Tea Party Poised To Shake Up New York Election A special election looms for New York's 26th District, and third-party candidate Jack Davis, running under the Tea Party mantle, could siphon votes from GOP candidate Jane Corwin — opening the door for Democrat Kathy Hochul win a reliably Republican seat.
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Tea Party Poised To Shake Up New York Election

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Tea Party Poised To Shake Up New York Election

Tea Party Poised To Shake Up New York Election

Tea Party Poised To Shake Up New York Election

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A special election looms for New York's 26th District, and third-party candidate Jack Davis, running under the Tea Party mantle, could siphon votes from GOP candidate Jane Corwin — opening the door for Democrat Kathy Hochul win a reliably Republican seat.


Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Phil Fairbanks, political reporter, Buffalo News


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

Newt's ready, this time. Trillions are the new billions. And Congressman Schock shows off the body politic. It's Wednesday and time for a six-pack 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: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. This week, the president picks a fight with the GOP on immigration, and Senate Democrats follow his lead and re-introduce the DREAM Act. Chicago preps for the post-Daley era. Democratic challengers for Senate in Indiana, Texas and Massachusetts, and some of the Republican presidential hopefuls square off in South Carolina.

In a few minutes, we'll head to Upstate New York, where a Tea Party candidate's turned a special election for a safe Republican seat into a three-way tossup.

Later in the program, Pakistani-Americans on the post-Osama world. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as always we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, we haven't been together in three weeks. Fortunately, nothing has happened in those three weeks.

CONAN: Nothing important, anyway.

RUDIN: Anyway, okay, so nobody got last week's answer. So this is a tough questions as well. But there are multiple answers. In other words, there are four possible answers. Okay, so I'll give you the question and then I'll explain what that is.

Today we're going to focus, as you say, we're going to focus on that special congressional race in Western New York. So okay, there are four current U.S. senators who first came to the House of Representatives via special election. Name any of the four.

CONAN: And we're going to win - get T-shirts for two correct answers. You can only make one guess per phone call.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: All right. So if you think you know the name of any of the four current U.S. senators who first came to Congress after being elected...

RUDIN: First came to the House.

CONAN: First came to Congress after being elected to the House of Representatives in a special election, give us a call. One guess to a customer. We'll take two winners because nobody won last week. 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And Ken, so much for cooperation on the debt ceiling.

RUDIN: Well, yes, and it just seems like when John Boehner, speaker of the House, gave his speech at the Economic Club in New York on Monday, it seems like, that he knows he's under tremendous pressure from Tea Party folks.

He's already been labeled a RINO because he's not tough enough. So here you have John Boehner talking about not billions of dollars in spending cuts but trillions.

President BARACK OBAMA: You know, they said we needed to triple the border patrol. Or now they're going to say we need to quadruple the border patrol.

CONAN: And that's obviously not John Boehner speaking, and we're going to hear more about that later. But yes, John Boehner talking about trillions in cuts, not billions, demanding at least as much in spending cuts as the debt ceiling is raised and saying none of that can be in the form of new taxes.

RUDIN: Right, exactly, and so he - the party is just dead set against any kind of new taxes. And so obviously the Democrats are saying: Okay, well, you want to cut some of the deficit, let's cut some of the special tax breaks for the oil companies.

CONAN: And this is a very popular idea, at least according to the opinion polls. They say: Tax the big oil companies. Get rid of their oil depletion allowances, which are tax breaks written into the law. Hey, there's $21 billion right there.

RUDIN: Well, it makes sense because - I mean, it certainly makes sense at least in the public's mind because here you have the oil companies making billions and billions of dollars in profits, and yet gasoline prices keep going up, now approaching $4.50, $5 a gallon. Something is not working somewhere.

CONAN: So Republicans are suddenly put in the position of saying...

RUDIN: Having to defend, or not, the oil companies, right.

CONAN: So anyway, we'll see how that works out. But we're also told that because of increased tax revenues, the deadline for the debt ceiling is put off until August.

