Post-Convention Check-In With The Political Junkie
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Newseum, Washington D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business. Lipstick, pit bulls and pigs, polls and the Palin effect, it's pastime for another visit with the political junkie.
Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Former Representative GERALDINE FERRARO (Democrat, New York): My name is Geraldine Ferraro.
Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your ideas, I'm reminded of that ad, "Where's the Beef?"
Former President RICHARD NIXON: You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty.
(Soundbite of applause)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)
CONAN: McCain protests a sexist smear. Obama denounces phony outrage. Palin gives the GOP a big bounce. A comedian wins the Senate primary in Minnesota. Charlie Rangel owes Uncle Sam five grand on Wednesday's NPR Political Junkie. And Ken Rudin joins us here at the Newseum to talk about the presidential campaign, in particular and politics in general, and there's a whole lot to chew on this week. For much of this hour, we're focused on money mechanics, swing states, new voters and ground wars, how both campaigns plan to win 270 electoral votes in 51 separate elections. But we'll start with the news of the weekend. As always, Ken starts us off with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Here's a question. This is a tough one. Many people may not know the answer to this. What is the name of the Democratic nominee for vice president? No, I'm kidding. Nobody just talks about him anymore. OK, here's the trivia question. Sarah Palin had been the mayor of Wasilla before she was elected Governor. Who is the last vice president to serve as a mayor?
CONAN: If you think you know the last vice president to also serve as a mayor before he was elected vice president?
RUDIN: Before he was elected vice president.
CONAN: Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'd also like to welcome the audience here with us at the Newseum, and thanks very much for coming in today.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: But Ken, we need to talk about some of this back and forth over this amazing phenomenon called Sarah Palin.
RUDIN: It - amazing and phenomenal are the exact words, because first of all, going into the Republican Convention, the Republicans were running really between - their tail between their legs. They were disheartened. The polls show that Barack Obama had a lead in all - many of the key swing states, and John McCain had trouble rallying his base behind him. The introduction of Sarah Palin and her speech last Wednesday, I guess it was just only a week ago.
CONAN: Only a week ago.
RUDIN: It's amazing. In St. Paul, just really re-energized the party, and one poll, I mean, USA Today/Gallup poll had him leading Barack Obama by 10 points among likely voters, white women in a Washington poll, Barack Obama had an eight-point lead and now, Barack - now, John McCain has a 12-point lead among white women. And everything seems to be turning around, Republicans are running with more and more confidence. There was a woman yesterday; her name is Jennifer Horn who is thought to be an underdog in New Hampshire, running under the Republican primary in the second district. She won the primary because she was portraying herself as a hockey mom, that kind of person. So the Sarah Palin effect has taken ahold, and the McCain campaign seems to be running the entire dialog. It seems like Biden and Obama don't know really how to deal with this.
CONAN: Well, you mentioned that one poll that had McCain up by 10 points overall, most of the polls though and one out today the Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll has it just about dead even.
RUDIN: Right, it is dead even and, of course, the most important thing - and we will talk about this later - is obviously not a - it's not a national election as you always say. It's a 51 state, 50 states plus the District of Columbia. that's where the election will be won or lost. And those polls still have tightened very much to states that Barack Obama thought to win kind of handily, Pennsylvania, Michigan have tightened. The Democrats are a little nervous.
CONAN: And the advertising that both camps are doing is now reflecting the significance. It's amazing how much more quickly ads are coming up these days. But reflecting the significance of the maverick stance by the Republicans, their changed platform, and here's an ad out just this week.
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Unidentified Announcer: The original mavericks. He fights pork-barrel spending, she stopped the Bridge to Nowhere. He took on the drug industry, she took on big oil. He battled Republicans and reformed Washington, she battled Republicans and reformed Alaska. They'll make history, they'll change Washington. McCain-Palin. Real change.
CONAN: And the Democrats are quick to fire back with another ad that's basically, Oh, maverick, shmaverick.
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Unidentified Announcer: They call themselves mavericks. Whoa. Truth is, they're anything but. John McCain is hardly a maverick when seven of his top campaign advisers are Washington lobbyists. He's no maverick when he votes with Bush 90 percent of the time. And Sarah Palin's no maverick either. She was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Politicians lying about their records, you don't call that maverick, you call it more of the same.
RUDIN: I wonder who writes the music for those ads.
CONAN: It's James Garner, I think when he was a maverick.
RUDIN: But what's interesting again is that we're talking about John McCain's slogan of maverick. We're not talking about - once upon a time, it was about Barack Obama's ability to bring change to Washington. No longer are we talking about what the Democrats can do. Both parties are talking about what the Republicans can do or can't do.
CONAN: Or can't do, yeah. The Democrats are on the defensive, Republicans are on the attack. Let's see if we get some answers to our trivia question. Again, who is the last vice president to serve as a mayor? And let's see if we can go to Rod, and Rod's with us from Pacifica, California.
ROD (Caller): Yes sir. Chester A. Arthur.
CONAN: Was the mayor of New York City?
RUDIN: No, he wasn't.
CONAN: No, he was the customs.
RUDIN: Yes, he was not mayor.
CONAN: He was more powerful than the mayor.
