Political Junkie: Obama, Sotomayor, Palin NPR's Ken Rudin talks about President Obama's upcoming news conference on health care; a delayed vote on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination; and Sarah Palin's fast-approaching final day as governor of Alaska. Rudin is joined by Paul Mulshine, a columnist for The Star Ledger in Newark, N.J., and Tyler Whitley, a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
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Political Junkie: Obama, Sotomayor, Palin

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Political Junkie: Obama, Sotomayor, Palin

Political Junkie: Obama, Sotomayor, Palin

Political Junkie: Obama, Sotomayor, Palin

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/106890657/106890653" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR's Ken Rudin talks about President Obama's upcoming news conference on health care; a delayed vote on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination; and Sarah Palin's fast-approaching final day as governor of Alaska. Rudin is joined by Paul Mulshine, a columnist for The Star Ledger in Newark, N.J., and Tyler Whitley, a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Senate setbacks for the gun and defense lobbies, Sotomayor has to wait another week, and President Obama issues his six-month report card tonight. It's Wednesday and time for another straight-A visit from the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

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

Senator BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

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

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us, and as usual, there's a lot to talk about. The health care battle heads for Waterloo, Robert Byrd comes back, but the Senate kills the Raptor and hands the NRA a rare defeat. Lindsey Graham will vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor.

A bit later, updates on the governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia and the president's citizenship. Former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers will join us as we explore how to handle rumors that just will not die and why no amount of debunking ever kills them.

But first, Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Well, as you know, the Senate Judiciary Committee has delayed, postponed for one week, the nomination to vote on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor. So it'll be next Tuesday. It was supposed to have been yesterday.

But anyway, when was the last time the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to give a majority of its votes to a president's Supreme Court nominee?

CONAN: So if you think you know the last time the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to give a presidential nominee to the Supreme Court a majority of its votes, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org, and of course, the winner will get a fabulous no-prize, a Political Junkie T-shirt, beautifully designed T-shirt.

Ken, we mentioned the Sotomayor nomination, and there's an interesting breakthrough here. This was thought to be, well, she's not in any danger. The Democrats have a big majority, but one of the main questioners in the Judiciary Committee has decided to come out and endorse Sonia Sotomayor. This is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): I told Judge Sotomayor in the hearing that if I had won the election, even though I wasn't running, or Senator McCain, she would probably not have been chosen by a Republican. We would've chosen someone with a more conservative background, someone like a Judge Roberts or Miguel Estrada. She is definitely more liberal than a Republican would have chosen, but I do believe that elections have consequences. And it's not like we hid from the American people during the campaign that the Supreme Court selections were at stake. Both sides openly campaigned on the idea that the next president would be able to pick some judges for the Supreme Court. That was known to the American people, and the American people spoke.

CONAN: Now interestingly, that's a break with the Republican leadership, including Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

RUDIN: Jeff Sessions, also Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, also is going to vote against him. And also today, earlier today, we heard Jon Kyl from Arizona saying he would vote against Sonia Sotomayor.

There were some hints during the Senate confirmation hearings, Judiciary Committee, that Lindsey Graham might vote for her. As he said during the committee as well, that elections have consequences, and they won, and we didn't, but - and he's now the fifth Republican who has come out for Sotomayor, joining Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Dick Lugar and Mel Martinez of Florida. But this is the first true-blue conservative and obviously a big blow in the ranks of conservative Republicans.

CONAN: And while we're in the Senate, let's focus on a couple of other interesting developments there, including a bill that was up today which would've provided gun owners the right, if they had a concealed weapons permit from one state, to carry that weapon concealed in another state. This was opposed by some people who said this is a violation of states' rights.

RUDIN: Right, and this is an amendment pushed by John Thune, the Republican of South Dakota. Dick Durbin, the majority whip, has been pushing hard to get this amendment defeated, but of course, many Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, supported it. Ultimately, it needed 60 votes for passage. It only got 58. The vote was 58 to 39. So the defeat of this bill was a victory for the gun control forces. Two Republicans, Lugar and Voinovich, voted against it, and it only got 58 votes. It needed 60 to pass.

CONAN: And then the other big bill, this one the president vowed to veto - the Defense Appropriations Bill, thought to be a must-pass bill - if it included $1.7 billion for seven additional F-22 Raptor fighter jets, the most advanced fighter plane in the world. The president said these were designed for the Cold War. We no longer have the Cold War, and both the secretary of Defense and the secretary of the Air Force said we need to kill this bill. We need to spend this money elsewhere.