RUDIN: I think the real scandal is hearing John Boehner imitate Barack Obama's voice. That was pretty remarkable.

CONAN: That was pretty - he's good at that, very good at that. Let's see. We've got some changes for the United States Senate, for one a new senator - Dean Heller sworn in.

RUDIN: Right, congressman from northern Nevada. This is to replace the disgraced John Ensign. Dean Heller will be the Republican nominee in the Senate race next year. And Shelley Berkley, the congresswoman from Las Vegas, will be the Democratic nominee.

CONAN: There's also a general entering the Senate race in the state of Texas.

RUDIN: Ricardo Sanchez, who is, you know, running as a Democrat. Now, again, Texas is still solidly Republican. This is for the Senate seat that Kay Bailey Hutchison is giving up. Sanchez is a great get for the Democrats, but it still seems to be a little premature for the Democrats to be winning statewide in Texas.

Of course Sanchez on the ballot with President Obama, not that Obama will win the state of Texas, but it certainly could help Democrats down the ballot.

CONAN: And in Indiana, Representative Joe Donnelly would like to run against - well, maybe not like to run against Mr. Richard Lugar but would like to run as the Democratic candidate.

RUDIN: Exactly. As a matter of fact, when he announced, he said he is not really running against Lugar, he's running against - he's running for the Senate. And basically he knows and Democrats know that Dick Lugar is in big trouble with a conservative Tea Party opponent in the 2012 Republican primary, Richard Mourdock, who is the state treasurer.

If Lugar loses, the Democrats perhaps hope that Mourdock will be seen as too conservative to win statewide. But remember, they said that in 2010 in Indiana. Brad Ellsworth, the congressman, was the perfect candidate, and yet he wound up losing to Dan Coats by 20 points.

CONAN: And some people feel Scott Brown may be too Republican to win another statewide Senate race in the state of Massachusetts. He's attracted a Democratic opponent.

RUDIN: Setti Warren, who's the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, is a Boston suburb. Setti Warren is African-American in a state that has an African-American governor, as a matter of fact had the first black senator since Reconstruction, Ed Brooke, in the '60s and '70s.

But anyway, Setti Warren has announced his candidacy. He's been in office only since 2009. There's still a feeling that one of the members of Congress, of the House, because of redistricting, Democrats will lose a seat in Massachusetts. Many think that one of the members of the House will also run for that Senate seat.

CONAN: A little bit later we're going to be talking about the Republican presidential candidates. But let's go back to the likely Democratic presidential candidate, who was speaking in El Paso yesterday on an issue that, well, this sounded awful like a campaign stop, as he proposed an immigration law that sounded a lot like the law that was proposed by his Republican predecessor and shot down by Republicans in the United States Senate.

President Obama in Texas yesterday said that, well, that the Republicans just keep moving the goalposts on immigration.

President OBAMA: You know, they said we needed to triple the border patrol, or now they're going to say we need to quadruple the border patrol. Or they'll want a higher fence. Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they'll want alligators in the moat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President OBAMA: They'll never be satisfied.

CONAN: And this is not likely to pass as a piece of legislation but likely to be pretty effective as a piece of campaign rhetoric.

RUDIN: Well, remember, every moat counts. We always say that in November. But actually, that also was a very good Boehner impersonation.

CONAN: Very good, yes.

RUDIN: But you know something? I mean, the Democrats still have no legislation. The president didn't propose any new legislation. It really was a campaign speech.

But again, you know, he's exactly - the president is exactly right. Every time the Republicans say the administration is not doing enough on immigration, so then the administration deports 400,000 illegal immigrants a year, or they build higher fences, and yet the Republicans keep pushing the goalposts further.

CONAN: And this could wrap up the - well, help the president solidify his already substantial lead among Hispanic-Americans.

