The Political Junkie Hits The Buckeye State
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, broadcasting today from the studios of member station WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
In Connecticut, Senate candidates wrestle over experience. In Kentucky: Who's the man? And New York's Carl Paladino is hardly the only pol to choose words poorly. Three weeks to Election Day, we're in Ohio. Where else for a Buckeye 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, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to discuss the week in politics. Last week, San Francisco; this week, Columbus; and while we'll focus on Ohio, we have updates from Wisconsin and North Carolina as well, plus candidates behaving badly, in SS uniforms and out; and Sarah Palin and President Barack Obama do share something: They're related.
In a bit, House candidates in Ohio's First District. Former Congressman Steve Chabot wants his old job back from Representative Steve Driehaus. If you have a question for the candidates, you can email us now, email@example.com.
But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in the studios of WOSU, and as usual we begin with a trivia question.
RUDIN: Hi, Neal, and of course since we're at WOSU, we'll make it Ohio-related.
RUDIN: Senator George Voinovich, who's retiring this year, also served as governor of Ohio and mayor of Cleveland. Now, we have a lot to cover this show, so I'm going to make this trivia question easy. Name anybody, name someone else in the past 30 years or so who was elected to all three positions: senator, governor, mayor.
CONAN: It doesn't have to be in Cleveland and Ohio and Ohio.
CONAN: Okay, but if you think you know the answer, someone who's been elected mayor, governor and senator, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course the winner gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.
And let's see if we can begin - and I think we're going to be focusing on Ohio here, but we want to do, every week before election day, a snapshot, a scorecard, how the balance of power in both houses of Congress is shaping up, at least according to the polls. What can you give us this week?
RUDIN: Well, there are some indications that the Democrats are optimistic about a few races, and one of them is in Ohio. Governor Ted Strickland, who was down for the longest time to former Congressman John Kasich and is still trailing in the polls, there is some evidence that seems to suggest that he is doing a little better.
But at the same time, for the most part the landscape still looks very strongly Republican. We've seen instances here in Ohio and elsewhere in the country where the D Triple-C, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has withdrawn funds, has pulled back promised moneys for campaign advertising in some districts.
They feel that, look, we need to hold, we need to stem the damages to fewer than 39 seats because that'll make John Boehner of Ohio the next speaker of the House instead of Nancy Pelosi. So they're pulling back and they have to defend a certain amount of seats.
CONAN: So the Republicans, if my math is correct, need to take over 30 seats, get a...
RUDIN: Thirty-nine, a net gain of 39.
CONAN: And how close are they?
RUDIN: Well, they are very close. Right now, Charlie Cook said there were 90 Democratic districts in jeopardy. Now, even if Republicans only win half that, or the Democrats only lose half that, that's still 45 -because math was always my forte - and so 45 is enough to give the Republicans the majority in the House.
Nate Silver of the New York Times does the 538 blog, says that up to 50 seats are in jeopardy. Now, that's an unusual number, but we've seen it before. The Republicans picked up 52 seats in 1994. It's doable, but that would be something.
CONAN: In the Senate they would need 10 seats to take over control of the United States Senate. Again, what does that look...
RUDIN: They need 10, and there are some numbers that are looking a little bit better for the Democrats. Barbara Boxer seems to have a solid, even though a narrow, lead in California. But again, in Wisconsin, that's not looking great for Russ Feingold. He is trailing in almost every poll.
In Nevada, they just showed that Sharron Angle's raised $14 million in the past quarter, and polls still show her dead even with Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.
CONAN: Still, the Democrats were worried in Delaware, maybe worried in Connecticut. It looks like they may not have to worry so much.
RUDIN: That's correct. Christine O'Donnell has made the Democrats' task much easier in Delaware, Chris Coons likely to win that. He's up by anywhere between 17 and 20 points in most polls.
And while Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive in Connecticut, has spent some $20 million of her own money, she's still trailing to Richard Blumenthal.
CONAN: And let's go to some people who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. Again, we're going to try to make it simple this week. If you think you know someone who has, in the last 30 years or so, been elected governor, senator and governor, email us...
RUDIN: And senator.
CONAN: That's right. 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com. And we'll start with Will, and Will's calling us from Florence in South Carolina.
WILL (Caller): Hey, I'm not sure if it's right because I'm not sure if he was ever a mayor, but I know Strom Thurmond served as a senator and governor of South Carolina.
RUDIN: You are correct. He served as senator and governor, and you were correct. He never served as mayor.
CONAN: So you are incorrect, sir. Thanks very much for the phone call. Let's go instead to Matthew, and Matthew with us from Big Stone Gap in Virginia.
MATTHEW (Caller): Hello. My guess was Mark Warner.
CONAN: Mark Warner, the - well, certainly former senator.
RUDIN: And, well, he's a senator. He's a current senator and former governor. But like Strom Thurmond - and a lot of people confuse Mark Warner and Strom Thurmond - but neither served in the House - neither served as mayor, I'm sorry.
CONAN: Excuse me. So thanks very much for the call, Matthew.
MATTHEW: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Mary Ellen(ph), Mary Ellen in Cleveland.
MARY ELLEN (Caller): Hi, is it George Voinovich?
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: I started off the question, George Voinovich has served in all three, name somebody else. So...
CONAN: So yes and no.