RUDIN: Actually, there were only three presidents in history who were mayor, but the most recent president, as you all remember, Neal, was Calvin Coolidge, who was the mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts.
CONAN: That's right.
RUDIN: So it's more recent than that, but that's more recent...
CONAN: And we're looking for a vice president.
RUDIN: And right. And Chester A. Arthur was not a mayor.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Rod. Let's see if we can try now to - this is Athol(ph). Athol with us from Salem, in Georgia - Shiloh, Georgia, excuse me.
ATHOL: (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, you're on the air.
ATHOL: Well, wonderful. How about Spiro T. Agnew?
RUDIN: Spiro Agnew was the County Executive of Baltimore County in Maryland before he became governor, but he was never mayor.
ATHOL: Sorry about that.
CONAN: Nice try, though.
RUDIN: But I believe he was elected mayor while he was in prison.
CONAN: He was the mayor of his cell block. Let's see if we can try - this is Jerry. Jerry with us from - hard to read when they turn red. Where are you from, Jerry in Illinois?
JERRY (Caller): Majestic Park, Illinois. That's next to Rockford, Illinois, North Central Illinois.
CONAN: OK, Jerry, what's your guess?
JERRY: My guess would be Theodore Roosevelt, back in 1900.
RUDIN: Theodore Roosevelt ran for mayor of New York City but was not elected. He was never mayor, of course, he was governor of New York before he was vice president.
CONAN: And police commissioner.
RUDIN: That's right. But he was never...
JERRY: He was never mayor.
RUDIN: Never mayor.
JERRY: I read my history wrong, so I don't win anybody's voice on my answering machine.
RUDIN: The ottoman or the love seat, you don't get that.
CONAN: Actually since you got it wrong, you do get Ken's voice on your answering machine.
JERRY: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much. And let's see if we could go to Mary. I can read that name. Mary with us from Leavenworth in Kansas.
MARY: (Caller): OK. Was it Harry Truman?
RUDIN: No, Harry Truman was eastern district court judge before he was senator from Missouri. But no, he was never mayor.
MARY: OK, thank you.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mary. And let's see if we can go now to Liz, and Liz is with us from Salem in Oregon.
LIZ: (Caller): Hi there. I think it was Hubert Humphrey, and Hubert Humphrey was the guy that was mayor in '48, when he gave that civil rights speech in that district transport house.
RUDIN: That's exactly right, he was mayor of Minneapolis.
CONAN: Mary gets the prize.
(Soundbite of applause)
RUDIN: That's one of the great speeches in convention history, a very and impassioned speech on the behalf of civil rights, and as Mary says, you know, a lot of civil right, a lot of southerners...
LIZ: My name is Liz.
RUDIN: Walked-out - Liz, that's right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: It's all right, that's Liz.
RUDIN: I know the mayor but not...
CONAN: But not the caller, yeah. The name you heard five seconds ago.
RUDIN: Right. And Strom Thurmond, one of those people who walked out and formed a third party running for president that year.
CONAN: Liz, you win our no prize this week. Thanks very much for the call.
LIZ: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. A lot of other stuff to talk about, political news. The Detroit Mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, since we were last on the air, denied all these rumors that he had lied under oath and then, well, he turned out that he pleaded guilty.
RUDIN: I mean, he had an affair with a top aide, and that seems like kind of a pickian thing, but of course, the city wound up spending millions of dollars to hush up that affair. There was a lot of settlement out of court, and finally, the governor, actually, Jennifer Granholm, intervened and basically forced him out. It's probably good news for the Obama campaign because they were going to be, you know, saying, how do you feel about Kwame Kilpatrick and no longer will that be an issue.
CONAN: Speaking of Democrats in trouble, Charlie Rangel, the Congressman from Harlem, admitted to owing about 5,000 dollars to the IRS for failing to report income on his returns, and says he takes personal responsibility for his actions.
RUDIN: Well, he's the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who writes all the tax laws, and of course, it's another embarrassment for the Democrats. And a lot of Republicans are telling a lot of other - pointing out a lot of Democrats who had taken money from Charlie Rangel and his packs. I think it's a minor blip, but it something that the Democrats didn't need if they want to go on the offensive.
CONAN: And speaking of politicians in trouble, Ted Stevens, the Republican Governor from Alaska who goes on trial.
RUDIN: Senator, Senator.
CONAN: Senator, excuse me, going on trial later this month, I think - is scheduled to anyway - doing well in the polls in Alaska.
RUDIN: Well, not well, but since Sarah Palin was picked as a running mate, of course, Sarah Palin being from Alaska, and the two of them are really never been that close but it's given the Republican Party a boost in many states including Alaska. Ted Stevens had been running behind Mark Begich. No Democrats has won ascendancy in Alaska in over 30 years, but - and Ted Stevens is still in trouble, under indictment, but he did get a boost with Palin on the ticket.
CONAN: And in Minnesota, the incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman, well, he now knows he's going to be facing Al Franken as his opposition.
RUDIN: Right. I mean, Franken had been nominated by the party several months ago, but yesterday's primary made it official. He dispatched with six other opponents with very little consequence. But again, the issue is less about Iraq, President Bush and Norm Coleman as we once thought it would be, and more on Al Franken and his past incendiary statements, misogynist statements things like that which - I'm not playing well in Minnesota.
