REBECCA ROBERTS, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away. Hatch might just hang on, Russ rules out a run, and the mild-mannered moderate goes on offense. It's Wednesday, time for a...
JON HUNTSMAN, JR.: Zero substance...
ROBERTS: ...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: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
President GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)
ROBERTS: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics, and after two whole weeks away, he's back and well-rested. Chris Shays and Elizabeth Warren can't resist Washington. They're eyeing Senate runs in Connecticut and Massachusetts respectively, while Russ Feingold won't run for an open Senate seat in Wisconsin. Utah firebrand Jason Chaffetz won't challenge Senator Orrin Hatch. Veteran Democrat John Conyers escapes a primary of his own, and all the while the president's enjoying Martha's Vineyard. In a few minutes, we'll speak with Iowa pollster Ann Selzer about the GOP field in the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus state. And later in the program, the signs of early Alzheimer's.
But first, we begin, as we always do, with a trivia question. Ken Rudin, welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.
KEN RUDIN: Thank you, Rebecca. By the way, I have not seen Neal Conan since the earthquake. Does anybody know if he made it out? Do we know?
ROBERTS: He is A-ok. But thank you for asking.
RUDIN: Okay, I really don't care. But anyway, okay, well, the trivia question is: Yesterday, Johnny DuPree, the mayor of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, won his state's Democratic nomination for governor. He's the first black candidate in his state to do so, which leads to this week's trivia question: Who was the nation's first African-American major party nominee for governor?
ROBERTS: Okay, so the first African-American major-party nominee for governor. If you think you have the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. You can also send us email, email@example.com. And the winner receives the fabulous, not-to-be-underestimated no-prize T-shirt.
RUDIN: Incredible, it's an incredible honor.
ROBERTS: It's really extraordinary.
RUDIN: It is. It's probably everybody's second-favorite choice.
ROBERTS: It's a shirt made for radio. So we're going to talk about all the Senate news in just a little bit, but first, it looks like Representative John Conyers could actually get a 25th term.
RUDIN: Well, there's Republicans who control the redistricting in Michigan, and John Conyers, who was first elected in 1964, he is the senior African-American member of the House, he was - his district was rolled into with another member of Congress, and basically what they decided to do is switch districts, and now John Conyers seems to be avoiding a primary from Mr. Clark, and it looks like that Conyers will be returning to office.
By the way, I believe his wife, a former Detroit city councilmember, is still in prison on corruption charges. But none of that has reached out to ensnare Mr. Conyers.
ROBERTS: And he seems to be on his way to returning to Washington, but there are a whole lot of people who have decided they don't actually want to join us here in Washington. The news seems to be who's not running this week.
RUDIN: Well, the big shock of the week is the announcement by Jason Chaffetz, who is a very conservative congressman from Utah, who has said from the beginning, for a long time, that he plans to - he's looking at a race, at taking out Orrin Hatch, first selected in 1976.
ROBERTS: A primary challenge.
RUDIN: In a primary challenge. But actually in Utah it's even more than a primary. It's a state convention, and so even though while numbers show that Orrin Hatch might have beaten Chaffetz in a primary, they have state conventions there, and that's what dumped Bob Bennett in 2010 there, because the activists, the conservative activists, get together at this convention, and they are the ones who decide the nomination.
Anyway, Chaffetz said he's not going to run against Hatch. Hatch still has some opponents from the right, and maybe Congressman Jim Matheson may run against him as well. But right now it's very good news for Orrin Hatch.
ROBERTS: And Chaffetz, you know, when he finally said I'm not going to run, it wasn't the most gracious. It wasn't because I think that Orrin Hatch is a fine senator. It was: He's incredibly vulnerable, and someone else will take him down.
RUDIN: Yes, and he said, look, it's going to cost him a multi-million-dollar race, and he decided it's not in his best interest. And he did make a name for himself with the battle over the budget in the last couple of months. So Chaffetz wants to stay in the Senate. But it was a surprise, and Hatch really got a big boost with that announcement.