MARY ELLEN: Okay.
CONAN: Thanks very much, and let's go to - this is Marika(ph), Marika with us from Buffalo.
MARIKA (Caller): Yes, I think it's Pete Wilson from California.
RUDIN: Pete Wilson is a correct answer.
RUDIN: Pete Wilson, a former governor, former senator and also the former mayor of San Diego. By the way, just in case anybody cares, two other people I thought of: Dirk Kempthorne. We always love to talk about Dirk Kempthorne, former governor, senator, mayor of Boise, Idaho. And current Senator Mike Johanns, who's the former mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, and former governor as well. But Pete Wilson...
CONAN: And there might be some others as well.
RUDIN: No, I can't think of any.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: But anyway, Pete Wilson is a correct answer.
CONAN: Marika, we're going to put you on hold and collect your particulars. You'll be mailed a no-prize T-shirt in exchange for your promise to take a digital picture, which we can post on our wall of shame.
MARIKA: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Okay. There we go, so Marika the winner of this week's no-prize T-shirt.
In the meantime, a lot of debates around the country. We're going to be talking about Wisconsin a little bit later in the program. But yesterday in California, well, there's been a lot of talk about the maid, Meg Whitman's maid. She's - was illegal and worked for Meg Whitman for, what, I think nine years.
RUDIN: Nine years, undocumented, right.
CONAN: But in any case, then the charge came up last night in relation to a recording of a meeting of Democratic strategists, including the Democratic nominee for governor. That's, of course, Jerry Brown. And someone referred to - came up with an idea: Let's go after her, Meg Whitman, as...
RUDIN: As a whore.
CONAN: And that's a word that has a lot of resonance. And this is something that came up in the debate last night. And let's see if we can listen in to Meg Whitman attacking Jerry Brown for his seeming acceptance of this terminology.
(Soundbite of debate)
Ms. MEG WHITMAN (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, California): I think every Californian, and especially women, know exactly what's going on here, and that is a deeply offensive term to women.
Mr. JERRY BROWN (Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate, California): Well, can I just interject? Have you chastised your chairman, Pete Wilson, who called the Congress whores to the public sector unions?
Ms. WHITMAN: You know better than that, Jerry. That's a completely different thing. The fact that you are defending your campaign, the fact that you are defending your campaign for a slur and, you know, a personal attack on me, I think it's not befitting of California. It's not befitting of the office that you're running for.
CONAN: And you have to say, whore is one of those words generically thrown around, no problem. When addressed specifically, especially to a woman, that's a problem.
RUDIN: Well, I think a lot of it depends on how it's used in context. And of course people have said so-and-so is a whore for the insurance agency, for the banking industry, and I think the Brown conversation, the Jerry Brown conversation that was recorded inadvertently, was talking about that Meg Whitman may be a whore for the banking industry.
But the point is, when a word like that is directed at a woman, it just has connotations that people, you know, just understandably find offensive.
Now, not everybody in the audience agreed with Meg Whitman, and of course there are some people who say that Meg Whitman is, you know, does whatever she does for the insurance company, that Jerry Brown won't do.
But it was seen as offensive. It doesn't seem to have turned the tide in that campaign. Jerry Brown still seems to have a few-point lead, but again, with less than three weeks to go, this - the whole race could turn on something like this.
CONAN: And let's go now to the state of Connecticut, where Linda McMahon, the World Wrestling executive...
CONAN: Former. Was putting up a very stiff race against the presumed favorite.
This is Mr. Blumenthal, the attorney general, long time - this is one of those races where a great political resume turns out to be a problem, and the novice does a little jujitsu. But the latest polls showing that Blumenthal has got a fairly substantial lead, and last - this in a debate on Monday night. The Republican Linda McMahon again went back to the charge that he had lied to the voters of the state of Connecticut.
(Soundbite of debate)
Ms. LINDA McMAHON (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, Connecticut): Mr. Blumenthal, I just want to go back for a minute. When you talk about the people of Connecticut know you, they know now that you have a difficult time telling the truth. They know that you had a hard time...
Unidentified Woman: Please..
Ms. McMAHON: ...telling the truth about Vietnam...
Unidentified Woman: ...please, ladies and gentleman. Please.
CONAN: And as you can hear there, that drew a mixed response from that crowd, and this referring to him mischaracterizing his record, that he had served in Vietnam. He served in the Vietnam era but not in Vietnam. But this has been going back and forth for months. She doesn't seem to have a lot new.
RUDIN: No, and basically - and Blumenthal responded by talking about her record - the WWE and the fact that they took steroids, and she didn't protect her fellow wrestlers. Again, that's not new either.
Given all the challenges that are out there, all the problems that are out there, it's just interesting that either we the media or the candidates themselves seem to focus on these little attack lines. They think that can give them the best advantage.
CONAN: In the meantime, Carl Paladino, at one point within six points of the presumed favorite in the New York governor's race, Mr. Cuomo, seems to have buried himself even further with anti-gay remarks. He has backed off and backed off and backed off, but not quite apologized for these remarks. And gay activists say too little too late.
And, well, here in Ohio, one of the candidates for Congress, Mr. Iott, Rich Iott, turns out to have pictures of himself wearing an SS uniform as an impersonator.