CONAN: Hemi-semi-demi Democrat Joe Lieberman gets the cold shoulder when he comes back to Congress.
RUDIN: Well, you know something, I mean, for a so-called Democrat to speak before the Republican National Convention, endorse John McCain and in another speech has criticized Barack Obama. He's basically - they said that he cannot attend anymore Democratic lunches, I think it's mutual, I don't think he'd want to be want to be there. But you wonder when - whether he'll still be Committee Chairman. He's the Chairman of Homeland Security. When the Democrats pick up more seats in November as we expect them to do with the lead man, one will still be a committee chairman and two will still be in the Democratic Party.
CONAN: And quickly, independent candidates are meeting here in Washington today. And Ron Paul said that he'd gotten a call from Phil Graham, a surrogate for John McCain saying, you better endorse John McCain.
RUDIN: Right, and he said, absolutely not. And he's urging his supporters to support any - to advise him where to go with any of the third party candidates, Cynthia McKinney on the Green Party, Bob Barr on the Libertarian Party, things like that.
CONAN: Bob Barr was supposed to attend that conference of third party candidates. He skipped it and held a conference of his own.
RUDIN: Held his own.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: There's the third parties for you. Anyway, Ken Rudin will stay with us, our political junkie. Up next, we're going to focus on the next eight weeks on how to win this election. If you live in a state where the campaign is competitive this year, tell us what you're seeing. Are you seeing ads tailored for your state? Are there specific ads on the radio or local campaign offices opening up? Are you getting phone calls? 800-989-8255 is the number. Email us, email@example.com. You can send us - you could check out the web too, npr.org/blogofthenation. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of Talk of the Nation theme)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're broadcasting from the night studio at the Newseum. It's possible that McCain staffer Rick Davis is right that this election will be decided by what people think of the candidate's personalities. Issues will be critical for many voters, but there are other critical factors that will also decide who wins this election, money, and how it's managed. The very different ways both parties conduct - get out their vote efforts, expanding the electorate, deciding which states to fight in and which to let go.
For the remainder of this hour, we want to hear from those of you in swing states to report on what you are seeing. Are there ads tailored just for you? Are you getting phone calls? Do you see McCain or Obama campaign offices opening up? Are the candidates themselves coming to town? Tell us what you're seeing. Our phone number's 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Political junkie Ken Rudin is still with us and we'll check with reporters in two swing states a bit later. Ken, the first thing listeners, I guess, have to remember can't say it often enough. These are 51 separate elections.
RUDIN: Right. When Howard Dean was elected Democratic National Chairman, he said that we can no longer have a 14-state strategy, which is basically what Al Gore and John Kerry looked at in the last two elections. They focused on 14 states where they could get the 270. He said it's a 50 state election. But ultimately, it's no longer a 50-state election. It's still the same 14 to 18 states. The difference this year is that there seems to be more George W. Bush states that could fall into Democratic hands than there are Kerry states that can fall into McCain's hands. So at this point, I think if you look at the map, if you look at it state by state, Barack Obama still has a lead, and he's closer to the 270 than John McCain is.
CONAN: And one example of that might be, for example, the state of Virginia, which went of course for George W. Bush and might this time, a lot of people think, go for Barack Obama.
RUDIN: Right. I mean, it has not gone for Democrats since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The polls seem to be dead-even perhaps McCain with a slight lead. You have John Warner - Mark Warner, the former governor who's running for a Senate seat, heavily favored to win there. You had him as a keynote speaker at the Democratic Convention. Northern Virginia seems to be a really - influx of Democratic votes there and Democrats are confident of that. McCain still says that Sarah Palin - they were in favor - by the way, McCain and Palin were both in Fairfax, Virginia today, firing up the base, which is a Democratic part of a state, but they really feel that a lot of the states they were nervous about losing, such as Virginia, that they may be have been cemented with Palin on the ticket.
CONAN: Well, some people think that Palin, for example, has cemented Republican chances in places like Georgia, and Barack Obama has pulled his television ads out of the state of Georgia, a real good sign that they don't think it's competitive anymore. North Carolina, Montana, and at one time, Democrats thought they had a chance in Alaska.
RUDIN: Right. Well, Alaska, that was never realistic, but there are still so many states like Colorado, like New Mexico, like Iowa, like Ohio, even, in addition to Florida. These are the states that the Republicans desperately need to win. George W. Bush carried them in 2004. Any erosion by John McCain in any of those states, again, because, you know, Bush only won by a bare majority in 2004 and, of course, 2000. So any electoral college, a slip-off for the Republicans could be very damaging. So all they really have to win if they can pick up Colorado, New Mexico, states like that, it could make it very tough for McCain to win.
CONAN: On the other hand, if John McCain can, as he hopes - he's also been campaigning very heavily - pick off Pennsylvania.
