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Will Conservatives 'Choose' Specter? : NPR
Will Conservatives 'Choose' Specter? NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin answers your questions. This week: Will the GOP give Arlen Specter the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee? And some comments about Rudin's Election Day predictions.
NPR logo Will Conservatives 'Choose' Specter?

Will Conservatives 'Choose' Specter?

Conservatives have never been especially fond of Arlen Specter. hide caption

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New Mexico is one of two Gore states that went for Bush this year. hide caption

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The only South Dakotan to serve four terms in the Senate. hide caption

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Forty-four years ago today, Nixon concedes the election to JFK. hide caption

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Q: In the wake of his disparaging comments about pro-life judicial nominees, is Arlen Specter going to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee? -- Harvey Berger, Arlington, Va.

A: Specter's timing was interesting, to say the least.

First, some background. Specter, a pro-abortion rights Republican, found himself in the fight of his life earlier this spring. He faced a challenge in the primary from Rep. Pat Toomey, who said Specter was a dangerous liberal who couldn't be trusted. With defeat staring him in the eye, Specter brought President Bush into Pennsylvania to shore up his support among the party rank and file. After his razor-thin win in the primary, Specter immediately spoke of his independence from Bush. And then, after having won re-election to a fifth term last week, Specter -- just as conservatives around the nation were celebrating the Bush re-election and gains in Congress -- suggested that the president might have problems confirming an anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court.

The reaction from the right was intense, and with reason. Republican rules call for term limits among committee chairman. With Utah's Orrin Hatch forced to leave the helm at Judiciary, Specter is next in line. And they didn't want anyone as chairman who might be hostile to Bush's picks. So, as was to be expected, his remarks set off a firestorm. Conservative organizations have blanketed Capitol Hill, urging Republicans to bypass Specter. Specter, finding himself on the defensive, insisted he would not apply any abortion litmus test as chairman. My guess is that he will survive; Republicans feel strongly about the seniority system. But many also feel strongly that Specter goes off the reservation too many times. This is certainly one of them, and the timing couldn't have been worse.

Q: What's the deal with the presidential vote count in New Mexico? -- Joe Arnold, Louisville, Ky.

A: Depends on who you ask. The networks and the Associated Press all called the state for Bush the day after the election. The AP polled the state's county clerks and arrived at these figures: 372,215 for Bush, 363,627 for Kerry, a difference of 8,588 votes. But if you call the secretary of state's office, all you'll get is that there are still absentee and provisional votes outstanding, that the state won't count the votes until Nov. 12 (when county clerks are required to submit their totals), and the results won't be certified until the 23rd. Nothing more. A check of the secretary of state's web site at 1 p.m. on Nov. 9 has it Bush 348,122 and Kerry 341,168.

In the meantime, there has been a war of words between the parties. Sen. Pete Domenici, the state's leading Republican, has publicly expressed his lack of confidence in Rebecca Vigil-Giron, the Democratic secretary of state, during the post-election counting of votes, and the state GOP's executive director said he thought Vigil-Giron and Gov. Bill Richardson (D) were trying to steal the election.

Assuming New Mexico is certified for Bush, it will be one of only three states that went the opposite way from 2000. (Gore carried N.M. by 366 votes.) Bush also won Iowa this year, unlike four years ago, and Kerry took New Hampshire.

Q: What would happen in the event the final count in Ohio shows Kerry to be the winner? Would his concession be considered legally binding? -- LouAnn Smith of Surprise, Ariz. Similarly, R. Bryan Holland of Raleigh, N.C.; Matthew Nichols of Chicago, Ill.; and Amy Corbett of Portland, Ore.

A: No. Kerry conceded because he looked at the numbers and concluded he could not win. And he didn't want to put the nation through the kind of ordeal we experienced four years ago. But if a final count in Ohio showed Kerry winning before the Electoral College meets in December, he would no doubt be awarded the state's 20 electoral votes -- and, as it turns out, the presidency.

Q: Which state changed its voting procedures the most between 2000 and 2004? Which state should have changed its procedures the most and didn't? -- Ed Noyes, Bainbridge Island, Wash.

A: I asked NPR correspondent Pam Fessler, our in-house expert on voting procedures, and she says Florida probably made the most changes since 2000. Pam says that right after the 2000 election, Florida got rid of all its punch card voting machines, and came up with a procedure for doing recounts (which wasn't in place in 2000). As for which state should have changed its procedure, Pam adds, "One can argue that all of the states should have done more."

Q: This morning (Election Day, 6 a.m.) I was driving to work and a report on the radio (not NPR!) stated that New Hampshire had cast its electoral votes, with the majority going to Bush. If that information was correct, how can a state cast its electoral votes at six in the morning, before all the citizens of the state vote? Why would anyone in the state even show up at the polls if the result were already decided? -- Amy Heffner, Ham Lake, Minn.