RUDIN: Well, Rich Iott, who is running - first of all, he is a no-chance candidate against Marcy Kaptur in northwest Ohio. He's not going to win at all. But the point is, he did dress up as a Nazi, SS garb. But of course, he also dressed up in World War I, World War II garb, Civil War garb, on both sides of the war.
But again, you know, the last thing the Republicans need is any Republican candidate, whether they have a shot or not, walking around dressed up in that kind of uniform.
CONAN: Ken Rudin is NPR's Political Junkie. He's also NPR's political editor. He's going to be with us. In a moment, we're going to be focusing on a race in the House here in Ohio. We'd like to hear from those of you who live in the Cincinnati area if you've made a decision about that race if it's changed, 800-989-8255. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, today in Columbus, Ohio, at OSU.
It's October, an election year. Of course, we're in Ohio. We're exported the political junkie to the Buckeye State this week. Ken Rudin is with us, the blogger and keeper of the midterm scorecard. You can go to npr.org/junkie for all of that, for his latest blogs and for his ScuttleButton puzzle.
One of the races getting a lot of attention in the final weeks of this election is in Ohio's First District. Former Congress Steve Chabot is making a strong run to get his seat back from Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus. We'll speak with them both.
If you live in the Cincinnati area, what's the decisive issue for you? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
And let's see if we can go to Steve Chabot, the Republican who's running for Congress in Ohio's First District, former representative for that district, and Congress, nice to have you with us today.
Mr. STEVE CHABOT (Republican Congressional Candidate, Ohio): Hey, it's great to be with you, Neal.
CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, you were ousted two years ago by your opponent this time. What's changed?
Mr. CHABOT: Well, the environment, I think politically, has changed. And obviously, the economic environment has changed. I think people are very upset about the lack of progress in getting this economy moving again, getting people back to work.
The spending, which I felt wasn't particularly something to brag about when Republicans were in control, has gotten completely out of control over the last couple years since the Democrats had been in control.
So the environment, I think, is one in which a lot of people who aren't satisfied with the direction of the country, are going to turn out in droves this time to - I think the result will be a change from the change that we saw just two years ago.
CONAN: Well, the last election seemed to turn on the idea that the Bush years were not great for the state of Ohio, in general, and for the First District in particular. That seemed to be decisive last time around. Democrats charge that if you and other Republicans - like-minded - are elected, it's just going to go back to the old days. How do you respond to that?
Mr. CHABOT: Well, the unemployment in those days wasn't nearly as bad as it is right now under the current administration and the current Congress.
In Ohio, for example, we still have unemployment over 10 percent. It wasn't anything nearly in that area in the bad old Bush days or the days in which Republicans were in control of Congress.
But the spending I think in particular is something that's completely out of control. We're running up the debt in numbers that are just unsustainable, and all this debt is ultimately, our kids and our grandkids are going to pay the price for it.
And so I think people are ready for a different direction than we're heading right now. And I think on election day, about three weeks from now we're going to see, you know, people coming out in droves, as I say, to change things.
CONAN: As you know, non-discretionary, non-defense discretionary spending makes up a relatively small portion of the federal budget. Much of it is made up for, well, things like Medicare and Social Security. What would you cut to get the budget back in shape?
Mr. CHABOT: Oh, I think there's a lot of things you can cut. For example, the so-called economic stimulus package, which was - the numbers were all over the place. The most recent numbers that we've, most people agree on is $814 billion in that stimulus package, which I would argue has stimulated one thing, and that's growth in government but not jobs in the private sector.
Not all that money's been spent yet. There's over $200 billion that have not been spent. One of the initial cuts that I would make, and that's a lot of money, I wouldn't spend the unspent stimulus dollars.
I also wouldn't spend any more money putting those signs up along our highways that cost thousands of dollars per sign to stick up to remind us how we should be thankful to the Congress and this administration for spending our money.
I think John Boehner's got a pretty good idea about reducing the levels of spending right now, back to where they were two years ago, pre-stimulus, pre-TARP or the bank bailout. I think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that's about $30 billion we could cut right there.
I think we should not hire the 16,000 new IRS agents that the health care bill calls for hiring. I think farm subsidies is an opportunity target where we could cut a lot of money there.
Corporate welfare, we continue to spend too much. For example, we spend tax dollars to advertise corporations, to advertise their products overseas. Now they ought to advertise and sell their products overseas, but they ought to do that on their dime and not on the taxpayers.
So those are a few things that I would cut, and that's billions and billions of dollars right there.
RUDIN: Mr. Chabot, since January of 2009, we've heard a lot of Republicans talk about how the deficit has gotten out of control, how spending has gotten out of control.
We really didn't hear the Republicans saying those words, using those words when the Republicans and president - during the Bush administration, when there was a lot of spending out of control and stuff out of control.
And also, a lot of Republicans are talking about ethics and earmarks and things like that, another thing that the Republicans didn't speak of in the old days.
I guess the question is: Have the Republicans learned their lesson from what got them kicked out of power in 2006, and do we think things change if the Republicans take over control next year?
Mr. CHABOT: Well, I think a lot of us were talking about the spending being unsustainable and not under control when Republicans were in charge.
Now for a few years, Democrats had had control of the House and - well, not the Senate, but the House for 40 years until '94, the Republicans took over. We hadn't had a balanced budget in 30 years. We got the budget balanced.