RUDIN: And we saw that in California in 2010. Perhaps Meg Whitman could have been elected governor. Maybe Carly Fiorina could have been elected to the Senate had they had slightly more percentage of the Hispanic vote. But anti-immigration rhetoric coming from some conservatives really hurting the Republicans in states like California and Texas.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. We're going to take two correct answers. There are four in total, the number of current members of the United States Senate who first came to Congress being elected to the House in special elections. 800-989-8255...

RUDIN: Who comes up with these questions?

CONAN: I have no idea.

RUDIN: It's ridiculous.

CONAN: Email talk@npr.org. We'll start with Holly(ph), Holly with us from Carolina Beach.

HOLLY (Caller): Yeah, I may have misunderstood the question. My guess is Scott Brown.

RUDIN: Okay, no, Scott Brown did come to the Senate via special election. The question was of the senators who are already in the Senate, who came to the House in a special election.

CONAN: First, before being elected to the Senate.

RUDIN: Before being elected to Senate.

CONAN: But nice try, Holly, and you'll get it next time.

HOLLY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's go next, this is Edward, Edward with us from Palmyra in New York.

EDWARD (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

EDWARD: Kirsten Gillibrand.

RUDIN: Well, Kirsten Gillibrand did - well, the answer is no because...

CONAN: She was appointed.

RUDIN: When she came to the House, though, she was elected. She defeated a Democratic incumbent, Mr. Sweeney(ph), in 2006. So she didn't win a special House election. She won a regular election in 2006.

CONAN: That was very good, though, Edward. I didn't know that, had forgotten that. Let's go next to - this is Chris(ph), Chris with us from Tucson.

CHRIS (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

CHRIS: Mark Udall.

RUDIN: Mark Udall was actually - let's see. Mark Udall won an open seat in 1998. So while he he won an election to the Senate, but his House race was a regularly scheduled election in 1998.

CONAN: But good try. And let's - here's an email answer from Kerry(ph). Kerry says David Vitter of Louisiana.

RUDIN: David Vitter is correct answer. It's one of the four.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: David Vitter won a special election in 1998 when Bob Livingston resigned.

CONAN: And so Kerry will get a no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise to take a digital picture of herself and mail it to us, email it to us so we can post it on our wall of shame, a fabulous, I should say, no-prize T-shirt.

RUDIN: And we're accepting one more winner, correct?

CONAN: And we're accepting one more winner. Let's see if we can go to -this is Charles, Charles with us from Greensville, Mississippi. Greenville, Mississippi.

CHARLES (Caller): I'm here.

CONAN: Yeah, you're on the air, go ahead.

CHARLES: Okay, Roger Wicker, from - senator from Mississippi was appointed by Haley Barbour.

RUDIN: He was appointed to the Senate, but he won a regular House election in 1994. So he did not win a special House election.

CONAN: Keep your feet dry there, Charles, okay? And let's see if we can go next to - this is John(ph), John with us from Culver City in California.

JOHN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JOHN: My guess is Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

RUDIN: Johnny Isakson is one of the four. That's a correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: And he also won a special 1999 special election when Newt Gingrich - remember him? - he resigned from Congress.

CONAN: Newt Gingrich, okay we do...

RUDIN: What happened to him?

CONAN: I don't know. Well, I think he went to write history books and novels about the Civil War. John, stay on the line. We'll collect your particulars. And again, we'll be sending you a fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise of a digital picture of yourself to be posted on our wall of shame.

JOHN: Thank you so much, guys. I can't wait.

CONAN: Congratulations.

RUDIN: And the other two, by the way, were John Boozman of Arkansas and Rob Portman of Ohio. Both won a special House election before winning election to the Senate.

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin with us here in Studio 3A. If you'd like to hear his podcast or read his blog or try to solve that ScuttleButton Puzzle, go to npr.org/junkie.

When we return, Phil Fairbanks will join us with a closer look at the special election in New York's 26th Congressional District, where a Tea Party candidate has transformed what should be a safe Republican seat into a three-way toss-up.