ROBERTS: And in Wisconsin, Senator Herb Kohl is retiring, leaves an open seat. Russ Feingold, who was defeated in the last election, says he will not try to get his job back.
RUDIN: That's a surprise too. I think he was, you know, the liberals' choice, the liberals' favorite, a big progressive hero there. He was elected three terms before he was, as you say, defeated in 2010. By him not running, he said he's going to continue to teach at Marquette Law School. It looks like Tammy Baldwin, the congresswoman from Madison who's an open - openly gay and getting a lot of money from gay, feminist and progressive groups, it looks like Tammy Baldwin will be the Democratic frontrunner.
And the Republicans have a big problem on their own in that race because Tommy Thompson, the former four-term governor who was planning to run, is being really beaten around by the Club for Growth, the conservatives. They feel that Tommy Thompson is too much of an apologist for the Obama administration.
So for all the news about - on the Democratic side, Republicans could have a big fight in Wisconsin for that nomination.
ROBERTS: One more won't-run announcement. Colleen Hanabusa in Daniel Akaka's seat?
RUDIN: Yeah, she's a congresswoman first elected in 2010. She beat Charles Djou, as you well remember. She says she won't run. Akaka is 127 years old.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RUDIN: No, he's 87 years old. But anyway, Mazie Harono, who is a congresswoman, a former congresswoman; Ed Case, looks like they'll be fighting for the Democratic nomination there. Hanabusa says she will stay in Congress.
Other people who also won't run: Tim Pawlenty announced he will not challenge - Tim Pawlenty, the former presidential candidate...
ROBERTS: Won't run for president, won't run for Senate.
RUDIN: And he won't challenge Amy Klobuchar in Minnesota. Allen West, one of two African-American congressmen in Florida, said he will not run against Bill Nelson. And another terrible loss for America, Levi Johnston announced that he will not run for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. He's going to continue his book on, you know, on the Palins, his relationship with the Palins, he said because America deserves it.
ROBERTS: Well, so Levi Johnston's excuse is obvious and clear there, that he's got some other things to do. But these are - a lot of people have decided not to come to Washington. Is there a common theme? Is there something that people are trying to get away from?
RUDIN: I don't think so. I mean, I think, you know, even though everybody says that things don't work, and public's view of Congress is at its lowest point in decades, I think everything is an individual challenge, individual decision. I think with Russ Feingold the feeling was progressives had a good candidate to rally behind, and I think he had enough after 18 years in the Senate.
ROBERTS: And there are some people who have made the opposite decision. In Connecticut, Chris Shays is running.
RUDIN: He was a moderate liberal congressman, Republican congressman. He announced - he was, I think, defeated in 2006. He's - this is for the seat that Joe Lieberman is giving up. He said he will seek the Republican nomination, but as it was in 2010, it looks like that Linda McMahon, the former wrestling executive who spent $50 million of her own money in that race, it looks like she will run again, and again, money seems to be the big issue in Connecticut, and Chris Shays has never been a hero on the Repu-- the conservatives, who seem to be running the Republican Party these days.
ROBERTS: And in Massachusetts, the chance to challenge Senator Scott Brown, tell us about Elizabeth Warren.
RUDIN: Elizabeth Warren, of course, was President Obama's original choice to head up this consumer advocacy group. He withdrew the nomination because of opposition from the Republicans. She has had her listening tour of Massachusetts, and I think some of her supporters should listen even closer because they had an ad up on Google this week saying we must defeat Scott Walker.
RUDIN: They meant Scott Brown, but what the heck.
ROBERTS: Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin.
RUDIN: Of Wisconsin, yes. But anyway, she's now announced her exploratory committee. It looks like she will announce officially her candidacy shortly after Labor Day.
ROBERTS: So we - I'm sure our audience is wondering why we're not talking about the GOP primaries for president yet, and we are going to talk about that in just a minute with pollster Ann Selzer. But I want to remind people we are still looking for an answer to our trivia question, which is: Who was the first African-American to win a major-party nomination for a gubernatorial race. Let's see what Jeff(ph) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, thinks. Jeff, go ahead.