But then unfortunately, Republicans went off the rail, too, and we spending far too much, and there were a number of us more conservative Republicans that were screaming and yelling. We didn't get a lot of attention.
And we would urge President Bush to veto these appropriations and spending bills, which he wouldn't do because as long as he was getting funding for the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq and Homeland Security, he was really, I think, pretty much willing to let Congress spend whatever it wanted to.
So I wasn't satisfied. A lot of conservative Republicans weren't. But you're right to the extent that in the mainstream press, you didn't hear much attention about spending.
Relative to ethics, the thing that I remember, particularly, was Nancy Pelosi, when she became speaker, saying that she was going to drain the swamp and, you know, all that sort of thing. Well, there are some pretty big critters still swimming around in that swamp in Washington.
So, the ethics weren't what they should've been under Republican control, and they're not under Democratic control. But sides, I think, have been guilty and remiss in that area.
CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line, and we'll go to Phil(ph), and Phil's on the line from Cincinnati.
PHIL (Caller): Well, thank you so much, Neal. I just had a quick comment today. I've actually supported Mr. Chabot in the past. And this coming election, I am not going to.
I'm really concerned about some of the votes that he's had in the past, really supporting the banking industry, the deregulation of the banking industry and what this led to.
I've heard a lot of people, and, you know, they equate, they say, well, you know, the economy hasn't been good the past two years. You know, therefore, you know, we're going to go back to the way the things were.
And really, you know, looking at a lot of the history of Mr. Chabot's votes, I've just seen that he has not been a person, you know, to really stand up for the regulation that's needed, and we've seen what that's caused.
Mr. CHABOT: Well, if I can respond. Generally, when you have a call like that says, well, I've always been a supporter, and I'm not anymore, and here's why, you can almost guarantee that that's never been a supporter.
But relative to the banking comments that the gentleman made, I was one of the folks who voted against the bank bailout, for example, the TARP bill where we - and that was a bill that both the Bush administration and McCain and Obama, when he was in the Senate, pushed.
I opposed that, as I opposed the auto bailout. I think the last thing we need to do is to have large segments of the American economy taken over by the government, which isn't the most efficient institution to be running these things.
You know, and that's what we've seen. We've seen a huge power grab by the federal government, whether it's banks, whether it's the auto industry, insurance; now health care, which is about 17 percent of the American economy, is now moving, more and more, into the government's hands.
I think this is - it does not bode well for the country, especially if we're ever going to get this economy moving again and get the American people back to work.
And that's the key issue. You know, there's all this business about foreign money going into campaigns, and these - they're side issues. The important thing is getting this economy moving again and getting the American people back to work, and they're doing a very poor job of that right now in Washington.
CONAN: Steve Chabot, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it, and good luck to you.
Mr. CHABOT: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Steve Chabot on the line from Cincinnati. He's the Republican candidate to try to get his old job back, representing the First District of Ohio.
And joining us now is the current holder of that seat, Congressman Steve Driehaus, and nice to have you with us today.
Representative STEVE DRIEHAUS (Democrat, Ohio): Thanks, Neal, I appreciate it.
CONAN: And why don't we begin where former Congressman Chabot left off, the health care vote. Is that something that has been an albatross around your neck in this election?
Rep. DRIEHAUS: No, I think there are a lot of questions about the health care vote. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what's actually in the health care bill.
But when I go out there, and I talk about the fact that insurance companies will no longer be able to cut you off because of preexisting conditions, when I talk about Congress finally paying for Medicare Part D and making sure that prescription drugs are going to seniors, as was promised by Congress, when I help people understand the rescission policies and the fact that insurance companies can no longer cut you off if you actually get sick and help them understand that in 2014, there will be a very competitive market so that they can go out there and purchase health care that they can't do right now, people tend to be very favorable.
They react unfavorably if it's called a government takeover of health care or, you know, it's a mischaracterization of what's actually in the bill. But once they understand what's in it, you know, I find that people are very receptive.
CONAN: Last time around, everybody thought it was a close race. In fact, you won, and won fairly handily. Why - what do you think has changed?
Rep. DRIEHAUS: Well, you know, I think we're going to win again, and, you know, I think the polling, you know, in these races is off. I think it's often miscounting, certainly, minority voters and younger voters. So, you know, certainly, the atmosphere has changed. There is very real anxiety in the electorate about the economy. I think the blame that's being placed on the current Congress and this administration is misdirected.
I think when you look at the policies that my predecessor supported under, you know, the previous administration, that's what got us here. You know, I try to remind people that in 2008, you know, in the last six months of 2008, this economy lost three million jobs. In January of 2009, we lost 750,000 jobs in that month alone. The economy was in freefall.
And we have been able to turn it around. We've seen GDP growth in the last four quarters. We've seen the market go from 6,400 - I believe it was, in March of 2009 to now - over 11,000. So we've seen real progress.
And, you know, for the first time in a long time, we're seeing manufacturing growth in the state of Ohio. You know, under my predecessor in the past 10 years, we lost 38,000 manufacturing jobs in greater Cincinnati. We're finally seeing manufacturing growth.
Rep. DRIEHAUS: So we've got things pointed in the right direction. It can't be quick enough for somebody that's unemployed. It can't be quick enough or - you know, for somebody that's looking for a job and can't find it. But I think things are pointing in the right direction.