A: What I'm assuming you heard was the result from Dixville Notch, N.H., which votes promptly at midnight every Election Day and reports its results within minutes. There are a whopping 26 voters in Dixville Notch, and usually their votes are announced before a throng of TV cameras and reporters. My guess is those are the results you heard; the rest of the state didn't conclude its voting until 8 p.m. Eastern time. By the way, with more and more states moving toward early voting, methinks the days of media coverage of this charming northern New Hampshire hamlet may soon come to an end.

Q: In your Oct. 27 column, you said that, if elected, John Kerry would be only the third former lieutenant governor to make it to the White House. How about former state attorneys general? I know that Bill Clinton was once the AG of his state (Arkansas), but was there anyone else? -- Harvey Hudson, Eden Prairie, Minn.

A: Just one other than Clinton. That was Martin Van Buren, our eighth president, who was elected New York's attorney general in 1814.

Q: Has anyone from South Dakota ever been elected to a fourth Senate term? If so, did that person go on to complete that term? -- Nicholas

A: Yes. Karl Mundt, a conservative Republican, was an incumbent member of the House when he won his first Senate term in 1948. He was re-elected in 1954, 1960 (over Congressman George McGovern), and 1966. In 1969, Mundt suffered a stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. Republicans desperately tried to convince him to resign in '70, when the state still had a GOP governor who would presumably appoint a Republican successor. But Mundt refused to quit. And while he never returned to the Senate again, he served out his fourth and final term.

For his part, McGovern -- who came to the Senate in 1962 -- tried to win a fourth term but was defeated in 1980. Larry Pressler, a Republican, also won three terms but was denied a fourth in '96. And, of course, last week Tom Daschle (D) lost his bid for a fourth term.

Q: What happened to the woman from Saudi Arabia who was running for the California state assembly? Did she win? -- Ron Brabson, Chester, Pa.

A: She did not, but she finished much closer in a solidly Republican district than anyone could have imagined. Ferial Masry, a 55-year-old high school civics teacher and naturalized U.S. citizen, ran as a Democrat for the seat being vacated by term-limited Republican incumbent Tony Strickland. She was the first Saudi woman to run for office anywhere -- including Saudi Arabia -- and the race had attracted wide attention, especially in the Middle East. From the beginning, her chances were not thought to be good in the 37th Assembly District, centered in the affluent suburbs north of Los Angeles. The GOP candidate was Strickland's wife, Audra. In the end, Masry made a race of it, losing by fewer than 17,000 votes (out of more than 125,000 cast), 55 percent-42 percent.

Q: I keep hearing about a British outfit that checks the genealogies of American presidential candidates and claims that the "more royal" always wins. Can you provide a link? -- Paul Keyser, New York, N.Y.

A: Burke's Peerage is the name of that British research outfit that focuses on the bloodlines of candidates. Harold Brooks-Baker, Burke's director, said his research showed that Kerry is related to not only all the royal houses of Europe but also Ivan the Terrible of Russia and the shahs of Persia. Thus, Burke predicted that Kerry would beat Bush.

You can find more, should you so choose, at www.burkes-peerage.net.

My, Um, Predictions: Well, for those who get their political news from this column, let me be the first to tell you: Bush won. And for those who read last week's column and my pre-election picks, let me say further: I was wrong. For the longest time, I had been saying that whoever wins Ohio wins the presidency. That turned out to be the case. The only problem is that I gave Ohio to the wrong guy. I was about to say that I was pretty much on the mark for the rest of my predictions, but I guess when you get the presidency wrong, that's all that matters. Four years ago, I called four states incorrectly in the race for the presidency -- including Florida, which I thought Gore would carry, and thus win the White House. This year I once again called four states wrong; in addition to Ohio, I also had Iowa and New Mexico in the Kerry corner. And I had Bush winning Wisconsin.

In the Senate, I did not make a call in Louisiana, deciding to wait for a runoff that never materialized. Of the 33 other Senate races, I called all of them correctly save two: South Dakota, where ex-Rep. John Thune (R) ousted Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D); and Alaska, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) beat back a challenge from former Gov. Tony Knowles (D). Every other call was on the mark, including the Democratic takeover in Colorado, and the GOP sweep in the South (Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina).

In the House, I predicted a GOP gain of four seats, but it looks like they netted only two. Here are the House races I missed (just 4 out of 435):

· Illinois 08, where Rep. Phil Crane, the senior Republican in the House, was ousted by Melissa Bean (D);

· Indiana 09, where Rep. Baron Hill (D) was unseated by Mike Sodrel (R);

· New York 27, where Brian Higgins (D) won the seat of retiring Rep. Jack Quinn (R); and

· South Dakota At Large, where Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D) held onto her seat in the face of a rematch challenge from Larry Diedrich (R).

This Day in Campaign History: Vice President Richard Nixon concedes the previous day's tight presidential election to Sen. John F. Kennedy (Nov. 9, 1960).