RUDIN: As did John McCain, who pushed against it, as well. The argument, of course, is that we no longer need conventional weapons. We have to fight insurgencies, and these are not the kind of weapons that fight insurgencies. Lockheed-Martin tried to make the case that by killing the F-22, it would cost, like, up to 25,000 jobs or more. But Obama got a big, big victory with a defeat yesterday in the Senate.

CONAN: And let's get some callers on the line now. We think we have some people who want to answer the trivia question. They think they know the answer to: Which was the Supreme Court nominee last to not get a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee?

RUDIN: That was awkwardly put there, Neal.

CONAN: That was awkwardly put, but the vote was awkward, too. So let's go: 800-989-8255 if you'd like to jump in. Email talk@npr.org. Let's go to Bill(ph), Bill calling from Bay Village in Ohio.

BILL (Caller): Hi, was it Robert Bork?

CONAN: Robert Bork did not get confirmed as a Supreme Court nominee.

RUDIN: Robert Bork was - did not get a majority of the vote, but he was not the last Supreme Court nominee to suffer this fate.

BILL: Oh jeez, yeah. I thought he had a recommendation, a neutral recommendation, not one that he should be approved.

RUDIN: No, and then he did not get a net positive in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

CONAN: He moved to Iceland and became a pop singer.

BILL: Thank you.

RUDIN: No, that was Bjork.

CONAN: Oh, that's different. Anyway, thank you very much, Bill. Let's see if we can go next to Jeremy(ph), Jeremy with us from Athens in Ohio.

JEREMY (Caller): Hi, it's Harriet Miers.

CONAN: Harriet Miers, nominated by President George W. Bush to the Supreme Court.

RUDIN: Actually, it was withdrawn before it even got that far. She was an embarrassment to many conservatives and a very strange nominee, but she never got that far - to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

JEREMY: But she didn't get the votes, though.

RUDIN: She - it never came to a vote.

CONAN: It never came to a vote. She never had a hearing, so it never came to a vote. She became Samuel Alito.

JEREMY: Love the show, guys.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Jeremy. Bye-bye, and let's see. This is - let's get Ron(ph) on the line, Ron from Muncie, Indiana. Ron?

RON (Caller): Yeah.

CONAN: You're on the air.

RON: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: Yes. Turn down the radio, please.

RON: Oh, I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RON: My guess was Clarence Thomas.

CONAN: Clarence Thomas.

RUDIN: Clarence Thomas is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: 1991, the vote was seven to seven in the Judiciary Committee. Six Republicans and Dennis DeConcini voted yes. All the other Democrats voted no: seven-seven.

CONAN: So he did not get a majority. And so Ron, we're going to put you on hold, and we'll get your information and send you your fabulous no-prize in the mail if you'll promise to take a digital picture and send it back to us.

RON: Cool.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Interestingly with Samuel Alito, the vote there was 10 to eight: 10 Republicans yes and all eight Democrats no, on a party-line vote. Had one Republican voted no, that also would've been a tie vote.

CONAN: Now we, at the beginning of the program, heard the clips of tape of one senator, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, saying if we can get -defeat Obama on health care, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him. Well, obviously, this is the subject of a lot of political ads, as well, and here's one that's being run by the Democrats.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: My son has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He's four.

Unidentified Man #1: When I lost my job, I lost my health insurance, too.

Unidentified Woman #2: My insurance company wouldn't fully cover me when I got sick.

Unidentified Man #2: My father-in-law walks with a limp because he didn't have health care.

Unidentified Woman #3: My husband's job covered us until he was laid off.

Unidentified Man #1: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's time.

Unidentified Man #2: It's time.

Unidentified Woman #3: It's time for health care reform.

CONAN: And here's an ad that's put out by the Republican National Committee.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: They've loaned Barack Obama their future without even knowing it - trillions for rushed government bailouts and takeovers: banks, the auto industry, the biggest spending spree in our nation's history. And they'll have to pay. The next big-ticket item? A risky experiment with our health care. Barack Obama's massive spending experiment hasn't healed our economy. His new experiment risks their future and our health.

CONAN: And Senator - President Obama goes on TV tonight to declare his six-month report card, but he's also expected to lobby heavily, again, for health care. Is this prospect of a Waterloo anything to worry about for him?

RUDIN: It may be more Des Moines than Waterloo, or maybe Dubuque, actually - that's another city in Iowa.

CONAN: We got that.