CONAN: And let's see if we get one caller in. This is Nelson, Nelson also calling from Cincinnati.
NELSON (Caller): Yes. Mr. Driehaus, you've run a great campaign so far this year, and you did originally, you know, when you got elected. But my question is probably what - a lot of people out here are just overwhelmed with how weak your stance is against the Republican Party. It seems that you do not even begin to comprehend the depth and the scope of the criminality that we went through in the last 12 years, and we're a bit perplexed out here.
CONAN: Nelson, I don't mean to cut you off, but we're running out of time. I wanted to give the...
CONAN: ...I want to give the congressman a chance to respond.
Rep. DRIEHAUS: Well, Nelson, I certainly am taking on what I see is the failures of the previous administration. You know, when I talk about, you know, what we've done in terms of - and if you just take housing and you look at the mortgage financing crisis that this country was in that led to this tremendous recession, you know, my predecessor didn't have a single public meeting on housing during his time in Congress.
We created a housing task force. We fought the predatory lending in the state of Ohio. We created a foreclosure task force statewide that I served on. And so we aggressively went after this. When I got to Congress, we passed Wall Street reform, and I think that is the appropriate regulation of the financial services sector that will prevent this type of recession from happening again.
So I point out those things. I talk about, you know, the policies that led to this structural deficit that we have, the policies that led to tremendous job loss and the policies that took us down the wrong road in housing, and we're all paying for it in our neighborhoods through foreclosures.
So, you know, I have brought that up, and I will continue to bring that up because I think there are really - very real differences between kind of the laissez-faire attitude of the Republicans and, you know, what we're trying to achieve.
And, you know, my opponent talks about the intervention in the automotive industry, as if we asked to do this. The fact of the matter is there are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state of Ohio dependent upon the automotive industry. There was an appropriate intervention on the part of the federal government to support the, you know, automotive sector. I was just at a Ford transmission plant last week where things are growing. You know, I was at an auto dealer last week where he said they had the best month they've had in a year and a half.
So we've seen things moving in the right direction. Our auto manufacturers in the state of Ohio now have, you know, three shifts on, you know, every day. That's movement in the right direction when it comes to manufacturing, when it comes to jobs in the state of Ohio. My predecessor, I assume, would have seen those hundred thousands of jobs go away and further devastate the state of Ohio.
CONAN: Steve Driehaus, the representative for the first district of Ohio, a Democrat running for reelection. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
RUDIN: Congressman, you said you've been getting very good reaction and response when you're walking around defending your vote on health care and things like that.
Rep. DRIEHAUS: Mm-hmm.
RUDIN: What's your reaction when you see a headline that says that the DCCC is pulling...
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: ...$500,000 worth of ads in your district? Is it a sign that they've just given up on your reelection? I know you said that polls can be misleading, but it can't feel so good - can't be feeling so good to see a headline like that?
Rep. DRIEHAUS: Well, Ken, obviously, I'm not thrilled that the D-trip doesn't think that they should be putting money on the air, but I was a meeting last night with 300 volunteers who were fired up. And that means a heck a lot more to me than, you know, thousands of dollars on TV ads by the DCCC.
The fact of the matter is that we have a huge field operation. The DCCC is continue - is actually adding to that investment in our field operation. Like I said, we've got volunteers out there. We've got paid canvassers. We are mobilizing the vote. And so, you know, we can fight ad wars on TV, and that's okay when it comes to persuasion. But what we're doing is mobilizing the base and going after voters that we know are there that we need to get to the polls. So that has been the strategy all along, and that's what we're gonna continue to do.
CONAN: And Congressman, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Rep. DRIEHAUS: Sure. Thank you. Take care.
CONAN: Steve Driehaus is the Democratic incumbent in Ohio's first district, elected to office first two years ago and struggling for his seat again in a campaign this time around against his - well, the former person who held that seat, Steve Chabot, who's a Republican and we heard from earlier.
When we come back after a short break, we're gonna be talking about, well, the rest of the state of Ohio, not just the 1st congressional district. We're also gonna be checking in on the races in North Carolina, and especially the Senate race in Wisconsin. Democrats are expected to hold that seat. It does not look good for the incumbent, Mr. Feingold, there right at the moment. We'll be talking with Glen Moberg, who - well, he was the moderator of the debate this week for the Senate campaign. So stay with us for that. Ken Rudin, of course, will also be with us.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.
It's Wednesday and, of course, NPR political editor and our own Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as always. If you'd like to check out his blog, his podcast or solve his ScuttleButton puzzle, you can join us - him at npr.org.
We just talked about the first district in Ohio with the candidates there for the House of Representatives: Steve Chabot, the former member of the House of Representatives, and the current member Steve Driehaus, the Democrat.
Well, there's other things going on in the state of Ohio other than that one race. And joining us here in the studios of WOSU in Columbus is the news director here, and that's Mike Thompson. Mike, nice to have you back with us.
MIKE THOMPSON: It's great to be here. Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And as we look ahead, the Senate - this is - George Voinovich, who we happened to mention in our trivia question earlier, is retiring. A couple of years ago, maybe even as much as a year ago, the Democrats may have hoped to pick up that seat.
THOMPSON: Yeah. I think there was some high hopes...
CONAN: And we're having difficulty with your microphone, and we'll be with you in just a second. So Ken, the...