RUDIN: Well, Pennsylvania and Michigan, those states Barack Obama had a sizable lead - sizable, five to seven points that have since shrunken dramatically since the Republican Convention. Again, this could be a blip. This could be a temporary thing. For all we know, this, you know, everybody is investigating Sarah Palin. Is the vice presidential debate - well, there's actually three presidential debates and a VP debate on October 2nd for the VP, so a lot, there's a lot of time left in the 55 days from now until November 4th. But right now, if John McCain can hold Ohio, which the Republicans have won in the past, and pick up either Michigan or Pennsylvania, again, that could be trouble for Obama.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on this. Phil joins us. Phil is calling us from Cincinnati in Ohio.
PHIL (Caller): How do you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
PHIL: So the comment that I was going to make is that - like I said, I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I saw Palin and McCain speak yesterday at a very impassioned rally in Lebanon, Ohio. Michelle Obama is here today, speaking to the National Baptist Convention in downtown Cincinnati, as well as Ralph Nader was here on Monday, and Barack Obama was here yesterday at a private rally in Dayton. So, we have been getting a ton of attention. And it's interesting how the campaigns have, you know, specialized their media for Ohio. See a lot of Obama media talking about how he can win Ohio, about how when John McCain - when John Kerry ran hear in 2004, they only lost by an average of nine votes per precinct. So it was very close then - very close race then, and you know, they're hoping to win it now.
CONAN: Yeah, if Florida was ground zero in 2000, Ohio was certainly ground zero in 2004 and may well be this year too. Again, 60,000 votes - had John Kerry gotten 60,000 more votes in Ohio, he would have been president today and John Edwards would have been vice president.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: We'll talk about that later.
RUDIN: Talk about that later. Exactly. But, so obviously, it's a key state. No Republican in history has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio. Both sides know what's at stake there. A lot is at stake.
CONAN: Phil, thanks very much for the call.
PHIL: Thank you. Have a good one.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And he may have stolen a lot of the thunder of our next guest, Mark Naymik. He's a political reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and joins us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Thanks very much for coming in.
Mr. MARK NAYMIK (Political Reporter, Cleveland Plain Dealer): Good afternoon.
CONAN: Are the candidates tailoring their media for the State of Ohio?
Mr. NYMIK: They are very active here, and Ohio has about 10 media markets when you consider the bordering states, so it's a tough state campaign in, and you will hear more radio ads on conservative radio and Christian radio for Barack Obama featuring the conservative Democratic Governor Ted Strickland in southern parts of the state and you'll see different ads up here. But the state, in general, is being blanketed by many of the ads you've already talked about and particularly, you know, the maverick ad. I can't move in my home without seeing an ad.
CONAN: And get used to it?
Mr. NYMIK: Yes.
CONAN: As you look - a lot of people think the election last time in 2004 was decided in fact in Southern Ohio.
Mr. NAYMICK: It was. You have to look at these numbers. They're pretty stark. There's eighty-eight counties in Ohio, and John Kerry won only the urban counties and George Bush won the rest. He reached deep into the, you know, rural counties and then the 16 suburban counties. And that is taking you into the south very much where you're seeing John McCain just yesterday. They mentioned Lebanon, Ohio, which is - I'd be surprised if there is a Democrat down there somewhere, clearly to shore up the base. But what we're seeing now is Obama trying to avoid the mistakes of John Kerry. He's targeting places that they call the micropolitans, these small Democratic cities like Lima, Ohio that are sitting in complete red county territory, hoping that that gives him a presence and allows him to tap into some local supporters to do their outreach, something that Bush did very successfully in 2004.
CONAN: A key tactic for the Obama campaign has been to try to register new voters to expand the electorate on the theory that the more voters you bring to the polls, the more Democrats you bring to the polls.
Mr. NYMICK: Yeah, but that was happening in 2004, and again, George Bush was able to beat record surging in voter turnout and, you know, in these Democratic areas by reaching into those red counties. So you're seeing really two fronts, you're seeing a strong voter outreach because they have got to get them to the polls. Obama has offices on college campuses which isn't - believe it or not - is not as something they do, you think they would, but they haven't in the past. So you're seeing that, but he's also really trying to work the rural areas to combat that potential, you know, loss in the southern part of the state.
RUDIN: Mark, obviously, in 2006, Republican scandals led to a lot of big victories that Democrats statewide in Ohio and a lot of people thought that that might continue into 2008, and the Republican base was disheartened. Have you seen any evidence of a Sarah Palin picking up that Republican enthusiasm?
Mr. NAYMIK: It has, in the Southern part among the Christian conservatives, the ones that were behind, specifically, the constitutional amendments of banned gay marriage, which was supported overwhelmingly in Ohio and is credited with maybe motivating the base, not necessarily making the difference. They, just as recently as a month ago, you know, we're still turning the cold shoulder to McCain but I'm seeing in - I am on some of the email lists and you see the traffic that they have going between themselves, that there is support, which I think is why McCain has targeted there. It's worth noting that since Memorial Day, we've had Obama here eight separate times and McCain 11 times.
And McCain is also going to places like Youngstown, Ohio, a very Democratic rich area, but he's going after these Clinton Democrats, those that, you know, really liked her or not so sure about Obama, has a little a bit of that Reagan Democratic streak in them. And so you're seeing this strategy, I mean, they're pretty much trying to blanket the whole state. But these pockets of where they're going can really be attributed to some specific voter attitudes that I think they're picking up in their own internal polls.