RUDIN: We - listener didn't get that. But it is a crucial moment for Barack Obama, because most people feel that this health care debate and his push for health care overhaul will define his presidency. And we always talk about how major things have defined other presidencies: 9/11 with George W. Bush, the failure of health care in the Clinton administration.

This one is a big one. There are so many questions, so many political angles at stake. And obviously as the polls show that while Barack Obama remains personally popular, people are starting to question his policies, especially what this will cost. And he's got to assure not only the American people but also wavering Blue Dog Democrats, for example, folks, senators up in 2010, that this is the right way to go.

CONAN: And indeed, the timing will be critical. He has said all along he wants the Senate and the House to pass their versions of the bill by the August recess, by the summer recess. Lately, he seems to be wavering on that a little bit.

RUDIN: Well, only because of reality. I mean, I think the biggest thing that everybody's watching is what comes out of the Senate Finance Committee, and both the chairman, Max Baucus, the Democrat of Montana, and Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican from Iowa, are trying to come out with something. It's slow...

CONAN: Some bipartisan bill.

RUDIN: Some bipartisan thing. And actually, that's one of the real questions that people ask of Barack Obama, that does he want a bill, or does he want a bipartisan bill? Does he want to have a good bill, or does he want to have this passed by his deadline?

I mean, given all the things that are - the enormity of what's involved in this health care bill, to pass it by a certain - by August 7th or by July 31st, seems a little strange to me. But of course, we are approaching the 2010 elections, and the sooner we get it out of committee and into the full House and Senate floor, and then it has to come back for a committee vote because of differences between the two chambers, we may be rushing against that 2010 deadline.

CONAN: Interestingly, the president tonight will be able to boast about passing the stimulus package, which a lot of critics say has not done enough to ease unemployment. He can point to a bunch of other legislative victories, and it looks like his Supreme Court nominee will be sailing through very shortly, but this, as you say, will be a big moment for him. Obviously, we'll be watching this very quickly.

We're going to go to a break very shortly, be we do want to note that Robert Byrd, the dean of the Senate, returned to vote, well, for the Raptor yesterday and was, of course, on the losing side of that vote. But nevertheless, he was casting a vote for his old friend, Chris Dodd, whose district, state, builds the engines for that fighter plane. But nevertheless, good to see Robert Byrd back in the United States Senate.

RUDIN: It's interesting who voted for it. A lot of liberal Democrats did vote for the F-22. Byrd was back, Ted Kennedy is not back.

CONAN: We'll have more about that. When we come back, we'll get you updates on the gubernatorial races this year coming up in Virginia and New Jersey, which are, of course, national bellwethers, except when they're not. Ken Rudin, our political junkie, will stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #4 (Singer): (Singing) And take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. He's NPR's political editor and blogger in chief. You can read his latest at npr.org/junkie.

For the rest of the segment, we want to focus on two states: Virginia and New Jersey, both with currently Democratic governors. Both have elections this November. Republicans look to pick up both of those seats if they can and gather momentum heading towards the mid-term elections in 2010.

We want to hear from listeners in New Jersey and Virginia today. How are things shaping up where you live in the race for the governor's mansion? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

A new poll released yesterday shows that former U.S. attorney Christopher Christie, the Republican candidate in New Jersey, leads Governor Jon Corzine, the Democrat, by 15 percentage points. Joining us now by phone from his office in New Jersey is Paul Mulshine, a columnist for The Star Ledger in Newark. Nice to have you with us, Paul.

Mr. PAUL MULSHINE (Columnist, The Star Ledger): Oh, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And I wonder if this is just a plague of almost every governor who might be running for re-election. It's not a great time to be a governor, with deficits and unemployment.

Mr. MULSHINE: Well, Jon Corzine created a lot of problems for himself that would have hurt him even without this. He famously went around the state campaigning for this grandiose proposal to bond for $40 billion against future highway tolls, and you know, of course, that hurt him in a number of ways. One is he's a former Goldman Sachs executive.

CONAN: Right.

Mr. MULSHINE: Some people thought that was kind of a conflict, and nobody wanted to pay the tolls, and it just became a farce. The further he got into it, the worse he got. And he made this ridiculous statement that pigs will fly over the State House before the legislature would actually deal with the problem. And a local radio station started this campaign that culminated in this huge rally, where they let loose these flying pigs...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULSHINE: And it was a real self-inflicted wound from which he never recovered. Then he had that car crash that didn't help, and he's been - he's done very strange things. Early on, when in the midst of a campaign to solve our perennial property-tax problem, he went before a rally of public employees and shouted, we will fight for a fair contract, which was extremely bizarre given the fact that he obviously is management, and he'd be fighting himself. So early on, he really created a lot of problems for himself, and so he would be in trouble, anyway.