And Republicans, do you really want a third party? A poll says more than half of you do. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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

It's Wednesday, which means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here to take us through all the week's news. In the coming weeks, voters in two states will head to the polls to vote in special congressional elections.

Democrats are expected to keep a seat in Southern California vacated by Jane Harman. The moderate resigned to head a Washington-based think tank. Governor Jerry Brown set the election for this coming Tuesday.

But the story is far from cut and dried in western New York, where three candidates compete for the seat vacated by Republican Chris Lee, who resigned earlier this year amidst a sex scandal.

It's a conservative district that could end up in Democrats hands because of a Tea Party candidate, veteran candidate Jack Davis. According to a Gallup poll, 52 percent of Republicans want a third party.

Well, if you're among them, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. But in the meantime, joining us from member station WBFO in Buffalo is Phil Fairbanks, reporter for the Buffalo News. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. PHIL FAIRBANKS (Reporter, Buffalo News): It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And this is ordinarily a safe Republican seat.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: I think it's safe to say that you would find it very hard to find anyone who can remember a Democrat ever serving in this seat. So yeah, it's traditionally, historically been a very strong GOP territory.

RUDIN: 1968 is the last time a Democrat won that seat.

CONAN: And this is basically the area between Albany, the capital, and Buffalo - Rochester.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Actually, if you go - yeah, it's pretty much the eastern suburbs of Rochester all the way to the northern suburbs of Buffalo. It's a huge district, crosses about seven counties, very large rural area between those two cities but traditionally pretty conservative and very Republican.

CONAN: And I gather one of the candidates here has a very familiar name to people in that district.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Jack Davis I think is probably the guy you're talking about. He's - actually, this is his fourth run for this congressional seat. He's an interesting character. He's a lifelong Republican who several years ago switched to the Democratic Party because he felt the GOP wasn't addressing his primary concern, which is free trade policies.

At that point, when he switched his enrollment, he ran for Congress as a Democrat, lost. He's run twice since then and lost both times. So this is his fourth try.

CONAN: And this is his fourth try, this time as a Tea Party candidate, an independent.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: That's right. He - I think there was a lot of speculation about whether he would run again. I think he would have preferred running as a major-party candidate. Both parties kind of snubbed him in favor of their own candidates. And Jack has basically promised to spend $3 million of his own money to try to make a go of this.

CONAN: And we'll get to Ken Rudin's question in just a minute, but who are the regular party candidates, the Democrat and the Republican?

Mr. FAIRBANKS: The Republican candidate is a woman named Jane Corwin. She's a state legislator in her second term in Albany, a relatively new face in terms of local politics, a businesswoman who - her family owned a local telephone book company that was recently sold. When they sold that, she jumped into politics.

The Democrat is a woman named Kathy Hochul. So you've got two women, two very popular women running against each other. Hochul is an Erie County clerk who's very well-known, has high name recognition.


RUDIN: Phil, usually when you have a special congressional election, it's a referendum on the president and his policies. But this one seems to be a referendum on the Republican Paul Ryan/Medicare question. Explain that a little bit.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Yeah, that's definitely a huge issue. And in fact, Hochul has really made that the centerpiece of her attacks against Corwin. Jane Corwin came out early and indicated she was a strong supporter of the Ryan budget and more specifically the changes to Medicare that would happen under that budget.

Hochul, I think, has jumped on that issue, feeling that it's something that won't play well in the 26th District, which has a lot of older people, a lot of people who are, you know, seniors or nearing retirement age. So that has definitely become the focal point of the campaign.

CONAN: And at this point, any idea of how it's going to play out? I mean, turnout in special elections is generally low. So it's often difficult.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Yeah, I think - you know, and to a large extent, like with all special elections, it's going to hinge on really who gets out the vote.

Normally, I think Corwin would be the heavy favorite, but the presence of Jack Davis, who from all indications is drawing from Corwin more so than he's drawing from Hochul, this has really become a horserace, in large part because of that.