CONAN: Here's an email we have from Andrew in Cincinnati. I live in Cincinnati. The nexus of three swing states, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. I work downtown on the same street as the McCain office here in town. I am struck, and he adds, pleased by the fact, the campaign office always seems to be empty. Maybe they're giving up, he adds, one can only help, of course, maybe they're out trying to rustle-up votes. And I was going to ask you, Mark, after the last eight years, both parties must think they know the home number of everyone who will likely vote for them in this election.
Mr. NAYMIK: They can also recite the directions, how to get to their homes. There is no doubt - let's give credit to the Republican Party in Ohio for years has had the better voter list. The Democratic Party though since, as you noted earlier, the 2006 campaign that really put Democrats in statewide office for the first time in 16 years. The party really has caught up on that ground. I don't think you're going to see that much of a difference in this micro-targeting of their voters, you know. The key now moves in to - can they move them and can they build that same network in places traditionally not supportive of the Democrats or Republicans.
CONAN: In the past, we've also seen a lot of warfare on the number of polling booths open in various parts of that state. And the number of registered voters who find themselves off-list and that sort of -a lot of questions about that in past. Those questions coming up again this year in Ohio?
Mr. NAYMIK: Absolutely. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. I battled often with people who believe that the election was thrown in '04 and it was rigged, you know, I always come back to someone - my perspective, I've covered the boards of elections for nearly 10 years. It's always incompetence over conspiracy. They have to deal with getting the registrations in but they are not purging really as much as they are. I've just recently moved and I am still getting hit with all kinds of mail. I think they're trying to err on the conservative side.
We do now have a statewide voter registration list for the first time, and it's beginning to kind of really try to sort out who's on it, who's off. But I don't see that as being a major issue. I think they will have more problems with just getting surges of new registrations in. I know in Cuyahoga County, the largest in the state, they literally, four years ago, had to hire people, temp workers around the clock to get the registrations in by the appropriate time. And they are trying to prepare for that. They're seeking money, as we speak right now from the county to do this kind of things.
CONAN: As you noted, four years ago, both parties got record numbers of voters to the polls in places, especially like Ohio, and I assume everybody expects those records to be broken by a long shot.
Mr. NAYMIK: Based on what we've seen since Memorial Day, and there was some talk, as you guys have mentioned earlier, that maybe the swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have to share the spotlight a bit with Colorado and some of the states in Southwest. Right now, every indication from the campaigns - from what we see is that there is still staking out Ohio, neither one wants to give it up, as we know, Ohio is only been wrong I think twice in 108 years. So I think they're really - they need it.
CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. NAYMIK: Thank you.
CONAN: Mark Naymik, a political reporter with the Cleveland Plain Daily with us from our member station WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. You are listening to the Political Junkie on Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
CONAN: And let's see if we can get another caller on the line and let's go to - this is George. George with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan.
GEORGE: (Caller): Hi, how are you doing, Neal?
CONAN: Very well, thanks.
GEORGE: Great. I would just like to ask a comment slash question, I've noticed especially around town, more Republican field officers popping up. However, since the very beginning of the primaries, McCain's offices have had the incredible networking grassroots movement. And especially using new technology, text messaging to sort of create a web of voter's support under the Obama campaign, I'm curious if the McCain campaign has any intent establish that type of network?
CONAN: And so, Ken, the Obama campaign has been using a lot of text messages, a lot of email contacts. Do they have the advantage over the Republicans in that respect?
KEN RUDIN: Well, it's something they've been doing early for most of the year. The problem with Michigan, of course, is that the Democrats bypassed it, they ignored the state because of a fight with the DNC overrules. So, Michigan is one of the few states in the country - a few Democratic states in the country where the Democrats are coming to the game late. They didn't have the excitement of the primary. They didn't have the candidate during the primary. And they're almost playing catch-up. But as far those techniques, the Democrats are always been on top of that before the Republicans.
CONAN: George, thanks very much for the call.
GEORGE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Ken, let me ask you, everybody thought Barack Obama was going to have a tremendous advantage in money, because he eschewed the matching funds from the federal government. And he thought he could raise a lot more money than John McCain did, but now it may not be such an advantage.
RUDIN: A lot of people thought that McCain will be hamstruck by taking federal money. He is only allowed to spend 84 million dollars from now until the general election, but the Republican National Committee and a lot of 527 groups, independent spending groups are raising a ton of money, again, especially since Palin now was named to the ticket. They are almost in parody with what the Democrats are raising and the problem for Barack Obama, since he's still raising money, he still has to spend much time going to these fundraisers where John McCain does not have to because he can't raise any more money for his campaign.
CONAN: And also the campaign is shorter. The distance between the end of the last convention, the Republican Convention ended last Thursday, and then the general election. It was only, I think, 60 days, which on the 56th now and that's short - John McCain only has 83 million dollars. You can spend it quickly.
RUDIN: I mean it's amazing, we are talking Barack Obama with a 150 million dollars on maybe both parties having a 150-200 million dollars that should not be enough for 55 days, is pretty remarkable. But again, everything can - and so much is at stake, so many states are in play and so you know, the last thing that either party wants to do is find themselves without enough money.
CONAN: And we think, eight weeks to Election Day, that's not right. People can start voting, I think, in about three weeks. Some states have early voting that starts as soon as late September.