RUDIN: Oh, second choice.
CONAN: The second choice.
RUDIN: Thank you very much.
CONAN: So the Senate race in the state of Ohio.
RUDIN: Well, it's interesting because, as Mike says, it used to be thought of as a prime example - prime opportunity for a Democratic pickup. Lee Fisher, the lieutenant governor, is a well-known figure. But Rob Portman, the Republican, not only has a tremendous bankroll, much more money than his Democratic opponent, but the issue seemed to be more in his favor. He's kind of like blaming the Strickland-Fisher administration for the decline of jobs, the loss of jobs from Ohio - not to foreign countries, but to other states. And it's helping Portman.
CONAN: And Mike Thompson, despite the fact that, well, Mr. Portman could be tied to perhaps the one of the most unpopular presidents in Ohio political history, and that's George Bush of Texas.
THOMPSON: Yes. You know, he was the budget director and trade ambassador, so that's what Lee Fisher has been trying to tie him to. The problem is - the problem I just had: He can't get on the air.
(Soundbite of laughter)
THOMPSON: He has a - Rob Portman has a seven-to-one fundraising advantage over Lee Fisher, and he is not on the air with commercials right now. And that is why there's a 15-point gap in this race.
RUDIN: Can I interrupt you for a second? Because I understand - I've heard that argument, but then you can make the case of Meg Whitman of California spending a hundred gazillion dollars against Jerry Brown. Brown has a slight lead. Michael Bloomberg in New York City spent $90 million. He barely won reelection. It has to be more than just money.
THOMPSON: It probably is. I think that accounts for the wide gap and how the gap hasn't moved. I think Ted Strickland has gone from a double-digit deficit to single digits, even a dead heat in some polls because of the ads that he started running again. So that race is tight. I think this race would be tighter if Lee Fisher were on the air, though.
CONAN: You also have a governor's race where a Democrat is running for reelection, and that is, by no means, a runaway.
THOMPSON: No. It looked pretty bleak for Ted Strickland about three or four weeks ago. There was a Quinnipiac University poll that had Kasich up by a whopping 17 points. Now it's down...
CONAN: That's former member of the House of Representatives John Kasich.
THOMPSON: John Kasich, yes, up by 17 points. And now it's down to - that same poll has it at nine points about 10 days ago. And most other polls have it in the three to - three to four-point range, basically a dead heat.
CONAN: So that's within the margin of error for most of those political polls.
Let's talk about the other House races. The last two cycles - two years ago, four years ago - disasters for the Republican Party, which once considered this state a bastion. How many seats can the Democrats now expect to lose in the state of Ohio?
THOMPSON: Well, I think the Driehaus-Chabot race is very much in question, what you just talked about. Here in Central Ohio, Mary Jo Kilroy, seeking her second term, is in a rematch with Republican Steve Stivers. The latest poll that came out about a week ago had Stivers up by nine points. She barely won two years ago, even with the Obama effect at the polls with all the Democrats turning out. It still - Stivers lost by 2,300 votes.
And there are no third-party candidates actively campaigning in that race this year. Two years ago, a Christian conservative candidate and a Libertarian candidate siphoned off 9 percent of the vote. So many people believe that's why Kilroy won two years ago, and perhaps why she might be in trouble this time around.
CONAN: And we were talking about the DCCC, the - or the D-trip. I've never heard that before. But that's the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, pulling money out of the first congressional district and Mr. Driehaus' campaign, happening elsewhere in Ohio, too.
THOMPSON: They haven't pulled away completely from Mary Jo Kilroy. But they are putting all of their money here in Central Ohio, in the Central Ohio TV markets, toward Zack Space's opponent. He's the Democrat from just east of Columbus. They're attacking his opponent Bob Gibbs, the Republican state senator.
RUDIN: This is the old seat that Bob Ney had for many years.
RUDIN: That was a solidly Republican seat that Zack Space won in 2006.
THOMPSON: Yes. He's one of those so-called Blue Dog Democrats, conservative Democrats. He voted for the bank bailout, voted for stimulus, but he voted against the health care plan.
CONAN: And as we look at the - look at these races and these numbers, Steve Chabot, the former member of Congress - who now can be considered the favorite to be returning to Congress - was talking about some of the broader economic issues in the state of Ohio, high unemployment, manufacturing down. Well, Mr. Driehaus says it's going back up. It's going in the right direction. If it is, it's a little too late for Democrats.
THOMPSON: It is moving slowly. They point to some job growth numbers, but it is going very slowly. And that is the number issue, it's jobs and unemployment. And John Kasich, who's running for governor, is just sticking to that message, even though he could be sidetracked by some other issues. It's jobs, jobs, jobs, for John Kasich.
CONAN: Mike Thompson, thanks very much for your time today.
THOMPSON: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: WOSU news director, Mike Thompson, with us here - well, actually, we're here in his studio. It gets confusing. Anyway, we're going to continue talking about politics, not just in Ohio, but around the country.
We go next to North Carolina. The Senate race there is between Republican incumbent Richard Burr and North Carolina Secretary of State, Elaine Marshall, a Democrat.
North Carolina Public Radio's capitol bureau chief, Laura Leslie, with us today from the studios of WUNC in Chapel Hill. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
LAURA LESLIE: Hello. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And this was a race where you might have looked at the national trends and said, well, Democrats might as well write this one off.