So I think it's going to hinge on who really gets out the vote. In special elections, as you guys know, the turnout is always much lower than in other elections.

CONAN: Is Corwin engaging one candidate more than the other, the Republican?

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Originally more Hochul. Although I think with the recent polling, and there has been some recognition on her campaign's part that Davis is maybe more of a problem for her than Hochul.

And so in her ads, you started to see a shift of emphasis away from Hochul towards Jack Davis.

RUDIN: Well, it's interesting to me, Phil, that you have Jack Davis running as a Tea Party candidate. When he was running as a Democrat, he took money from Charlie Rangel. He said good things about Nancy Pelosi. And now he finds himself as a Tea Party candidate. I mean, obviously Corwin would want to explain that, try to get an explanation for that.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: She has definitely, especially in the last week or so, in her advertising attempted to portray Jack Davis as a Democrat in Republican clothing. And she's pointing out the very things that you just cited, you know, the fact that he ran three times as a Democrat, that he's had the support of people like Nancy Pelosi. So yeah, she's jumping on that big time.

CONAN: Anybody else coming in from outside to weigh in on the race?

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Well, you know, John Boehner was in here earlier this week, campaigning on behalf of Corwin. And we've seen, you know, other Republican honchos come in and support her. Hochul less so, and I'm not sure that's not by design. I'm not sure she thinks she benefits by having a Nancy Pelosi or even a Barack Obama campaign for her.

I think if there's one Democrat she might like to see here, it would be Andrew Cuomo. So we'll see if that happens before election day.

CONAN: The governor of the state of New York, yeah. And it's interesting. People say yes, this is going to be a referendum on the Paul Ryan and Medicare, and yeah, that's an important issue. But when the votes are counted, do you have any doubt that the Tea Party candidate and the Republican between them will have a very comfortable lead?

Mr. FAIRBANKS: A comfortable lead in terms of...

CONAN: Add them up both, and they're going to swamp the Democrat.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Oh, yes, no question about it, yeah, yeah. I think Davis is going to be - has the potential to be a real spoiler in all this. You know, I mean, don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Kathy Hochul has great name recognition. And I think if there's one Democrat that can fare well in this race, it would be her. But yes, no question about it: Jack Davis could be the difference in this race.


RUDIN: Yeah, but I was going to say: But this is also the old Jack Kemp-Bill Paxon district, I mean, for 40 years.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: And Tom Reynolds, too.

RUDIN: Tom Reynolds. For 40 years, a Republican district.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Yeah, yeah, it's - I think it's still Jane Corwin's to lose.

CONAN: And do you want to make a bet as to who's going to come out on top?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FAIRBANKS: I'm not a betting man.

CONAN: Okay, Phil Fairbanks.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Thank you, though. I appreciate the opportunity.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Mr. FAIRBANKS: Thank you.

CONAN: Phil Fairbanks, a reporter for the Buffalo News. He joined us from the studios of our member station in Buffalo, WBFO. And we're asking, given the recent Gallup poll that reported that the Republicans - people in the Republican Party, more than half would prefer a third party to be created, as well. 800-989-8255 if you're among them. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Newt Gingrich will announce his candidacy for the presidency today. He will do so online. Two months ago, he nearly announced that he would form an exploratory committee. Then he didn't, even though he indicated he would. We had a conversation on Political Junkie that day about the pluses and minuses of Newt Gingrich as a potential presidential candidate. There's a link to that segment on our website. Go to npr.org/talk.

And Ken, does Newt Gingrich lose anything by weighing his options for a few more weeks?

RUDIN: Well, I mean, there are a lot of - obviously, he's not the only candidate who's been less anxious to jump in the race. But, you know, the negatives are still there. The positives are still there, as well.

He's going to be 68 years old next month. He hasn't run for anything outside of his own district in Georgia since 1998. So, you know, he hasn't been on the ballot much. And he still has the problems with social conservatives, his three divorces - I'm sorry, three marriages, two divorces. So it's been a - you know, he has a lot of things to try to overcome.

