in Hawaii, while Chris Christie winds up in hot water at Disney World. And the ghost of John Lindsay haunts Gracie Mansion.

Sarah Palin's TV ratings do better than her presidential prospects, and we want your nominee for 2010's politician of the year. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Later in the program, police fatalities increase over this past year, but as usual, car crashes are a major factor. First, though, Political Junkie Ken Rudin's putting champale on ice for the big holiday. Senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us here in Studio 3A. Ron, always nice to have you with us today.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And let's start as we have for almost two months: Is this election ever going to be over?

ELVING: Alaska?

CONAN: Yeah.

ELVING: Well, let's remember that just a couple of years ago, it took us an extraordinarily long time to decide who had won in Minnesota, and Al Franken...

CONAN: Yeah, but they were actually counting votes.

ELVING: Well, yes, all right. And really, there's not going to be any controversy about seating a senator here. Any chance of that went away this week when Joe Miller dropped his objection to the certification of Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent who has apparently won that election. And she is going to be sworn in with the rest of the Senate next Wednesday, and everything will be as normal.

The only thing, really, that's left open here is Joe Miller's wounded pride, because he's lost in every court. A federal judge now, Ralph Beistline, has joined the Alaska Supreme Court in saying this is all moot, let's just forget it.

And Miller still has the option of appealing in the federal system, but - and he'll probably leave that option open for a little while, but he's really just saving face at this point.

CONAN: Saving face is the only thing he's got left.

ELVING: It would so appear.

CONAN: As long as we're in Alaska, former Governor Sarah Palin, well, did not do so well in some pre-presidential surveys.

ELVING: I think if you were looking for the Palin meter to continue to show red at the right side of the dial, this has been a rather chilly December for her.

She is not moving the dial. She is, in fact, suddenly accumulating quite a number of people standing around saying I hope she doesn't run, I don't think she will run - really casting a lot of doubt on her candidacy ever existing in 2012.

And there are good reasons for that too. Among other things, she is showing rather poorly, as you say, in polls in individual states, including in the state of Alaska, where...

CONAN: Where she, of course, backed Joe Miller and not the winner, Lisa Murkowski.

ELVING: That's right, and although a lot of people thought it was Sarah Palin's clout that got Joe Miller the win in that head-to-head Republican primary last year, and that forced Lisa Murkowski to run as an independent and as a write-in candidate, that in the end may have shown really only her appeal to a limited number of Republicans, even in Alaska, because as I say, her positives there are barely better than they are in the state of Massachusetts.

CONAN: And we have to, though, concentrate on three states. That would be Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

ELVING: That's right, and in these states, while she has a strong following in all three, and maybe particularly in Iowa, where she has made a number of trips, she would have to deal with not only the negatives that people feel for her on the independent side and the Democratic side, but even within the Republican Party, where, while she still has overwhelmingly positive reactions in the Republican Party, people are very practical in Iowa, and they ask: Who's our best candidate in November? Who can beat Barack Obama?

And the polls we've been seeing show that she's weaker against Obama than really anyone else in the field.

CONAN: She also, well, refudiated her mistyped tweet.

ELVING: She said that she mistakenly typed an F and did not intend to create a word. She just meant to say repudiate and hit an F, and she said and everybody just, well, lost it over one typed missed letter.

CONAN: Which has a lot to say about celebrity and the rest of the media.

ELVING: It may have a lot to say, in a sense, about the whole Palin idea of her running for president in 2012. Quite a few people think that she's benefiting from this, profiting from it, if you will. She has an enormous media career, and so does her family, all to some degree reliant not only on her personal charm but also on this idea that she might very well run for president in 2012 and be a formidable contender for the office.

If that is - if that is in the end what's making people interested in Sarah Palin, she's going to have to string this out for as long as possible and play on that media interest.

CONAN: Well, staying with her likely opponent, should she get in the race and win the Republican nomination, that's of course Barack Obama, on vacation this week in Hawaii and, well, not taking any work with him, it seems.

ELVING: No, he is - he is truly on vacation, although he has found at least some kind of a reason to visit a Marine base there, whether it's to play golf or whether it's to greet the troops or have a meal or visit them, their Sunday services last weekend.

He is, of course, from Hawaii, and for him to go to Hawaii is maybe a little different from, say, you or I going to Hawaii. It is a vacation, but it is also a visit back to his homeland, his home ground, if you will, and Hawaii is a place that most of us would like to spend a little bit of time.