JEFF: Yes, hi. I was guessing Barbara Jordan of Texas.
RUDIN: Barbara Jordan, who - beloved and late congresswoman from Texas, made a big thing on the House Judiciary Committee, never ran for governor, never ran statewide.
ROBERTS: Here's Phil(ph) in Hollywood, Florida. What's your guess, Phil?
PHIL: Well, this may seem pretty obvious, but Douglas Wilder, who was the first African-American governor from Virginia - would he be the first nominee as well?
RUDIN: You're correct in that he was the first person to be elected, first African-American to be elected governor, not the first African-American nominee.
ROBERTS: So we are still taking calls, still no right answer. The number is 800-989-8255. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You know, as folks are going back to their districts during the recess, there - there's some rhetoric that we're hearing that might be a preview of things. We've got some tape of Maxine Waters, who in Los Angeles pretty much, you know, rallied the troops with a war cry.
Representative MAXINE WATERS: You can't be intimidated. You can't be frightened. As far as I'm concerned, the Tea Party can go straight to hell.
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ROBERTS: What do you think Congresswoman Waters is doing there?
RUDIN: Well, she's actually - I mean her beef is less with the Tea Party - and that's not unexpected rhetoric from Maxine Waters, who's always been a real firebrand ever since she came to Congress - but she's also tired, I think - without putting words in her mouth - that she feels that Barack Obama, President Obama, has not been fighting enough, not been aggressive enough, and he's been taking his base for granted.
Now, David Axelrod, his Obama advisor, was asked about this, and he said: Look, we care about all of Americans, not just African-Americans. But Maxine Waters feels that given the state of the economy and given the state of the poor economy with the black and Hispanic and the urban community, the president is not doing enough, and perhaps this was Maxine Waters expressing her frustration.
ROBERTS: Well, it's not just black Democrats. I mean liberal Representative Peter DeFazio in Oregon says that actually progressives there are putting his state in play, potentially.
Representative PETER DEFAZIO: At this point, it pretty much depends upon how far out there the Republican nominee is. You know, with a respectable, you know, sort of someone who would tend a little more toward the middle of the road Republican nominee, he's going to have a very tough time getting re-elected.
RUDIN: Well, again - and again, it's the same thing, the progressive wing of the party is nervous. First of all, the latest Gallup poll shows the president with a 38 percent approval rating. That's an historic low for the president, and usually you need at least 50 percent or the high 40s to get re-elected.
George H. - I'm sorry, George W. Bush had, I think, a 48 percent approval rating in 2004 when he was elected, re-elected, but a 38 percent is pretty low, and Democrats are really nervous about 2012, which need I say, is a long time from now.
ROBERTS: More on 2012 in just a minute, but first let's see if we can get the right answer to our trivia question. Mark(ph) in Reno, what's your answer?
MARK: Yes, Tom Bradley from California?
ROBERTS: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Wait a second, I'm supposed to...
ROBERTS: I'm sorry, sorry, go ahead.
RUDIN: I'm supposed to say yes, Tom, that is the correct answer. Now go ahead...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBERTS: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: That's right. Tom Bradley, then the mayor of Los Angeles, was the Democratic nominee in California in 1982 and 1986, the first black to win that nomination.
ROBERTS: Okay, Mark, stay on the line. You will find out all about the details about the fabulous not-T-shirt, not-prize T-shirt that you've won. We will be back with more of the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, and pollster Ann Selzer after this quick break, and you can join us at 800-989-8255. Or send us email, email@example.com. I'm Rebecca Roberts. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. It's Wednesday, which means political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. While everyone was running out of the building after the earthquake yesterday, Ken was busy building a Scuttlebutton puzzle.
RUDIN: Well, actually there will be no new Scuttlebutton puzzle until after Labor Day, and there will be a major announcement then, because America's really waiting for that. But I should also announce that the last Scuttlebutton winner was Lisa Daley(ph) of Syracuse, New York and the answer to the puzzle was Cokie Roberts. Is that a coinky-dink or what?