CONAN: And as expected, well, maybe another name in the race. That's the former U.S. ambassador to China and former governor of Utah Jon Huntsman Jr. who for some reason happened to speak at the commencement ceremony Saturday in the geographically significant University of South Carolina.

Mr. JON HUNTSMAN (Former Republican Governor, Utah): Work to keep America great. Serve her, if asked. I was, by a president of a different political party. But in the end, while we might not all be of one party, we are all part of one nation.

CONAN: And a nice hand from the crowd there at the university, but that could be a tougher sell a Republican primary.

RUDIN: Well, he's also kind of a moderate. I mean, the Republican Party has certainly moved much more to the right since 2008. The thought of John McCain, for example, winning the nomination in 2012 is just, you know, impossible for me to conceive.

But anyway, also March - May 21, Jon Huntsman will be in New Hampshire, another coincidentally early primary state, trying to make the same pitch.

My gut still tells me that he's preparing for 2016, not 2012. He's only 51 years old. He has plenty of time.

CONAN: And let's see if we get some callers on our question. Republicans, the majority of you say you want a third party, how come? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

We'll start with Randy(ph), Randy with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.

RANDY (Caller): Hi. I appreciate the chance to get on the show, Neal.

CONAN: Sure. Go ahead.

RANDY: Well, you know, I've been a Republican for a while. I have voted Democratic at times. But I'm just really worried that we have - we're really going to the polar extremes of each party. And when you get a 55 percent election, people call it a mandate. And that means you've got four out of - you know, four or four-and-a-half people that are having to live with the opposite extreme of what they're about. You take a family, for instance, a third of a family of 10 and five wanted to go -5.5 wanted to go to...

CONAN: I think we can do all the math, Randy.

RANDY: Yeah. I mean - and then you leave everybody out completely, that is that minority thing. And I think with a third party, you draw people to moderation. You have compromise that people are going to have to say, if we want to govern or going to have to look at what this third party brings to the table. And it's going to keep the extremists that, I think, are kind of - are taking over on, really, both ends of the spectrum, not just the Republican and Tea Party.

CONAN: Well - yeah. Well, Ken, it's likely, if there is a third party, it is going to be something like a Tea Party, no?

RUDIN: Well, that's why I'm surprised by the call, because most people say that the Republican Party is not conservative enough. They're calling, you know, John Boehner a RINO - Paul Ryan a RINO, Mitt Romney not sufficiently conservative. The people out here who are talking about third party are saying they need somebody with true conservative values. And you do that you just, you know, you guarantee President Obama's reelection.

CONAN: Let's see. We go next to Jason(ph), Jason with us from Athens in Ohio.

JASON (Caller): Hi. Thanks.

CONAN: Sure.

JASON: For me, the Republican Party I would like to see is basically socially agnostic. I really don't want social issues to play any sort of major role in the platform. I would like fiscal discipline to be the main focus. But at the same time, I would want the party to realize that at times tax increases are necessary. I really want a sort of practical business-minded sort of approach, you know. Sometimes you just got to raise taxes, for the most part try to keep spending down and probably...

CONAN: So you're Republican Party would be a more moderate Republican Party, certainly more socially moderate. And you would lose all of the activists and the people who are bringing a lot of energy to your party to a new party, the Tea Party.

JASON: Exactly. I'm not really - I'm sort of more, yeah, more in the middle. I'm not - I think that the Republican Party has actually become more extreme in recent years. And I'd like to see a move a little bit more towards the middle and sort of less focus on social issues, because it seems like when the country tries to get things done, the things that always, you know, are the cog in the process are the social issues. And if we had a party that was less focused on that, and just more practical and focused on solving the major problem, which are our fiscal problems, I think that the country would be better for it.

CONAN: All right. Ken, it's - you'd have to go through the country district by district, but such a party would seem to be a minority party almost by definition.