Now, he did not take with him any bills to sign. If there were a bill where it made a difference whether it got signed today or next week, it could be spirited out to him by rapid transit in less than half a day, but there doesn't seem to be any legislation on his desk at this point that needs that.

The first responder legislation for 9/11 firefighters and others, to have certain kinds of health care and benefits, will - it won't make any difference whether he signs it this week or next week.

CONAN: In the meantime, any politician who leaves town, especially on vacation, seems to take a risk, apparently more so if you're from the state of New Jersey.

ELVING: Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, who has made virtually no missteps in his first year as governor...

CONAN: Rumblings of vice presidency.

ELVING: Well, so popular that you hear him being mentioned in the field for presidential contender, not just vice presidential, but you actually hear people saying here's a guy we ought to take a look at to see if he would have that appeal to blue-collar voters that would really put Republicans over the top in 2012.

CONAN: And appeal to Democratic blue-collar voters too.

ELVING: That is correct, as he has had in New Jersey. So if this is a misstep, he saw the storm coming. He said: I don't know if it's going to be that bad or not, but what can I do? I can do whatever I can do to encourage this cleanup from Disney World.

CONAN: And of course he had a lieutenant governor who was ready to step in for him.

ELVING: Well, and the lieutenant governor also left the state on vacation. That's probably not such a good idea. One of them or the other probably should have stayed. But neither one of them probably could have done much to prevent the snow.

The politician who is suffering the most from this right now is Mike Bloomberg.

CONAN: Who stayed in town but is sadly looking like John Lindsay did in, what was it, 19...

ELVING: '69.

CONAN: '69, yes.

ELVING: 1969. He failed to plow Queens.

CONAN: And paid for it politically. He did not get re-elected.

ELVING: That is correct.

CONAN: Speaking of the - more news out of the Windy City and the president though - Rahm Emanuel is now set as certified Chicagoan and is also getting some electoral help.

ELVING: Rahm Emanuel probably turned the big corner on December 23rd, when the elections board in Chicago unanimously voted to say he's Chicagoan enough, he can be a candidate for mayor.

Now, this is probably going to be challenged in the Illinois state court system. I would be very surprised to see it overturned. He is now apparently going to be on that February 22nd ballot. He is leading in all the polls. The biggest chance his opponents had to stop him was probably to just keep him off the ballot entirely.

Now Bill Clinton is coming in. Of course, he worked for Bill Clinton in the Clinton White House back in the 1990s, and then he was chief of staff for Barack Obama.

One of the candidates, two of the candidates there, Danny Davis, an African-American congressman from Chicago's South Side, and Carol Moseley Braun, who was Chicago's first woman black senator, who was elected back in 1992 and...

CONAN: Later appointed ambassador by...

ELVING: Bill Clinton, that same president, after she had lost her bid for re-election. Both of them have said they would prefer that Bill Clinton stay out of this particular mayoral race, and Danny Davis has gone so far as to say this could cost Bill Clinton his warm relationship with African-Americans.

CONAN: More on this later in the program. By the way, we are asking you for your nominees for politician of the year - email us, talk@npr.org. We'll be taking phone calls in the next segment of the program too. That's 800-989-8255. And you can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

In the meantime, one week from today, it is the Republicans who will be stealing the headlines as they take over the majority in the House of Representatives, and indeed we'll be getting the news on Facebook and Twitter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: That's right. We're going to be allowing these members to - or Congress is going to allow these members to go ahead and communicate their excitement and their feelings right from the floor of the Congress, which of course is nothing more really than a bow to the social media world that we all live in today and that politicians are trying very hard to exploit.

CONAN: We're hearing a lot, though, about a fairly obscure piece of legislation called the Congressional Review Act, which some speculate may play a significant role in, well, obstructionism.

ELVING: I don't think there's any question but that many of the Republicans who are newly elected to the House of Representatives, and some in the Senate, are going to be interested in doing everything they possibly can to review regulations and laws that have already been put in place by the Obama administration and by its Democratic majorities in the 111th Congress, which is now finished.

This is something that has come up before, when the president is of one party and at least one chamber of Congress is in the hands of his opposition party. They try to do what they can to nullify some of the regulations or to roll back some of the laws, and of course among them they will try to repeal the healthcare law that was passed last year.

CONAN: But there is still a Democratic majority in the Senate.

