ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now, this news from Wyoming, Mitt Romney captured his first win today, the biggest chair of the 12 presidential delegates at stake in the Republican county conventions in Wyoming. That state scheduled its caucuses between the Iowa and New Hampshire contests in hopes of getting the candidates to visit. And some did stop by.
Attention may be on New Hampshire this weekend, but a bipartisan group of former and current office holders are gathering in Oklahoma. They want the presidential candidates to address some big issues, they say, are being ignored. Among those planning to attend is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This is fueling speculation the independent mayor may yet decide to spend some of his vast personal fortune on an independent presidential run.
NPR's Brian Naylor has this report.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The Oklahoma conference is being co-sponsored by former Democratic Senator David Boren, now president of the University of Oklahoma, and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia. Both were known as conservative Democrats, who, while in office, often reached across the aisle to work with Republicans.
Nunn says that's not happening much now.
Mr. SAM NUNN (Former Democrat Senator, Georgia): We had to form coalitions in order to get something done for the country. And I think we share frustration that the campaigns and the discussions of the debates that are now occurring are not on the fundamental issues, and that America has to deal with the fundamental issues, and the next president of the United States, whoever he or she is, cannot be successful without a mandate for governing. And that can only come with a national debate and discussion.
NAYLOR: Nunn points to issues including what he calls erosion in America's strategic leadership, weaker alliances, less financial flexibility, stress on the military and global climate change. He says while the current crump of presidential candidates does occasionally address those issues, they have not made them part of the debate.
Mr. NUNN: In our view, we have a badly bent political process, maybe broken but is at least badly bent.
NAYLOR: Former New Jersey Governor and EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, will also be at the conference. She expects the group will produce an outline in an effort to get the presidential candidates to focus on something other than, as she put it, eviscerating themselves.
Ms. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (Former Republican Governor, New Jersey; Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency): Get away from just the sound bite; get away from the very personal nastiness; get away from just saying every issue is a moral issue so that if you disagree with me, you're not just wrong, you're immoral. And we've been posing issues like that for too long now in this country of late. And it's been very detrimental to good policymaking.
NAYLOR: The politician likely to draw the most attention during the conference, at least from the media, will be New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg was first a Democrat, became a Republican when he ran for mayor, and is now an independent. He's often denied any intent to run for president. But in an interview with NBC's "Today" show the other morning, the multibillionaire expressed frustration with partisan bickering and special interests.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (Independent, New York): There's nothing wrong with parties. But everybody is out there for their own advantage or the advantage of their own party rather than what's right for this country. And we're in trouble domestically and internationally, and we've not addressed the key issues like health care and international relations, immigration and all of those things. And people have got to start standing up and saying if they're elected, what they'll really do? Not just that they are in favor of motherhood and apple pie, but what they'll do.
NAYLOR: Whit Ayres, a pollster who works with Republican candidates, says it's hard to make the case that important issues are being ignored in this presidential campaign. But he says that centrists like those attending the Oklahoma conference do have a valid point.
Mr. WHIT AYRES (Republican Pollster): The primary process pulls both Democrats and Republicans to their ideological extremes. And the centrists who were so influential in making policy in the Congress for many years have essentially disappeared.
NAYLOR: Christine Todd Whitman says while a possible independent presidential bid may well be favored by some in Oklahoma this weekend, it's not what the conference is all about.
Ms. WHITMAN: There are some people who will be there who I think are at the point where they'd say, yes, I could support a third party yeah, but that's not the genesis of it. That's not how it came about, and that's certainly not the intent. There's not an intent to start a third-party movement. The intent is to try to get the two existing major parties back to a place where they are functioning as they used to function certainly from a partisan perspective, but in one that actually gets good policy enacted.
NAYLOR: And Whitman and Nunn agree that's something most voters want too.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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