CONAN: So is U.S. attorney Christie able to run on the fact that I'm not Jon Corzine?

Mr. MULSHINE: That's exactly what he's doing. Unfortunately, that's all he's doing, and he's not even the only candidate named Chris in the race who's not Jon Corzine. There's another guy, Chris Daggett, who qualified for matching funds and will be in the debates. He's a former Kean administration environmental chief and is actually a better candidate in a lot of ways than either of them. He's, you know, better looking, better spoken and probably would make a better governor, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULSHINE: It's a little embarrassing for these two because these two have sort of carved out the roles of consummate party hacks. And there's really room to look for someone who's more of an outsider, not that an independent can win, but I think he could certainly cut into Christie's numbers a lot.


RUDIN: Paul, President Obama, who remains very popular in New Jersey, was in the Garden State last week campaigning on behalf of Corzine and plus the fact that Corzine has 100-gazillion dollars, I guess, ready to spend on his own behalf. Do any of those factors give Corzine a shot?

Mr. MULSHINE: Yes. In late June, I was talking to the Republicans. Christie has adopted this bizarre, urban strategy where he thinks he's going to be the first sort of, you know, white-bread, suburban guy to go into the cities and get, you know, a significant amount of the minority vote, and that never happens.

RUDIN: Well Tom Kean, it happened to Tom Kean, though, right?

Mr. MULSHINE: It did. It happened once.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULSHINE: Ever since, and it will never happen again, and these guys keep thinking they're going to be the next guy, they're going to be the next Tom Kean who is going to go in there and get the vote. But Tom Kean had raised the income tax, generated a lot of money, thrown it at the urban politicians and done okay in the cities. Ever since, they try and recreate that miracle. It never works. They always - the cities turn out a reliable 85-percent Democratic vote.

And worse for the Christie campaign, in Newark, where our office is located, Get Out the Vote means a lot, and when Jon Corzine is running, you see a lot of school buses in the streets. You hear the megaphones. They put - do a tremendous ground operation, which they will do again this year. You know, when you have another - when a million bucks means nothing to you, it's easy to throw together a great Get Out the Vote operation, and they're going to throw it together this year, and they're going to carry the cities by a huge margin, and Christie - and at that Obama rally, it was very impressive the way they had - as I was leaving, I noticed one after another air-conditioned bus taking - you know, they had - I think they had covered every zip code in the cities perfectly, and I think they did a wonderful job of busing in about 10,000 urban residents who will go back and spread the message.

Oh, and by the way, two weeks before that, when I was in the State House, Republican leaders were assuring me that Obama would never come to New Jersey because he wouldn't risk his prestige on Jon Corzine, which I thought was a crazy analysis. And of course, the next day they announced the Obama visit, and of course Obama, I think, will throw - there's no reason he shouldn't give Corzine numerous visits and lock up the cities. And Christie is going to have a tough time because he's - you know, he'll get the usual suburban vote, but in the close-in suburbs - Mickey Carroll, I was just talking to Mickey Carroll of Quinnipiac College Poll. You know, he says these things are decided in the swing suburbs, and Christie's ignoring them and going into the cities, which Doug Forrester made the same mistake in '05. And there's - really the inner suburbs are really where these turn, and Christie so far shows no strategy for that.

CONAN: And obviously, Jon Corzine, the incumbent Democrat, would like to nationalize this campaign and accept the embrace of the president of the United States. Is the Republican campaign trying to nationalize it, saying this is our opportunity to send a message to Washington?

Mr. MULSHINE: No. Christie is sending no message whatsoever. He's - we had a piece in Tuesday's paper comparing this to the - in the '70s, Brendan Byrne implemented the income tax, and a very Christie-like character, Ray Bateman, ran against him. Brendan's numbers were even worse than Corzine's in the summer, and he came back to win big.

The theory there was Bateman put out a tax plan, and that cost him. So Christie is putting out no plans whatsoever. He refuses to answer any questions on almost anything, and the other day, he announced his lieutenant governor candidate, Kim Guadagno, who seems to be a fairly presentable sheriff from Monmouth County, along the shore. And in Asbury Park, they had a press event - the unveiling, and of course he promised, Christie promised a property-tax plan in February, which - property taxes is everything in New Jersey.