RUDIN: Well, that's interesting too. Like Nevada, who - I have talked to journalists there from Nevada, but Nevada has early voting. New Mexico has early voting and these are states - these are areas where again, the McCain-Palin ticket has this momentum. So if people are voting early, that could be good news for the Republican Party.
CONAN: So all of these mechanical things, they sound like, you know, down in the weeds. These can really make a difference in presidential campaign.
RUDIN: Well, absolutely. I mean, and most people, of course, you know, and especially in East Coast, they do wait until Election Day.
CONAN: They're old fashioned.
RUDIN: Exactly, but a lot of these early states, a lot of these West Coast states, South West states you see a lot of early voting. Florida has early voting, too. Texas has early voting. So a lot - again, whoever has the momentum right know, you don't even have to wait for November 4 anymore.
CONAN: I saw a one figure that a million people in the state of Florida had asked for early ballots.
RUDIN: Speaking of which, did you know that today is mom's birthday and she listens to us everyday in WLRN?
CONAN: In Miami?
RUDIN: Uh huh.
CONAN: Our member station there in Miami?
RUDIN: Yes, today's my mom's birthday.
CONAN: And your mom's birthday, really, how about that, Ken. Funny how you could work that in.
RUDIN: Wouldn't you think that the audience would applaud on my mom's birthday?
CONAN: Would you applaud mom's birthday.
RUDIN: Oh, no, oh, no, oh, God. Oh, thank you.
(Soundbite of applaud)
CONAN: I think they're applauding because we're at the end of the segment, Ken. Stay with us. 800-989-8255. If you would like to join the conversation. Email is email@example.com. You can go to the blog and see what other listeners have to say, that's on npr.org/blogofthenation. I am Neal Conan. It's the Talk of The Nation from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I am Neal Conan in Washington inside the 9th studio at the Newseum. Today, our focus is on the 2008 presidential campaign and how to win this election. We want to hear from those of you in swing states to report on what you're seeing, are there ads tailored just for you? Are you getting phone calls? Do you see McCain or Obama campaign offices? Are the candidates themselves knocking on your doors? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can check out what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.
Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor joins us every Wednesday to talk about the campaign and politics, in general. He's with us here at the Newseum back from the conventions in Denver and St. Paul. Here's an email question. This from Ryan, with all the polls saying it's dead even, what about the youth vote, considering a large part of Obama's following is under 35, and they don't have home phones which is where most of the polling takes place. Does that make the polls a little less valuable?
RUDIN: Well, a lot of people have been saying that, although, some studies have shown that people who have cell phones and people who have home phones - their response have been the same but talking about the youth votes, we always roll our eyes. Talking about the youth votes every four years because they don't come out. Young people don't come out. They did come out in the primaries and they came up heavily for Barack Obama. And one of the things the Obama campaign is really hoping for is a repeat performance for the fall. There should be no reason why they should vote in the primary but not come out in the fall.
CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Bill. Bill with us from Logan in Utah.
BILL(Caller): Hello, good afternoon.
CONAN: And Bill, Utah not a swing state?
BILL: No, no. It's as (unintelligible) as you get, but apparently, Colorado is a swing state. My wife is a registered Democrat and on the Obama campaign email, whatever it is. But anyway, she got an email, she found offensive that asked her to travel to Colorado and campaign there since Utah is a lost cause.
CONAN: And she took offense at that?
BILL: Well, Neal, what's her value as a Democratic or an Obama supporter and, you know, on the grand scheme of things, I guess, and I can understand Obama's campaign's point of view but she still lives in Utah and apparently there is nothing that she can do in Utah.
CONAN: Well, it's not going to make much difference campaigning for Obama in Utah.
BILL: No, no and we understand that. She just, like, came home from classes last night. She goes, guess what I got? And so.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call, Bill.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to, this is Lenny(ph). Lenny in Sabula in Iowa.
LENNY(Caller): Yeah, just going downhill. I'll be pulling over. I might lose you on connection here, Neal.
CONAN: OK. Drive carefully now.
LENNY: OK. I got her off in 52. Well, I'll part of that old white boy, hog farmers, mailmen, plumbers, teachers, went into caucuses and with her and went strong for Obama. I want to see in here right now is Obama ads for the abortion issue, which if anything, it's a wrong direction for him. It might split off the Catholics - strong Catholic communities here that kind of wedge issue for them. But we do appreciate when Obama comes out on the attack on every issue, especially like the remark about, the analogy of policies that McCain has and saying that's the same thing that Bush has had it just lipstick on a pig. We just love that remark.
CONAN: You know, in Iowa?
LENNY: In Iowa, the hog farmers who gather round here, they can really relate to that. Put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. You change a name of a policy for McCain's economic policy is Bush's economic policy. If you call it change, it's still not change. It just putting lipstick on a pig.
CONAN: And you could tell a lot of lipstick for pigs in Iowa, but let me ask you Lenny, these ads you're seeing, Obama is campaigning doing ads on the abortion issue. Do you think he's trying pick up those Clinton voters?
