Series Overview: The Pulse Of The Nation One year ago, the nation elected its first black president and gave him Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. One year later, the focus for many lawmakers will begin to change from the mandate of 2008 to the challenge of 2010. The results will inevitably serve as a referendum on the new administration.
NPR logo Series Overview: The Pulse Of The Nation

Series Overview: The Pulse Of The Nation

Capitol building.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden in for Liane Hansen.

The politics of Afghanistan are critical to the politics of America this week as President Obama ponders the future of the U.S. mission there amid uncertainty about that country's elections. In Washington, Congress is poised to take the year long debate on health care to the floor of the House and several states will be holding elections for governor, mayor and other offices. Joining us to talk about this political potpourri is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Welcome, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Jacki.

LYDEN: So, let's just start with the elections in Afghanistan. The main challenger to the Hamid Karzai regime there has officially just dropped out of the special runoff election coming up next weekend. Ron, that cannot be good news for the Obama administration, it complicates things. Right?

ELVING: It does. It settles any question about the Karzai government remaining in charge, of course, but it also guarantees that the questions about the legitimacy of that government that followed the fraudulent election of August, August 20th are going to continue. And let's remember that this second vote, this runoff was necessary because an international panel ruled out about a million ballots for Karzai.

And so, when Abdullah Abdullah pulled out and criticized the election system that they have there in Afghanistan, saying that a second vote next weekend would be just as fraudulent as the first, even though he didn't call on his followers to boycott and even though he didn't denounce the Karzai government, clearly the cloud is going to remain over Kabul.

LYDEN: Do we expect the president to announce a decision about troops this week?

ELVING: Certainly a lot of people would like to have him do so. The Pentagon is pressing for an answer. Conservative critics are saying that it's hurting the United States to be indecisive on this front. But this may not be the best week if you assume that the president wants to make an address to the nation regarding this decision. This is a week in which he would have to compete with the World Series and, of course, the elections on Tuesday. There might not be a good night for an announcement until late in the week and then right after next weekend, the president is going to be leaving for a ten-day trip to Asia.

LYDEN: And Ron, on the domestic front, we have this enormous health care bill approaching the critical weeks of floor debate in Congress.

ELVING: Right now it does look as though the House is going to debate and pass this health care bill with an option for individuals to buy insurance from the government if they can't get private insurance or don't want to get private insurance. The Senate may also begin debate very soon, certainly in November, on a bill that has this provision or a version of it, but with an opt-out for the states. Not clear, though, yet that the Senate has the 60 votes it will need just to begin debate on that particular bill.

LYDEN: And some pretty important elections coming up across the country. Tell us just a little about Virginia and New Jersey.

ELVING: That's right. The most closely watched is probably the one in New Jersey. You've got a three-way contest there between Jon Corzine, the Democratic incumbent Chris Christie, who is the Republican challenger and Chris Daggett, who is an independent and taking some votes probably from both candidates. That one is too close to call and President Obama is campaigning there for Jon Corzine this weekend. Virginia is a lot simpler and easier to predict. You've got there Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, opening a double digit lead over Creigh Deeds, the Democrat and it's just a two way race. And so the president has been weighing in there on behalf of the Democrat as well, but it doesn't seem to be doing him much good.

We're also going to be seeing some mayors probably reelected in New York and Boston. It is conceivable that Atlanta will be electing its first non-African-American mayor in 40 years, while in Charlotte they may be electing their first African-American mayor and a number of other races around the country as well. But, you know, a lot of the national attention has focused on one special election for Congress in upstate New York.

LYDEN: Yes. And the - one of the candidates has just dropped out there.

ELVING: Yeah. This is a stunning development, it truly is, where the official Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, has decided she has had enough. That the insurgent Republican rebellion against her candidacy, they view her as being insufficiently conservative or insufficiently orthodox, particularly on gay rights, particularly�


ELVING: �particularly on abortion rights. Pardon me?