People are paying the equivalent - it's like buying a Toyota Camry every year without a loan for a lot of people. It's seriously that bad. Our opinion editor, who left the paper in December, was paying $23,000, and she was lucky to get out of the state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULSHINE: I mean, she was lucky to sell her house and get out because - can you imagine paying $2,000 a month in property taxes? And it's a huge issue, and yet Christie has no plan.

And then when he introduced his lieutenant governor, I asked her what her plan was because she was up there saying, we will make the tough choices. We're going to lower your property taxes. People are being driven out of the state, and I said: What is your property-tax plan? And she said: Well, I can't give you specifics. And I said: Well, anything, you know, just say anything. What's your plan? And she says: Well, my plan is the Chris Christie plan.

And I said all right, Chris, what's your plan? And he proceeded to say that he had no plan, which - I don't know. I don't know how you do that in a state like this.

CONAN: Well, maybe wait for pigs to fly over the state capitol.

Mr. MULSHINE: That seems to be his, you know, his version.

CONAN: Paul Mulshine. Thanks very much for your time today. We'll check back with you as the race gets closer.

Mr. MULSHINE: Thanks a lot. Great talking to you.

CONAN: Paul Mulshine, a columnist for The Star Ledger in Newark, and he joined us today from his home in the Garden State. And let's turn now to the other state where the gubernatorial race is hot and heavy. That's Virginia, another bellwether state.

The new head of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, is presently governor. He's term-limited. He can't run again. Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds will face Republican candidate Bob McDonnell in the general election.

Joining us now by phone to talk about that race is Tyler Whitley, a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and nice to have you with us today.

Mr. TYLER WHITLEY (Reporter, Richmond Times-Dispatch): Glad to be here, thank you.

CONAN: And what do the polls show in Virginia?

Mr. WHITLEY: It shows it real close. The last poll had McDonnell up 44 to 41, within the margin of error.

CONAN: And does that represent a plus for anybody? I mean, Creigh Deeds, the Democrat, was sort of a dark horse to win that primary.

Mr. WHITLEY: Yes, he was, and he came out of the primary virtually unscathed, and it's the best thing that could have happened to him. It got his name recognition up, and since he was third most of the way, no one attacked him. So he had a great opportunity coming out of the primary.

CONAN: And the Republican, what is he running on?

Mr. WHITLEY: He's running against taxes and for good government. They really haven't developed much, either one. Neither one has developed much of a platform so far.

CONAN: And what about fundraising? How are they doing?

Mr. WHITLEY: Oh, they've both raised a ton of money. McDonnell's raised more because he didn't have any opposition for the nomination, but he's got something like $5 million in the bank. And I think Deeds has two and a half million.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Courtney, Courtney with us from Williamsburg, Virginia.

COURTNEY (Caller): Hi. I'm a student at William and Mary. I follow liberal Democratic politics pretty strongly. I do support Mr. Deeds' candidacy. But I have to tell you, I very much think that Mr. Deeds has a very steep hill to climb as far as this campaign goes. I think that in the past, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner had stood out as very strong candidates for their party in a very traditional, what I would consider, center-right state. But I think that Mr. Deeds has got a bit of a headwind against him. He has a very sizeable candidate. I think Mr. McDonnell is going to prove to be a stronger candidate for the Republican Party…

CONAN: Well…

COURTNEY: …than recent candidates.

CONAN: …Tyler Whitley, it sounds like he's after your job here.

Mr. WHITLEY: Yes. It sure does.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COURTNEY: I sincerely think that Mr. McDonnell, all he has to do in this state where Mr. Obama did carry Virginia by a sizeable portion - but I think that in Virginia, his policy agenda, support for - whatever support for Mr. Obama's policies is very soft. And…

CONAN: Well, let's see if we can get a response to that. Hold on. Tyler Whitley, do you think he's got it right there?

Mr. WHITLEY: Yeah, more or less. I do think that the elections could turn on how people feel about Obama in November. And we've had this curious pattern here in Virginia. Every year, since 1976 when, say, a Democrat wins the presidency, a Republican governor is elected in Virginia afterwards and vice versa.

CONAN: And vice versa. When a Republican president is elected, the next year, a Democrat is elected to the governorship in Virginia. And, of course, when he was talking about Kaine and Warner, those are the present and previous governors of the state of Virginia, both Democrats. And, of course, Mr. Warner now in the United States Senate.

And as you're looking at this, you say it's going to depend on Obama. Are the campaigns running as if this was a national election?