ELVING: There is still a Democratic majority in the Senate, where they would need to have more than just a majority of Republicans if they were going to pull off this repeal. And then, of course, they would have to deal with the veto power.

I think this is primarily a bid for the kind of attention in the kind of media that will confirm in the minds of these people's supporters that they've come to Washington and not been co-opted and they are fighting Barack Obama with every erg of their energy.

CONAN: In the meantime, Darrell Issa, perhaps a more reasonable threat to flood the White House with subpoenas as he chairs a House committee and looks into everything the Obama administration has ever thought, whispered or even dreamed about.

ELVING: Yes, he's going to perform largely the role that the Democrats tried to perform in those two years, 2007 and 2008, when they held the House and Senate and George W. Bush was still president.

They tried to do everything they could to expose what they saw as the perfidies of the Bush administration and to block everything that he wanted to try to do. We'll see that shoe on the other foot as they pursue President Obama.

CONAN: And the most respected politicians of the year, the most admired politicians, according to all the polls, are?

ELVING: The most admired person in the country, according to these annual tests, is President Barack Obama.

CONAN: What a shock.

ELVING: Well, it is and it isn't. You know, we think about how far he may have fallen from the heights of, say, January 2008 - 2009 rather -when he was about to take the oath of office and become the 44th president. He was up in the low 60s of approval. There were only 20 percent who disapproved.

But he started coming down fairly soon. He lost about 12 points by the summer of 2009. And now he's been hovering around 45 percent since last July. He was named as the most admired person by just 22 percent, but nobody else was near that number. The number two person was George W. Bush, who is perhaps also the most - well, shall we say refudiated -person in America.

CONAN: Guest Political Junkie Ron Elving. Stay with us. When we come back, who's your nomine for the politician of the year? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Hard to believe, but here we are smack in the middle of our last Political Junkie of the decade. Ken Rudin returns next decade.

Joining us here in Washington, in Studio 3A, is senior Washington editor Ron Elving. We're taking the time to look back at the politicians that captured our imaginations this year, and in some cases, our votes, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Who's your nominee for politicians of the year? Use your own criteria: a come-from-behind victory, a scandal handled with grace. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's begin with Libby Casey, Washington correspondent for the Alaska Public Radio Network, who's been on our program a whole lot this past year talking about that heated Senate race in Alaska that may have finally wrapped up. Libby, nice to have you with us. Happy New Year.

Ms. LIBBY CASEY (Correspondent, Alaska Public Radio Network): Great to be here. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: And your pick for politician of the year?

Ms. CASEY: I'm going to have to go with an Alaskan, an Alaskan woman. She's a Republican. She's a mom. She was raised in Alaska. And this year, she's gone rogue and proven to be pretty darn maverick-y, bucking the system, bucking the GOP establishment and really energizing her politics, sort of transforming her identity in the process.

And her name is Sarah - oh, wait, no, I'm sorry, different Alaskan. This one didn't actually invent any words in 2010. Not Sarah Palin. I'm going to go with Lisa Murkowski.

CONAN: Lisa Murkowski, the first senator to win as a write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond, distinguished company.

Ms. CASEY: That's right, and let's not fail to note that she has a nine-letter Polish name, not one that always sort of rolls off the tongue. And in past elections, she branded herself just as Lisa, playing down her last name since she'd originally been given the job by her dad.

But she is really standing out to me not just because I'm, you know, the Alaskan reporter in Washington but because she is sort of this interesting bellwether for the Tea Party movement.

She was defeated in a primary by this Tea Party guy, Joe Miller, but she didn't bow out like others defeated in primaries, like Utah's Senator Bennett. After thinking it over, she launched this write-in bid, which a lot of people just thought was totally crazy when she started it.

CONAN: And tilting at wind turbines, perhaps. And we have to ask: What is her relationship to the party going to be like, since one of her colleagues, Jim DeMint, has been funding the objections of her opponent Joe Miller?

Ms. CASEY: Yeah, I mean, her votes in recent weeks are really interesting. She was the only Republican to support all three of the president's big priorities in the lame-duck session: the START treaty, don't ask, don't tell repeal, also that tax-cut deal and the DREAM Act. So she was only one to go for all four.

She says: Look, I'm not taking marching orders from President Obama, but I am liberated. I don't have to do anything that anyone tells me. I don't have to do what the Republican Party establishment says.

I asked her, you know, does she now sort of have to sit at the lunch table of the Senate with the moderate women from Maine, you know, who are often sort of set aside as people who could go really either way on votes. They often go with the Democrats.