ROBERTS: Yeah, that's - um, what are the odds, right there? You can find a link to the Scuttlebutton, if you have no idea what it is that Ken is talking about; go to npr.org, click on Talk of the Nation.
RUDIN: Most people don't have any idea what I'm talking about at most times.
ROBERTS: In this specific instance, we have a link to explain it. Otherwise, you're on your own.
All right. We are going on to the GOP field for 2012. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has been quietly campaigning in New Hampshire, not actually Iowa. His moderate challenger, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, also placing his bets on New Hampshire. Others, of course, paying more attention to Iowa, where the first-of-the-nation caucuses are less than six months away. I can't believe that sentence just came out of my mouth. Less than six months away.
Just weeks after the Iowa straw poll effectively eliminated Tim Pawlenty from the race, and Michele Bachmann's campaign has slowed down; Rick Perry's has been gaining steam. We want to hear from our listeners who vote in the GOP primaries. What do you think of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman's strategy to just skip Iowa? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joining us now from Iowa Public Radio is Ann Selzer. She is the president of Selzer & Company and the pollster for the Des Moines Register. Ann Selzer, welcome back to Talk of the Nation.
ANN SELZER: Great to be here.
ROBERTS: So, um, do you have a little breather after the hoopla of the straw poll?
SELZER: Well, you know, Iowa was just pulsing with presidential candidates there for a while. So we're enjoying a little bit of a respite.
ROBERTS: How has the entrance of Rick Perry affected the field?
SELZER: Well, you know, I don't have any hard, solid poll numbers on it. I've seen some things that kind of take a little bit of his temperature. And it looks like he can be a strong contender.
You know, you sort of look at Michele Bachmann, who won the straw poll and had a momentary flash of momentum, and Rick Perry entered the race and kind of became a pretty effective drag on that momentum. You kind of ask yourself: What do I get with Bachmann that I don't get with Perry? And I think that's what many of her followers are kind of trying to weigh right now.
ROBERTS: It seems that that's what Rick Perry is trying to weigh, too. I mean, he seems to be competing with Michele Bachmann as well as President Obama.
SELZER: Well, you want to take on the top of the ticket. That would be Romney and Bachmann right now, and Romney is not really putting much energy into Iowa. So Bachmann is the obvious place to start.
RUDIN: Ann, it's Ken Rudin here. You sound very calm for somebody, given the fact that in three days, George Pataki will be in Iowa.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SELZER: Yes, well.
RUDIN: The former governor of New York is talking about that. But it just seems interesting to me that for the longest time, we were talking about Tim Pawlenty versus Michele Bachmann. All the energy seemed to be behind the Bachmann campaign. With Pawlenty out after the straw poll, now nobody's talked about Michele Bachmann anymore. Does she disappear because of Rick Perry's new gains?
SELZER: Well, they're two very different characters. I mean, I have to say that the crowd of people left with Pawlenty's departure looking for a new candidate is small. I mean, he just didn't make much of an imprint here, hard though he worked.
I think Michele Bachmann, she's the candidate of conviction, and so with her group of supporters, I think what they really like is how strident she is, to be frank, about it, and I think they are now kind of trying to take a look and see if Perry can do that and more - that there might be things that Perry could deliver.
You know, there's a little bit of a lull. So I don't think anybody's getting a whole lot of attention except for Rick Perry.
RUDIN: And the lull's not going to last long. There was a big - a little firestorm going on the other day, when - Sarah Palin has this event in Iowa on September 3rd, and Karl Rove flatly said on television that she's going to announce her candidacy, and the SarahPac people say, look, you're premature. We don't know what's going to happen yet. Whoever's saying this is doing this to hurt her and spread misinformation. Does Sarah Palin have a chance in Iowa? Is there a open - a welcome mat for her to come in?
