ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And more now on what Brian Mann just referred to as the Republican identity crisis. I'm joined by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And Mara, what does the situation in New York's 23rd district tell you about where the GOP is right now?
MARA LIASSON: Well, they're in the middle of a civil war, maybe a family feud. I think it's more than an identity crisis. I think they're clearly being pulled to the right by their energized, activist conservative base. And you just heard Newt Gingrich, who once led a revolution himself inside the Republican Party, say the party should be a big tent that doesn't impose litmus tests. Well, on the other side of this feud, you have the vanguard, Sarah Palin, who stepped into this race to say that Republicans should vote for the conservative party candidate, and she created a real stampede. All of a sudden, other 2012 hopefuls like Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, jumped in to support the conservative candidate, Doug Hoffman. They're kind of trying to run up to the front of the parade.
And I think there's no doubt that right now, the energy in the Republican Party is in the grassroots conservative base, the tea party base. The question is, will the Republican establishment be able to capture this like lightning in a bottle, or they're going to be run over by it? I think it's fair to predict there will be more primary challenges, and the Republican Party is kind of getting purified, more homogeneous. The question is, is this the way for them to win general elections or just primaries, and will this work statewide or nationally?
SIEGEL: Right. And New York's 23rd Congressional District - way upstate, it may be a blue state, but the only blue people there are so cold that they're turning blue.
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SIEGEL: Is there any sign that this right wing base of the Republican Party is gaining ground nationally or elsewhere?
LIASSON: Well, yes. It definitely is gaining ground elsewhere. You have Mark Rubio in Florida, who you just told us about elsewhere in the program. He's running in the Florida Republican senatorial primary�
SIEGEL: Still behind in the polls, but coming up.
LIASSON: Still behind, but coming up. He might beat the moderate candidate, the formerly popular, moderate, incumbent governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, whose approval ratings are dropping. And interestingly enough, however, you do have another model altogether in the race for Virginia governor, where the Republican is way ahead of the Democrat in a state that Obama won in 2008, where the Democrats have had a real string of victories over the last 10 years. But Bob McDonnell the Republican, who is a committed social conservative, has not been running on his social issues at all. Instead, he's been focusing on transportation, education and jobs - kind of the mirror image of how Democrats used to downplay social issues like abortion or gun control, so they could win in swing states.
SIEGEL: I want you to talk about one other big contest tomorrow; that's the race for governor of New Jersey. The Democrat, Corzine, is the incumbent. It's a three-way race, and it's close.
LIASSON: Very, very close. I think if the Republicans sweep the table tomorrow, New Jersey will be their biggest upset. Virginia has always voted for the party that doesn't have the White House in their governor's races. New York 23, as you said, has been Republican since the Civil War, but New Jersey is a reliably blue state. Of all these races, this race has the least to do with President Obama and the national Democrats because Jon Corzine, the incumbent Democratic governor there, is unpopular all on his own.
But if the Democrats lose there, it'll be a slap in the face for the president. He's been there many, many times. He really worked hard for Jon Corzine, unlike in Virginia, where President Obama did the minimal. The White House really didn't think it was winnable. I think New Jersey would be the biggest upset.
SIEGEL: OK,we'll talk more tomorrow after the polls close, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mara Liasson, our national political correspondent.
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