And she said: Oh, heck no. I had lunch last week with Senator DeMint and Senator John McCain, and we talked about things that we definitely do not see eye-to-eye on. So she's going to be someone to watch.

And, you know, these moderates may be key players in 2011, as we see the House go for the Republicans, the Senate stay Democrat, and as President Obama tries to work out some of these negotiations, the moderates may play a really important role.

CONAN: Libby Casey, thanks very much, and always a pleasure to talk to you. Have a happy new year.

Ms. CASEY: You, too, thanks a lot.

CONAN: Libby Casey, Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Radio. Let's get some callers in on the line, and Beth(ph) is with us from Schenectady.

BETH (Caller): ...taking my call.


BETH: This is sort of tongue-in-cheek. I was going to say President Obama because I understand that the death rate or the killings in Pakistan and Afghanistan are the same as they were under Bush, that the Obama administration talked Spain out of bringing human rights charges against the Bush administration for their activities in the Middle East.

Taxes are going up on the poor, and women are going to have to pay for an extra rider on our health insurance, all while he's saying he's a Democrat. That's quite amazing.

CONAN: So yes, tongue in cheek. I think you may be wrong on at least one of those. Ron?

ELVING: How are taxes going up on the poor?

BETH: They're taking away the make a work - people like myself, I'm sorry, folks making under $25,000. The new tax bill he passed, it was signed, states that the Making Work Pay credit is going away.

ELVING: The Making Work Pay credit, which was established when?

BETH: Under Obama.

ELVING: Under the 2009 stimulus plan and is incorporated in the new plan, the new tax plan so as to make for that in the two-percentage-point reduction in what you pay on the Social Security tax.

BETH: Well, like I said, I don't have all the particulars. I, you know, I try to listen across the board. I did hear that. I did also get, because I am an independent contractor, my tax forms for 2010, and I did notice - now whether or not that's going to be changing - that there was not - usually each year, what you can - your standard deduction goes up, and that didn't.

ELVING: The reason, I believe, that that didn't go up is because there was no inflation.

CONAN: No inflation. All right, Beth, thanks very much for the nomination, appreciate it. This from Susan(ph), emailed us, said: The comeback kid, Barack Obama, given up after the elections as a political loser, he rebounded in great form, getting "don't ask, don't tell," the tax bill and budget extensions within days of each other. As Republican Lindsey Graham put it: He ate our lunch.

I think he said Harry Reid ate our lunch, but in any case, there are differing views on Barack Obama, as the political - politician of the year.

Let's go next to - this is Mary(ph), and Mary's with us from Leavenworth in Kansas.

MARY (Caller): Yes, and I'm going to say it's Michele Bachmann. She's the one that started the Tea Party. She is an honest and sincere politician, and she cares about the people of the United States. And I believe that she will be the one.

CONAN: Michele Bachmann, chair of the Tea Party Caucus, targeted by some Democrats in her reelection campaign, cruised, Ron Elving, to victory.

ELVING: That's right. She had an easier time than she had in 2008. Michele Bachmann started the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. She certainly was part of the energy that led to the creation of the Tea Party somewhat spontaneously in different parts of the country, certainly one of the people who saw the potential in the movement and got involved in it very quickly back in the very early months of 2009, before most people had begun to take the Tea Party seriously.

And she surely will be among those who speak for it in the 112th Congress, and as the caller I believe was about to suggest, perhaps she will get into the presidential race of 2012, especially if Sarah Palin does not.

CONAN: Mark(ph) is on the line from Baltimore.

MARK (Caller): Hi, this is Mark from Baltimore. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARK: I thought about Barack Obama, who I admire immensely, but as - you know, in terms of the politician of the year, my nomination is Bernie Saunders(ph), or Sanders actually, from Vermont.

CONAN: The independent from Vermont, who describes himself as a Democratic socialist.

MARK: Yes. He is - my wife and I sat mesmerized on the couch until late at night watching CSPAN and listened to the man speak in a way that left us thrilled and desirous of a lot more of. Everything he said, he supported. His positions that he took were taken thoughtfully, and he explained his thinking. And we just loved it.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Mark. This was the eight-and-a-half-hour non-filibuster, Ron Elving. He didn't block any votes, so not a filibuster.

ELVING: That's right, and nowadays, you know, it's a filibuster when nobody talks. And it's something else entirely when somebody gives a speech for eight-and-a-half hours.