LENNY: Possibly, but he should just look to what his strengths were in the caucus. His strengths which is entire economic and anti-war program or change of war program, it's not really an anti war program. It shifted to Afghanistan so a little thought like hasn't been shown in the last eight years as far as the international situation, but his entire packages is what we found appealing. So for him to come back in a single issue seems be wasting whatever precious (unintelligible) that he has to advertise issue just, you know, make an appearance here and now and then and speaking to the broad range of economic issues, and perhaps if he doesn't already he should have on his campaign headquarters wall a scrawled note that says "it's the economy, stupid."
CONAN: Now that was the Bill Clinton campaign, there was on James Carvell's - over his office. And Lenny, we want to get to somebody else? Lenny, we want to give somebody else a chance, but thanks very much for the call. And drive carefully again. Here's an email from Cynthia in Lincoln, Nebraska. "Today the Obama office officially opened in Omaha, Nebraska along with Maine as the state where the delegates can be split." Somebody always reminds me about this. "The Obama campaign is hoping to get some delegates votes out of this red state."
RUDIN: Electoral votes, yeah.
CONAN: Electoral votes, yes.
RUDIN: It's one of the states out there that there are five electoral votes in Nebraska, if they can win the Omaha district - the second congressional district, they can pick up one or two electoral votes. It's never happened, but again the fact that the - if Barack Obama's going to win Ohio - I mean, I'm sorry Omaha, if he's going to win Omaha then obviously he's doing far better in the Midwest than people thought and it could be, you know, a very big pick up, but it has never happened even though they can split their electoral votes, they never have.
CONAN: And a red state that is now thought to be in play is Nevada. Joining us now from his in Las Vegas is Mike Mishak a reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, and Mike Mishak nice to have you with us.
Mr. MIKE MISHAK (Reporter, Las Vegas Sun): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And how does it look now in the state of Nevada?
Mr. MISHAK: Well, polls show that the state is tied, but if you look at the numbers then if you look at the ground games, the numbers certainly tilt to Obama. Here, I think Ken had mentioned earlier early voting that starts in Nevada on October 18th, so the push is on. And Obama has far outpaced McCain in all aspects of his ground game thus far, but he's really put an emphasis on voter registration. His volunteers were out capitalizing on what momentum he got from his convention, registering 4200 voters over the Labor Day weekend, 1500 voters the previous weekend, and this all adds up to what we're seeing with Democrats now having more than a 60,000 voters advantage over Republicans in the state.
CONAN: What about Independents?
Mr. MISHAK: Independents comprise about 14 percent of the electorate here, and they're certainly an audience that both campaigns are going after.
CONAN: That's pretty small? Nationwide it's more than a third.
Mr. MISHAK: Yeah. I think that what you're seeing with this election is that Nevada has never gotten this level of attention in a presidential election. It's never been this important and certainly in the Democratic side there was so much enthusiasm with the candidates coming in for months and months and months. And you're seeing that in the voter registration and people on both sides being excited.
CONAN: Nevada had one of those early primaries this year. I wonder, a lot of Latinos in Nevada, how are they breaking?
Mr. MISHAK: That's right. I think that they comprise about a quarter of the population in Nevada and what we have seen since the 2006 midterms is that well, their primarily registering Democratic and that they've increased their ranks , Hispanic Democrats based in Clark County, the population center where Las Vegas is, they've increased their ranks by 14,000 voters since the last election. And I think that certainly they broke for Clinton in the early caucus, but I think that now what you're seeing in Nevada is what you're seeing in national polls as well and that's Hispanics going overwhelmingly for Obama.
RUDIN: Mike, it's Ken Rudin here. Jim Gibbons, the Republican governor is pretty unpopular. He's been in kind of a pickle since he was elected. Does that hurting the Republican Party there as well?
Mr. MISHAK: The Republican Party is weaker - is in pretty much the weakest state that people can remember in recent memory right now, and Gibbons as the standard bearer for the party certainly has not done anything to help. The party after I guess trouncing Democrats for four straight cycles, kind of just gave up in terms of maintaining that organizational machine that it has, and so they're out at there - the organizational disadvantage to Democrats and as far as morale is concerned it's pretty low.
RUDIN: Does that the fact that McCain and Palin both coming from the west does that help them at all?
Mr. MISHAK: Certainly, the arguments at the McCain campaign is making - they've scheduled a conference call this afternoon to talk about with Nevada's junior senator, John Ensign to talk about McCain's western appeal, the fact that he's a western Senator, the fact that he's a western Senator, the fact that he understands issues like land use and water. But McCain himself has been largely an uninspiring figure to Republicans. He - Republicans in Nevada. He supports Yaka Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste depository it's about 90 miles north of Las Vegas. At one time he had proposed banning sports betting in Nevada which is a huge part of our economy, but more so than those issues, he finished third in the Republican caucus in January.
And when you look at exit polling, overwhelmingly the issue that really hurt him was this you know, out in the ether Republicans said that he - McCain just did not share their values. Now I think Governor Palin helps the ticket here. Certainly, we had one of our congressmen, Dean Heller, comment in saying that in the largely rural part of the state which is his district it helps him that she hasn't that McCain campaign has also argued that Governor Palin has energized the base and really brought a lot of energy that was previously lacking to the campaign.