Mr. WHITLEY: Neither one it is. Joe Biden was in Richmond last week to campaign for Deeds. But neither one really is running as a - on it as a national election strategy. I do think that - it used to be this pattern - I used to think it was coincidental. But now, I don't. I think it's just the backlash against Washington. And so, that's - could benefit McDonnell.

CONAN: We're getting an update on the gubernatorial race in Virginia at the moment with Tyler Whitley of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Of course, Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, is with us.

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


RUDIN: Tyler, of course, we all know that Barack Obama, the first Democrat to carry Virginia in a presidential race since Lyndon Johnson -what are Obama's numbers in Virginia looking like right now?

Mr. WHITLEY: I saw a poll, and it was a little questionable, that had Obama at 48 percent, which is a little low. But that was the same day that the Ohio poll showed them at 48 percent. But I think there was an oversampling of Republicans in that poll.

RUDIN: You get a sense, though, that the African-American turnout, which was so big last year in Virginia, will come out for Deeds in November?

Mr. WHITLEY: No way. No candidate can troll as many as Obama did last year. It was just a huge turnout. And the governor's race is - the presidential turnout is usually over 70 percent and governor's races in Virginia, it's in the high 40s. So it's going to be quite - maybe a million fewer voters than they were.

CONAN: Let's get another caller. And this is Barney(ph). Barney with us from Onley, Virginia.

BARNEY (Caller): Hi. As Tyler said, and the previous caller, I think all our Virginia gubernatorial race is going to be as a referendum on Obama. I've been to Creigh Deeds functions and the Republican governor's functions. And all the Republican - McDonnell - speak about is Obama. They have - they don't have any - besides cutting taxes, they talk about Obama, and we have to challenge Obama. And it just seems to me the entire Virginia race is going to be a referendum on Obama.

CONAN: And I think that's what you've been saying, Tyler. It's going to boil down to that. Thanks very much for the call, Barney.

BARNEY: Thanks.

CONAN: And I want to thank you for your time. We'll check in with you before we get down to the race in November. Appreciate it.

Mr. WHITLEY: Okay. Glad to.

CONAN: Tyler Whitley is a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, with us from his office in Virginia.

And let's see if we can go next to Edward(ph). Edward is calling from Flemington, New Jersey.

EDWARD (Caller): Yeah. Hi. Great show. I've been involved in Democratic Party politics in New Jersey for a long time. And there's a apocryphal story about one of the things they mentioned before about Ray Bateman losing the election to Brendan Byrne back in the late '80s, early '90s. And I was at a cocktail party in Georgetown after the fact and Avril Harriman, the great, you know, grandfather of the Democratic Party was at the party. And his comment was, my God, how did the Republicans lose? You only get a chance to run against a Brendan Byrne once in a lifetime.

(Soundbite of laughter)

EDWARD: And so, I think that Corzine can certainly come back from this. If Bateman couldn't win in that case, you know, I think Corzine could certainly win in this case.

RUDIN: And saying that, that's a very good point. And same that with Jim Florio. In 1993, he was a dead duck. Now, he did lose to Kristy Todd Whitman. But he lost by the barest or margins. So it may be too soon to count out Corzine.

CONAN: And he endorsed an income tax. Yeah. Thanks very much, Edward.

EDWARD: Yeah. You're welcome. (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Bye-bye. Before we have to run, Ken, a couple of things in the United States Senate as we look ahead to 2010, a new poll in Pennsylvania, where the newest Democrat could face a tough race.

RUDIN: A very surprising poll. Quinnipiac had a poll out this week, maybe today, Arlen Specter 45-44 against Pat Toomey, the conservative, likely Republican nominee - Republican challenger. They ran against each other six years ago when they were both Republicans. But now, Specter with a 45-44 lead in the polls, which shows, perhaps, some weakness with Specter among some Democrats.

CONAN: And then we turn to the state of Illinois, where the accidental senator, Mr. Burris, says he will not run for reelection and people are lining up on both sides now.

RUDIN: Right. Mark Kirk, the moderate Republican, has announced - got in the race, and state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias announces on Saturday…

CONAN: Easy for you to say.

Mr. RUDIN: Yes, it's very easy for me.

CONAN: Say - Ken, thanks very much.

Mr. RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie is here with us every Wednesday. Of course, you can read his Political Junkie blog at npr.org.

Up next, we'll be talking about the rumor that just won't die that President Obama is not a United States citizen. What is so tricky about fighting a rumor? Well, our brains are a part of the problem. We'll talk with a political operative and, of course, with a scientist.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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