SELZER: Well, you mentioned that Pataki is coming in. He's flirted with this before. Sarah Palin is sort of beyond flirting, but she sort of shows up, and she creates a lot of excitement and enthusiasm, and, you know, she draws people who just want to see what she's like in real life.
And it's - what we don't know, really, is whether that would translate into support for a presidential run.
ROBERTS: And meanwhile, there are the candidates who have decided to just take a pass on Iowa, most notably Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Jon Huntsman went so far as to take sort of a crack at Iowa and said they pick presidents in New Hampshire, they pick something else in Iowa.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBERTS: What do you make of that strategy, Ann?
SELZER: Well, you know, I've done the math on the moderates in Iowa, that Huntsman is positioned to attract. And I can't tell you that - I mean, I understand that he thinks that you need to be a particular candidate in order to win Iowa. Well, his image of that particular candidate has a very crowded field.
He could stand alone, in theory, and draw moderates to the caucuses who typically haven't played very active roles there, and he may decide that he's going to take a different look. Who knows? We - there's always - you know, Iowans always welcome the more the merrier.
ROBERTS: Well, this is how Jon Huntsman put it on ABC's "This Week" about the field.
HUNTSMAN: Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground. This is a center-right country. I am a center-right candidate. Right now, we've got people on the fringes. President Obama's too far to the left. We've got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right.
ROBERTS: So if he's couching himself as a center-right candidate, does it make sense to put in some effort in Iowa to come in second or third?
SELZER: Well, he obviously doesn't think it makes sense now. I guess my question is if he's got anybody doing the math to see what he could get. You know, I thought the first step was in the debate in Iowa, where he not just owned his record, he embraced his record as exactly what he's saying - center-right.
There are a lot of people whom I talk to on a daily basis who are looking more for that kind of candidate than they are for a candidate of conviction on the far right.
RUDIN: And yet, Iowa does have the reputation of being a great welcoming mat for social - Evangelical and social conservatives with, you know, with Mike Huckabee winning in 2008. We had George H.W. Bush finishing third there in 1988. So the reputation of Iowa as being hospitable toward center-right candidates has never been good.
SELZER: Well, to be sure, there's no question that when Huckabee won the caucuses, that sent a message to the nation about what it takes to win in Iowa. But he was really the lone family-values candidate who was left running in the caucuses.
So in that case, it was the more moderate candidates that were dividing the field, and he had a chance to be a magnet for the social conservatives, who, please understand, were very well-organized and showed up in bigger numbers than were expected.
It's just that the opposite could happen, as well. But it won't happen by magic. I mean, there would need to be some work done in the state, for the moderates to be organized to show up at the caucus in disproportionate numbers.
RUDIN: And one more candidate we haven't mentioned, Ron Paul. He got three times as many votes in the straw poll than he got four years ago. Everybody seems to just dismiss him as a fringe candidate, and yet he's shown much more strength than he did in 2008.
SELZER: Isn't that interesting.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RUDIN: Well, what does it mean, Ann?
SELZER: Well, when I was at the straw poll up in Ames, you just really saw this fervency for Ron Paul. And when you talked to the media, they were not fervent. I mean, they didn't get it. That just seemed to be as though that's a dismissible group of people, that he's so radical, that while some of his ideas have become mainstream, he as a candidate is not.
ROBERTS: Let's take a call. This is Zach(ph) in Orlando. Zach, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
ROBERTS: Hi, you're on the air, Zach, go ahead.
ZACH: I was calling in, I'm a Jon Huntsman supporter, and I live in Florida right now. And I was just going to urge any conservatives who are listening to this program to really take another look at Jon Huntsman, because though he's selling himself as the moderate candidate, and it's true that I think he has a lot of appeal, if you look at his record, it's really a pro-growth conservative candidate, and those who are still social conservative - I'm not very strong in that regard - but social conservatives have a lot to love with Jon Huntsman. And I think he's a guy who can actually win.