Bernie's speech will, I think, be remembered as one of the most extraordinary throwbacks to what the Senate was supposed to be and, in parts of the 19th and 20th centuries, actually was, a place where people came out and made lengthy, and, as they caller said, highly substantive arguments for their positions.

CONAN: One of my greatest accomplishments of 2010 is the ability to say the last name in Mehlman Vogel & Castagnetti. That's, of course, where Alex Vogel works. He's a partner and co-founder there. That's a lobbying firm. He also served as chief counsel to former Republican Senate Minority Leader - Majority Leader, excuse me - Bill Frist and is with us from time to time. And Alex, nice to have you with us, happy new year.

Mr. ALEX VOGEL (Lobbyist, Mehlman Vogel & Castagnetti): Thanks for having me on, and well-done on the firm name.

CONAN: And who's your pick for politician of the year?

Mr. VOGEL: So this is somewhat old-fashioned, given some of the attributes people are giving to people. My nominee is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, and he is nominated because he did exactly what he said he would do when he ran for office.

When Ken ran for attorney general, he said he was going to challenge the individual mandate in court, and most people said that's crazy, and it won't work. And guess what? Judge Hudson has ruled it unconstitutional. It'll go to the Supreme Court.

But you have this relatively obscure state senator getting elected attorney general and actually has taught the American public about the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. So for that alone, he would be my nominee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VOGEL: That's before he actually was successful in winning his court case.

CONAN: And of course, you're talking about the health care law, which -the mandate, which would require, in 2014, that every American purchase health care or be penalized on their tax forms.

Mr. VOGEL: That's correct. And one of the fascinating things to me is in talking to some of my more liberal friends on the subject is when they've heard him on television, they've said: You know, I profoundly disagree with this guy, but after watching him on television and talking about this health care issue, I actually think he's right.

And so he's not only taken an incredibly dense, complicated subject that A, most politicians are desperate to get away from as fast as possible, he's distilled it very well, but more importantly, and again why I've nominated him, he said he was going to do it, and he went out, and he did it. And that's a rare attribute these days in a politician.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, thanks for your time, as always, and again, a happy new year.

Mr. VOGEL: Thank you, happy new year to you.

CONAN: Alex Vogel, partner and co-founder at the lobbying firm of Mehlman Vogel and Castagnetti, served as chief counsel to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, with us on the phone from Mr. Cuccinelli's state, Virginia.

Let's see if we get some more callers on the line. Let's go to Henry, and Henry is with us from Charlotte.

HENRY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Charlotte, you're on the air - Henry?

HENRY: Yeah. I think my - the guy that I picked this year is Jerry Brown from California.

CONAN: Jerry Brown elected when - elected first - the youngest governor in California history, and, Ron Elving, I believe will be the oldest when he is sworn in.

ELVING: To be elected governor, yes.


HENRY: That's right. I did like him because he retired from politics and came back and won again against a lady that was very loaded, talking about funds.

CONAN: With money, I think.

HENRY: That's right. So that's my man of the year.

CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much, Henry. Appreciate the phone call. This -an email from Lisa in Madison, Wisconsin. Best by far, Russ Feingold, nominating, of course, a sitting U.S. senator who lost a bid for reelection.

ELVING: That's an interesting choice. He certainly went down fighting. He certainly went down being the Russ Feingold that Wisconsinites had elected three times before, trying not to raise money in the way that most senators do and being outgunned by Republican Ron Johnson, who was a Tea Party favorite at first but later really united the Republican Party there in Wisconsin. And I don't think we've heard the last of Russ Feingold.

CONAN: Gary in Carson City, Nevada, writes: Harry Reid should be politician of the year based on winning against an out-of-state onslaught funded in the millions of negative campaigning. His ability to help make the lame-duck session a huge success should be considered a significant achievement. And, of course, for Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate, lost in that election.

ELVING: That's right. Harry Reid was left for dead many times in the last couple of years. His polling numbers were worse than those of any other senator running for reelection. It seems at times that virtually anyone the Republicans might have nominated against him was going to win. But in the end, he was able to make Sharron Angle the focus of much of people's attention in the fall. And Sharron Angle left much to be desired as a candidate. And then in the end, Harry Reid won surprisingly by not a terribly close margin, largely because he dominated the Hispanic vote, which is increasingly important in the state of Nevada.