CONAN: Here's an email we got from Joanne(ph) in Santa Cruz, California. In regard to campaigning in other states, I live in California and I am planning on campaigning in Nevada. Unlike your caller from Utah, I think it's terrific and highly small D - Democratic idea, the absurdity of the electoral college system is that a vote in my home state doesn't much matter so why not go and exercise my rights in another state. I know Utah is another world, but we are all Americans. So, anyway you see some people from California maybe campaigning there in Nevada for one party or the other. Mike Mishak, thanks very much for your time today.
Mr. MISHAK: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Mike Mishak, political reporter for the Las Vegas Sun with us on the phone from his office in Las Vegas. You're listening to the Political Junkie on Talk of The Nation from NPR News. And let's get another caller on the line. This is Joe. Joe is calling us from the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Pennsylvania.
JOE (Caller): Hi, Neal. I've actually arrived. I'm now in Westchester, Pennsylvania.
CONAN: I'm glad you made it.
JOE: Thanks. Talking about Pennsylvania which you really haven't done yet. Pennsylvania has three distinct areas, you got Eagles country, Steelers country, and then the part in the middle we refer to as Kentucky. And there's no candidate that is going to have broad enough appeal to win all of it, and Pennsylvania is already very contentious between party lines, regional lines to begin with. I think it's really be a wild card, I think it will be the - my prediction is that Pennsylvania will be the Florida of the 2000 election.
CONAN: Ken, the polls before the Republican Convention showed Obama with I think five-point lead in Pennsylvania?
RUDIN: Now down to two. On the floor of the Republican Convention the Pennsylvania delegates were waving I guess Steeler towels that said we're not bitter. How badly did that comment by Obama hurt and then how badly - how far behind is the - what ground does Obama need to make up to win those social conservatives that make up the middle of Pennsylvania.
JOE: A tremendous amount. A lot of people riled up at the bitter comments, not so much in Pittsburgh in Philadelphia which I visited recently, not even in sort of the affluent Philadelphia suburbs, but in Redding, Allentown, Wilksburg(ph), Scranton which has come up so much. People are really banging that drum quite hard.
CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call. Glad you made it.
JOE: Sure, thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go now to - this would be another caller from Pennsylvania, this is Nancy in Newtown Square.
NANCY (Caller): Hi, thank you for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead please.
NANCY: I have been getting a lot of mail from the Republican Party for pre-registration. I got a note Arlen Specter because one of our members of our family changed registration from Republican to Democrat and we're up early, I mean 5:30, five o'clock in the morning you can hear ads. And one of the things I find interesting is the maverick ad is why aren't people making more to do that it really is a stretch with Palin, the fact that she really was for that bridge to nowhere until it was not going to happen and then she kept the money. And so this - I mean aren't people interested in truth in advertising anymore?
CONAN: New York Times ran an interesting piece today that said sometimes no. They don't seem to be. Whatever impression you make sometimes that's the impression you carry away even when later sometimes claims on either side are disproved.
RUDIN: What's so remarkable about the bridge to know everything is that Sarah Palin says that every day that she stood up to Congress she said no, and yet everyday that the media, the newspaper, the television says that's not true she was willing to take the money until the end, and yet she still says it every day.
CONAN: But according to that caller, very active Republican campaign in Pennsylvania. Diane with us. Diane with us from Conifer in Colorado.
DIANE (Caller): Hi, Neal.
DIANE: Hey, I just wanted to make a comment that our little town in Colorado has never really seen a lot of action politically. We're about an hour outside of Denver, but this year we have an Obama office, and it's five minutes from our house and so my teenage son is actually working there as a intern and that the office is run by a woman who's 24 years old. So, it's kind of interesting for us older people to be in there with all this young kids, but what's been really interesting to me is that there's an - that's it's there at all. That it exists. During the Kerry campaign we did a little work, my family, but really they're really just wasn't a lot of interest. And so, the fact that they're there is my big point. The other thing is I took my daughter back to college last week, and she's in Virginia in Lynchburg. Lynchburg is a bigger town of course than you know Conifer, but riding through town, sure enough, there was the Obama office. So, it gave me a sense that they're out there. You know we moved tentacles into all of these different places.
CONAN: Well it's interesting we got this email from Andy in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Obama has opened offices in other rural small towns in Virginia. Harrisonburg is a college town, James Madison University and another Obama office in open in Blacksburg where Virginia Tech is. Maybe the concentration of younger voters in these towns is part of the strategy and certainly is. Local registrars in both towns are now spreading misinformation to students about absentee voting. They've cautioned students they may lose their financial aid if they register the vote absentee because they're giving up their home residency. So, that became an issue to some degree in the Iowa caucuses too Ken, and students from various other parts of the country are going to vote for Obama in Iowa.
RUDIN: Well, what's interesting also is that we keep talking about Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado and people say why we're spending so much time on this, had Al Gore won New Hampshire and its four electoral votes in 2000 he would have been the president. Every state matters especially in this close election.
CONAN: And every Wednesday matters when you can hear the Political Junkie on Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We'll be back next week from the Newseum. You can also read Ken's Political Junkie comment at npr.org. This week on do the vice presidential candidates actually matter? We've been talking that way. Ken, thanks very much for the time.
RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News, I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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