ROBERTS: Thanks for your call, Zach. That's an interesting message, that the candidate is trying to make himself less conservative than the most conservative, but this is a supporter saying he's actually a secret conservative. Let's take a call - well, no, go ahead, Ann.
SELZER: Well, one of the things I think of with the Huntsman campaign is that the most important thing a candidate can do is win. So where is it that he's going to win? If he's not going to play in Iowa, he's not going to play in Iowa. New Hampshire is going to be tough to wrest that away from Romney.
South Carolina, I don't think so. Nevada maybe. And then you'll get to Florida. I mean, that's where he's basing his campaign. I mean, that's where he's wanting to be his base of operations, and I just think that might be too late.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from James(ph) in South Orange, New Jersey. James, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
JAMES: Hi, yes. I'm a graduate student, and I recently switched in July from the Democratic to the Republican Party so I could participate in this contest. I am a Ron Paul supporter, but I recognize that he will not win, but I think he represents an idea more than the pursuit of the presidency as his goal.
To dismiss him out of hand is fallacious, I think, because he represents - he's moving the youth, the young conservatives more than any other candidate. But between Romney and Huntsman, I would support Huntsman because I think he could win the middle much more easily than any of the other candidates.
ROBERTS: And what do you think about his strategy to skip Iowa?
JAMES: I'm sorry?
ROBERTS: What do you think about his strategy to skip Iowa?
JAMES: I think it's risky, but great success only comes with great risk. And if he loses Iowa, that could take a lot of steam out of his campaign. But just because he's not campaigning in Iowa doesn't mean that his name, you know, will not be present in voters' minds who show up in Iowa. And if he has a fair turnout in Iowa, that could, you know, steamroll - that could steamroll potentially into enough momentum to boost him in New Hampshire, which, of course, would, you know, snowball from there.
ROBERTS: James, thanks for your call.
RUDIN: The problem I see with Huntsman, though, is that while he makes the case for being a very strong and respectable general election candidate, I think the Republican Party is not only more conservative, but is certainly much more angry than it was four and eight years ago. Of course, then, it was under the tutelage of President Bush. Now it has President Obama and the Democrats in charge. So I think that anger - you almost need that anger to propel you to the nomination. And just as Tim Pawlenty didn't have it, I don't know if Huntsman has that anger that it seems like many Republicans are looking for.
SELZER: But, you know what's interesting, you have to factor in the disappointment, disaffection among some Democrats and independents who voted Democratic the last time. And if they - if their anger could be harnessed at their current president, they might be organized for a Huntsman much more so than a Bachmann or a Rick Perry.
ROBERTS: Or independents who might have voted in the Democratic primaries in the last election might vote the Republicans this time, because it's actually a contest, as opposed to on the Democratic side.
SELZER: Well, there's certainly a lot of people who came out in Iowa for the first time in 2008, and many of them fell in love with the caucus process. There appears to be - although we don't know for sure yet - little action on the Democratic side. So the action's on the Republican side. An independent can show up that night. A registered Democrat can show up that night and declare themselves a Republican and participate on the Republican side.
ROBERTS: And in general, do voters in Iowa prefer lots of candidates, or do they want it to have been narrowed down by the time it gets to the caucus?
SELZER: Well, we mostly have a pretty wide field by caucus night, and I think that it gives certainly the cafeteria plan, that you can see a wide array of candidates and kind of choose the one that makes the most sense to you. I do know that - just anecdotally - that a lot of people do a lot of research and try to figure it out. And sometimes on caucus night, they have it narrowed down to four or five.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBERTS: Yeah. That's not actually narrowing it down.
SELZER: Well, that's the luxury of living in Iowa...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SELZER: ...is that you can get rid of a couple or three, and then you can decide once you hear what people have to say.
ROBERTS: And you've probably met them all personally at that point, too.
SELZER: Exactly, exactly.
ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Andrew from Lynchburg, Virginia, joins us now. Andrew, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
ANDREW: Oh, thank you for having my call.