CONAN: Oh, clearly. And we saw that in last week's debate on the Republican side, you know, the famous Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, who talked about having a truce on social issues. And obviously, that's not what the majority of the Republican Party seems to favor.

CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin, with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Ken, we can't ignore the first presidential debate of the primary season. Of course, Republicans gathered in the state of South Carolina, well, several Republicans gathered. Some of the biggest potential candidates aren't declared or weren't there. But in any case, among them, the former governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, was asked what he thought of Mitt Romney's Romneycare.

Mr. TIM PAWLENTY (Former Republican Governor, Minnesota): Well, Governor Romney is not here to defend himself, and so I'm not going to pick on him or the position that he took in Massachusetts. But I will tell you this: The answer to our health care problem is not to drag it into Washington, D.C. and create a top-down government-run centralized, limited-choice, limited-option system.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: So Governor Romney not there to defend himself, but he's going to get attacked anyway.

RUDIN: But he will defend himself tomorrow in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Romney is going to have a major speech, 2 p.m., Eastern Time. This is basically - remember that famous speech he gave in 2007 about religion? The thing that's really hanging over Mitt Romney's head is his Romneycare when he was governor of Massachusetts. He's going to have to address this, try to explain to Republicans that this is far different than Obamacare. And if he can't, his future is in big trouble.

CONAN: And also on the podium there amongst the presidential Republican hopefuls, Rick Santorum, the former senator from the state of Pennsylvania, who had this to say about Indiana governor and potential presidential candidate, Mitch Daniels.

Mr. RICK SANTORUM (Former Republican Senator, Pennsylvania): I think that anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn't understand what America is all about. America is a...

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: And that after Governor Daniels said at one point, maybe we ought to call a truce on some of these social issues.

RUDIN: You know, we Washington elites love to talk about the Mitch Daniels of the world the way we used to talk about Howard Baker. But if the establishment makes a point of saying Mitch Daniels is the answer, the Tea Party folks will say, wait a second. If Washington intellectuals like Ken Rudin...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...the thought of Ken Rudin and intellectuals...

CONAN: The first time anybody said that.

RUDIN: Thank you. If they think that Mitch Daniels is the answer, then obviously, he's just, you know, too mainstream for the party.

CONAN: Also significant, Governor Daniels, I think this week vetoed or signed a piece of legislation that will bar any funds going to Planned Parenthood...

RUDIN: That (unintelligible)

CONAN: ...that would cost his state something like $3 billion in federal assistance. But it will help him with social conservatives.

RUDIN: Well, I don't think that's why he did it, because he's always been pro-life. But he's the only - Indiana is now the only state that bars government funding to Planned Parenthood.

CONAN: The case has gone to court. We're going to have to see how that comes out. Also, former libertarian presidential candidate, now Republican presidential candidate for the second time, Ron Paul, congressman from the state of Texas, was on the podium, not afraid to show his libertarian beliefs.

Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): What you're inferring is, you know what, if we legalize heroin tomorrow, everybody is going to use heroin. How many people here would use heroin if it were legal? I bet nobody would put their hand - oh, yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don't want to use heroin, so I need these laws.

(Soundbite of cheering)

CONAN: And, of course, endorsing the legalization of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and prostitution.

RUDIN: Well, that's what got me on this show, to begin with - no. But actually, you know, he did get big hand when he said, get out of Afghanistan, get out of Iraq. And there is a segment of the - a libertarian segment of the party that says these wars are just crazy. But at the same time, when you start talking about legalizing prostitution, legalizing heroin, it explains why libertarian candidates basically get one half of 1 percent in the general election. They just don't have a wide, popular (unintelligible).

CONAN: And have a tough time in Republican primaries as well. Political junkie Ken Rudin will be back with us next Wednesday. We look forward to that. Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, many Americans felt relief, even catharsis, when Osama bin Laden's death was announced. But Pakistani-Americans maybe had a little more complicated reactions. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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