LESLIE: You might think that, and a lot of people probably did. But there was a sense - and perhaps not particularly accurate sense - that Burr was considered to be very vulnerable. His numbers weren't very good. Of course, nobody else's numbers were particularly good, either. But the sense was that perhaps the anti-incumbent fever would outweigh the anti-Democrat fever. And if you look at the most recent polls, that doesn't appear to be what's happening.
CONAN: So what do the numbers tell you?
LESLIE: Well, Burr started out with a slight lead, which isn't surprising. He's been in Congress since '94. And in the Senate, he's finishing up his first term. He has great name recognition. Elaine Marshall's been on the scene for a long time. She's been Secretary of State since 1996. But that's not exactly a kitchen table sort of position. You know, people don't really know her very well. He came into this with a huge war chest. She came into this with anemic fundraising at best, and it hasn't gone any better since then. And she went through a bruising primary and a runoff, which pretty much depleted what little cash she had.
So not surprisingly, he's been on the air since early August with - I think he's on his third or fourth ad cycle now. She has just gotten to be on the air, just in the last few days. And when we look at the polls, 30 percent of people still don't know who she is. So, you know, I heard Ken talking about whether or not it's all money, and sometimes it's not. But in this case, it pretty clearly is, because people just don't know who she is.
RUDIN: Laura, from the beginning, it seemed like Democrats were really confident that Richard Burr could be knocked off. And, again, this is a Republican year, yet his numbers have never looked that overwhelmingly strong. And what is this about Richard Burr that just seems to give the Democrats a chance - you know, the thoughts that he could be taken?
LESLIE: Well, he - you know, he's a low-key guy. He's not a polished politician. He doesn't seek out the spotlight. You don't get a lot of press releases from his office touting the accomplishment of the weak. And a lot of people don't think much about him positive or negative.
But on the other hand, that's not necessarily a bad thing this year. You know, he is around a lot. He does great constituent service. And he is not - I mean, despite the fact that he does vote pretty closely with his Republican Caucus in the Senate, he's not what you would call a raging ideologue. I mean, he's a really - a pretty focus guy, but a pretty low-key guy when it comes to sort of public relations.
I think perhaps the Democrats simply - we'll say underestimated, you know, his appeal to the average voters, especially folks in rural and small town areas where he's very popular.
CONAN: But there was, just two years ago, a senator - now Senator Kay Hagan surprised a lot of people in this state with an insurgent challenge to an established Republican. Is that a model that Ms. Marshall may be looking towards?
LESLIE: Well, I'm sure it probably is, and I'm sure that gave her hope. But it's a very different story. I mean, on one hand, in 2008, you had President Obama to bring young voters and African-American voters to the polls. And they overwhelmingly voted for Hagan, as well. So that was a huge part of her win. Number two, with Elizabeth Dole, you can make the argument she was a celebrity and she didn't spent enough time in North Carolina - which, indeed, they did make that argument. With Richard Burr, it's really hard to make that argument. He is not at all a rock star, a celebrity, and he is back in the state on a pretty regular basis.
CONAN: One other race we wanted to get to you about the North Carolina: House race in the second district, Democrat Bob Etheridge, the incumbent, challenged by Republican Renee Ellmers. What's going on there?
LESLIE: That's a good question.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LESLIE: Well, Bob Etheridge was confronted by a conservative activist/citizen journalist, and this was this summer. And Etheridge reacted to him, kind of smacked him and grabbed his arm. And, of course, that was kind of went viral all over the Web. But it was, perhaps, not a big deal. No charges were filed. But it was a complete about face from his very sort of avuncular, gentle-uncle kind of, you know, image. And so, you know, that helped Renee Ellmers - who's a first-timer, a Tea Party candidate - to raise some money. And then she turned around and released another ad recently, the victory mosque ad, which was put together by Carter Wrenn, who's a long-time Republican consultant in North Carolina. He's a guy who did that ad for Jessie Helms with the hands...
LESLIE: ...about affirmative action. The same guy - put together this ad about why hasn't Bob Etheridge wade in on whether or not New York should have a mosque near ground zero. And, of course, it has nothing to do with the price of tea in the second district. But it did get a lot of attention, and it got a little bit more money. So now she's running some more ads. And as you can well imagine, that clip of Etheridge being rude to that kid is running on constant replay on a lot of stations.
CONAN: Laura Leslie, we'll be interested to see what happens election night. Thanks very much for your time.
LESLIE: Thanks so much.
CONAN: Laura Leslie, Capitol Bureau chief for North Carolina Public Radio, with us today from WUNC, our member station in Chapel Hill.
And well, let's go now to Wisconsin where incumbent Democrat Senator Russ Feingold finds himself in real trouble. The latest polls have him seven points behind Republican businessman Ron Johnson. Let's see. Last night, there was a - excuse me. On Monday night, there was a debate between the Democratic incumbent Senator Feingold and Mr. Johnson. And Feingold then challenged Johnson on asking him to get the people who are supporting ads, the companies supporting ads in support - that are attacking Russ Feingold to disclose who they are.
Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): As you just said, they ought to disclose. You haven't even called on these people to disclose. You just said you're for disclosure. You won't even call on them to disclose.