ANDREW: Hi. I was just wanting to say that there is a huge difference between Mitt Romney and Huntsman for missing that Iowa poll. It won't hurt Mitt Romney to miss it, because he's very well-known. Huntsman, on the other hand, would only stand to lose. Since it is a very conservative state, he's too mainline centrist for it. I think that he stood to lose a lot if he had low numbers like Pawlenty.
SELZER: You know, if I could just chime about Iowa being such a conservative state, as I said earlier, I ran the math on this. We had a governor's primary last year, and the evangelical Christian candidate lost by a rather significant margin, meaning more Republicans showed up to vote in a primary for the more moderate candidate than voted for the evangelical candidate in a one-to-one, head-to-head race. So what we know about Iowa as socially conservative is what we know from the last caucuses. It's 120-some - 119,000, I think, who showed up for Republicans. If you can organize 40,000 votes, you can win the Republican caucus, no matter what ilk you might be. There are enough votes out there for any candidate.
RUDIN: But Ann, don't we agree that a more conservative electorate shows up for caucuses than they do for primaries?
SELZER: They did in 2008.
ROBERTS: Let's talk a little bit about some of the things these candidates are saying, in addition to their strategy. We heard that clip at the top of the hour about Michele Bachmann saying she can get gas down to $2 a gallon. Ken Rudin, what do you think of that?
RUDIN: I think that's not likely to happen. But, you know, something - a lot of candidates say a lot of things. First of all, she said it will be $2 a gallon in a Bachmann administration. So that's probably true, but there will not be a Bachmann administration. What I'm saying is, look, we saw this with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, with the two doing with tax-free weekends when they were trying do - outdo each other in 2008. These are the kinds of things that people say to get votes. But as Jon Huntsman said, this is just irrational, because it's not going to happen.
ROBERTS: And, well, Jon Huntsman does seem to have taken the tack of taking on some of his colleagues in the race, which is an interesting strategy this early on. What do you make of it?
RUDIN: Well, as far as I'm concerned, I mean, you know, a lot of - and the people in the media are saying, you know, right on, Jon Huntsman. But when Joe Lieberman was doing this on the Democratic side that all his fellow Democrats were too far to the left, a lot of Democrats just hated to hear that. And I kind of think that the more that Jon Huntsman goes on and on saying how extreme and how unelectable his fellow Republican rivals are, I think, more and more voters may turn against him. I think running a general election strategy in these early pre-caucus, pre-primary days just may not work.
ROBERTS: And, Ann Selzer, I know you're, you know, a pollster quant geek, and I don't want to take you...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
ROBERTS: ...too far away from data. But if - looking in the next six months, what do you think will shift between now and the Iowa caucus that might change the caucus field?
RUDIN: Besides George Pataki.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SELZER: Yeah. Well, George Pataki coming to town - big headlines, again. You know, it'll be interesting if he gets in the race. It'll be interesting if anybody else decides that they're going to take a shot at this. If the field looks as though it's not solidified, you know, we're in a window of opportunity here to get in, get the work done. We don't really know for sure yet what our caucus date will be. It's right now set for February, but that could move up, meaning there will come a point in time when it is just too late to get into the field. So I would be looking within the next month.
I think that's really the end of the opportunity for people to get in and get the state organized that way. And then I think the question is: Does it - is there any candidate who will drop out between now and the caucuses? Because they're all auditioning for something. Some of them, I'm not sure that they're auditioning, really, to be president. They may be auditioning for their next gig, whatever that may be. And if you stay in the caucuses, you stay a declared candidate, you can show up on the debates, get a lot of national exposure. I don't look for anybody to drop out, really.
ROBERTS: Ann Selzer is the pollster for the Des Moines Register. She joined us from the studios of Iowa Public Radio. Thank you so much.
SELZER: My pleasure.
ROBERTS: And Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie. You can check out his latest Scuttlebutton puzzle when he gets it - around to it, which is not immediately, on npr.org, and click on the TALK OF THE NATION. Coming up, the signs and possible treatments of early-onset dementia. I'm Rebecca Roberts. This is TALK OF THE NATION.
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