ELVING: And a politician left for dead. Well, he is dead, but he did not get left for dead in 1969. He did get reelected. That's, of course, John Lindsay. Our guest political junkie Ron Elving is with us. 800-989-8255. Who's your politician of the year? You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And joining us now is Clarence Page, a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, another frequent guest on the program. Clarence, Happy New Year.

Mr. CLARENCE PAGE (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Happy New Year to you too, Neal.

CONAN: And who's your pick for politician of the year?

Mr. PAGE: I'm sticking with Bill Clinton, a familiar name, who had a remarkable comeback of sorts this year. The original comeback kid. And in this case, coming back into the headlines, most recently with - by showing up as a special guest at President Obama's news conference to try to build support for the tax deal he made with the Republicans, and, as you well remember, everybody was surprised that Obama literally turned the news conference over to Clinton and left to go to a Christmas party...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PAGE: ...with the first lady. And Bill just stepped right in there like he never left office, and the reporters stepped right into their familiar roles of asking him questions. This follows a time in which he was out campaigning for Democratic candidates in the midterms. He says he wish he'd gotten out there sooner, might have done more to help stave off the shellacking, if you will. And now most recently, he's stepped again to the Chicago mayoral race here to help Rahm Emanuel much to the consternation of Congressman Danny Davis. You might say, you know, Bill is back.


ELVING: Well, it's interesting too, isn't, Clarence, that in doing this and Danny Davis said, you know, really Bill Clinton ought to stay out of here, we've always been friends, but I really think he ought to stay out of here or he's going to risk his relationship with African-Americans? Do you think there's reality in that threat?

Mr. PAGE: Well, you know, this is interesting, Ron, because, first of all, Danny Davis denies he's playing the race card, which came up right away, pointing out that, you know, Bill Clinton and I are homeboys. We have a homeboy relationship is how he described it because they both come from Arkansas, and Davis also didn't make any secret out of the fact that he's afraid that Bill Clinton will win votes for Rahm Emmanuel by coming to town. He's been very candid about that.

I think this could backfire on Davis, though, because while on the one hand, it helps pull him further out of the pack - ahead of the pack as far as black support is concerned where the polls show he's already ahead. And I think Carol Moseley Braun, well, certainly the most prominent name, coming up behind him after Reverend James Meeks decided not to run.

But the problem is you can't - the black votes alone don't win a Chicago election. You've got to win whites and Hispanics. And I think the general perception will be that he is playing the race card, and it could backfire on him.

ELVING: I think Rahm is getting some black votes too, is he not?

Mr. PAGE: Oh, yes, he is, and there too the exact - well, what the percentages show is that he's not leading the pack among black voters but he's growing - his support is growing citywide, including in the black community. His association with President Clinton helped - excuse me, with President Obama helps him, being former chief of staff, and Bill Clinton coming in, well-known as America's first black president, quote and unquote, in Toni Morrison's famous formulation. He's still very popular in the black community, and so Danny is right if he thinks that Clinton could hurt him as far as overall votes.

CONAN: Clarence, thanks very much as always and Happy New Year.

Mr. PAGE: Thank you. You too.

CONAN: Syndicated columnist, Clarence Page.

Here's an email from Paul who nominates Ron Paul. There just isn't any more brilliant mind on Capitol Hill than he, and an interesting figure to watch as he takes his chairmanship and has some questions for the Fed, which he wants dead.

This from Linda in Berkeley. Hands down, Nancy Pelosi, first woman speaker, effective in holding the House together to accomplish historic feats as a retired woman professional. I know any woman who's effective and powerful as a man, who exercises this kind of control Pelosi achieved will be disliked, even hated. She didn't blink. Kudos to this Italian grandmother, a superb politician. I'm from Berkeley so I may be a little inclined in her favor.

This from Jason. To me, there's no doubt it's Scott Brown. He took a seat held by a liberal in a liberal state. How did this happen? You could be sure Massachusetts' Democrats will field a stronger candidate next time around, but I'm not convinced they can beat him based on his attendance.

Ron Elving, any nominees from your side on politician of the year?

ELVING: For politician of the year, somebody who had an impact on politics, I would go with Jim DeMint, who has established himself as a force on the conservative side within the Republican Party on the Senate side and really became the guy who embodied the Tea Party on Capitol Hill and had a huge effect on these elections.

CONAN: Senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thanks very much for filling in. Ken Rudin returns next week. When we come back, police fatalities. Stay with us. This is NPR News.

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