Mr. RON JOHNSON (Republican Senate Nominee, Wisconsin): I'd be happy to have them disclose...
Sen. FEINGOLD: Well, then why don't you ask them do it? Disclose?
Mr. JOHNSON: I want disclosure. I want disclosing campaign...
Sen. FEINGOLD: Let's see. Let's see if that - frankly, I'm pretty sure you know darn well who's doing this.
Mr. JOHNSON: It's your law, senator.
Sen. FEINGOLD: No, it isn't my law, Ron. This has nothing to do with the McCain-Feingold Law.
CONAN: Glen Moberg of Wisconsin Public Radio moderated that debate, and he joins us now from member station WHRM in Wausau.
And Glen, nice to have you with us today. You can get a word in edgewise on this broadcast.
GLEN MOBERG: Yeah. Hi, Neal. Thanks so much for having me. It's good to talk to you again. We last spoke four years ago when you did the TALK OF THE NATION show here in Wausau, in the very theater that this debate took place in on Monday night.
CONAN: I suspect they may have a bigger crowd last - on Monday night than we did.
MOBERG: That's an understatement. And it's a small theater, so they were packed in and very involved.
CONAN: Russ Feingold has - well, knows he's in the scrap of his life at this point. It sounded like he came out swinging.
MOBERG: Yes, he did. But I think the format allowed that to happen. We structured this debate so that there was substantial amount of time devoted to free-form discussion periods, where the candidates could actually question one another, refute each other's positions, talk to each other face to face.
So it wasn't the kind of debate where you had two candidates standing at a podium, answering questions from reporters and then going onto the next question. So I think the format did help in that respect. But absolutely, he came out swinging on a variety of issues, including campaign finance reform.
CONAN: We're talking with Glen Moberg of Wisconsin Public Radio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
RUDIN: Glen, when Feingold was first elected in '92, he was one of those new faces, fresh faces. He was one of the bright stars of the Democratic Party. Ron Johnson, the Republican candidate who's running against him, is also a new face, first time running for office, a favorite of the Tea Party. Is - has Russ Feingold become old politics, you know, an old timer in Wisconsin in 2010?
MOBERG: Well, the very fact that he served, what, three terms now indicates that, yes, he's been around for a long time. But he is unpredictable, and he has taken positions that have alienated both Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives throughout the year. He tries to keep himself fresh. He makes a point of visiting every county and holding listening sessions each year. And that's 72 counties in Wisconsin.
But Johnson is a new face. And he's a manufacturer, which as he likes to point out in his ads, he would be the only manufacturer in the U.S. Senate if he's elected. He's also a very likeable guy. He's low key. He's got a sense of humor. And he comes across very well on the campaign trail, and I think that's posing some problems for Mr. Feingold, as well.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in. Let's go to Anne, Anne with us from Stevens Point in Wisconsin.
ANNE (Caller): Hi, there. These right wing corporate front groups with innocent-sounding names, patriotic-sounding names like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads, American for Prosperity, et cetera, have spent millions of dollars to distort the entire Obama agenda, and now they're pledging 400 million to buy these elections.
In Wisconsin, they've already spent over $1 million to smear Russ Feingold's distinguished record. In my opinion, Russ is the best senator in the Senate. He's independent, courageous, bipartisan, open-minded. He votes his conscience, not what is politically expedient. In fact, I tell my friends, if you're ready to throw the bums out, Russ Feingold is not one of those bums.
I was in that audience. I heard Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson. Mr. Johnson, in my opinion, had no constructive policies. It was obstructionist policies and right-wing talking points, whereas Feingold had sound, well thought-out, specific bipartisan solutions to every single question asked. In my opinion, Russ Feingold is an American hero, not a bum to be thrown out.
CONAN: So we'll put her down as undecided.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ANNE: I am not undecided. And the debate, man, that sealed it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Anne, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.
Glen, you were there when the exchange that we played took place on the - on those ads that Anne was talking about. Is that going to be cutting a lot of ice, or at least helping Senator Feingold reverse some of the odds that the (unintelligible)?
MOBERG: I think it's potentially an issue. And the reason is there's a class warfare aspect to that. Of course, neither candidate is going to use that phrase. But Senator Feingold is one of the least wealthy members of the U.S. Senate. Ron Johnson is a multimillionaire, and he's getting of all this money coming into the race from outside groups, which under the Citizens United decision are able to raise this money without revealing where it's coming from.
So I think it will be a factor, or at least an issue in the race. But it's largely because of this rich-versus-poor aspect of this race that people don't want to talk about, but I think it's underlying things.
CONAN: We also had a conversation during the debate about literature, unusual for a campaign debate, but - about the works of Ayn Rand, the -well, I guess at this point, be claimed by the Libertarians, though she (unintelligible) construction of Objectivism and a lot of other things. But anyway, did that - I'm not sure if anybody - who Ayn Rand was.
MOBERG: No. But if you were in that debate audience or watching the debate, you certainly know it now. And this - you know, this poses a little bit of a problem for Ron Johnson, because Ayn Rand was an atheist and she criticizes traditional Christian virtues, and he is a devout Christian. So there is a contradiction there.
CONAN: Glen Moberg, thanks very much for your time today, from Wisconsin Public Radio. And, of course, our thanks to Political Junkie Ken Rudin.
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