Political Junkie: Florida and Other Primary Concerns NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin talks politics with Neal Conan and callers. This week's focus is on the remaining primary elections, with special attention to next week's elections in Florida.
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Political Junkie: Florida and Other Primary Concerns

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Political Junkie: Florida and Other Primary Concerns

Political Junkie: Florida and Other Primary Concerns

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And now for our weekly dose of politics, the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of Political Junkie opening montage)

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaaaaagh!

CONAN: And in the lead up to the midterms this fall, we'll bring us an extra generous dose of political news and analysis every week. Next week, the Sunshine State heads to the polls. Florida Republicans pray Katherine Harris keeps her mouth shut. And in just a few weeks, primaries in New York, Rhode Island, Arizona and more. Look at some of the interesting races in those states.

Plus it's your chance to talk politics with our political junkie. If a primary's coming up in your state, give us the view from the ground. Our number here in Washington, 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@NPR.org.

And with us is Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor; also the author of the Political Junkie column on the NPR website. Good to talk to you, Ken.

KEN Rudin reporting:

Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Before we head to the upcoming primaries, though, one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. And President Bush has been down in the Gulf Coast area this week. And, of course, coming up next week is the anniversary of 9/11, anniversaries that he's trying to spin to his political help.

RUDIN: Right. And two anniversaries and two events that have - certainly will define President Bush's legacy. Obviously, the attacks of 9/11 has given President Bush, and the Republicans, favorable poll ratings up to now. 2002, 2004 elections indicated that. But what happen in Katrina a year ago this week, and the federal government's response to it is also part of his legacy, and that's not as good as what we've seen for the president in the past.

CONAN: Is people - once they've made up their mind about politicians it's very hard to un-makeup their minds. And if you look a the polling results for the president of late, it looks like it's going to be very hard to shake those polls up, move them up.

RUDIN: And that's a very good point because when voters looked at President Bush in - once upon a time, we still talked about George W. Bush as a compassionate conservative. That's how he sold himself to the American electorate in 2000. And when that visual of him in Air Force One, flying over the horror of what happened in Hurricane Katrina and watching, looking out Air Force One, you wondered about the compassionate nature of George W. Bush.

And that has stuck with him. And I think his polls, his numbers have not recovered to this day.

CONAN: Obviously, 9/11 will be a different anniversary and a better memory, at least politically, for him.

RUDIN: Yeah. And although it's hard to - I mean either way it's a terrible loss of life and it certainly has changed the mindset of the United States and the electorate.

CONAN: All right. When we come back from the break, we're going to be focusing on primary elections. A special focus on Florida. So if you have questions about the primary election in the Sunshine State, which comes up next week, give us a call, 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. You can also call if you're interested in the Arizona, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington, or even the Hawaii primaries.

All still coming up after the break on Political Junkie with Ken Rudin and TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Two pretrial hearings have begun in the military's case against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman charged with murdering an Iraqi man last spring. At issue is whether the shooting in the Iraqi village of Hamdaniya was murder or a justifiable act of war.

And five Italian warships on their way to Lebanon carrying the first 800 troops of Italy's contribution to the U.N. peacekeeping force there. Italy will eventually contribute 3,000 troops, the largest contingent of any European country.

Details on those stories and, of course, more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, part two of our conservation on attitudes about the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Today we spoke with Jewish-Americans. Tomorrow we'll hear from Arab-Americans.

And right now we're talking with our political junkie, Ken Rudin. Next up, the Florida primaries. We want to hear from callers down there. If you're a Florida Republican, are you going to vote for Katherine Harris. Call us: 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is talk@NPR.org.

Ken, the Harris campaign has been bedeviled since its start. But the most recent bedevilment is a comment that…I can't - it's left me speechless.

RUDIN: Well, there was only one problem with Katherine Harris campaign and that is Katherine Harris. And it's been like that from day one. The latest contretemps is the one where she talked to a Baptist weekly newspaper and she said basically, she talked about the lie about - of separation of church and state.

She said that we must elect Christians to Congress otherwise we're committing legislative sin. This is the kind of stuff that just drives - look, she's lost four campaign managers, there's been tons of staff turnover, she's not been raising money. Republicans, from Jeb Bush and President Bush on down, have said please don't run.

There was a bit not too long ago on Saturday Night Live about the thing that wouldn't leave. It was about this guy just no matter how many times you gave him hints, he just wouldn't leave. And that's been the Katherine Harris campaign in Florida.

CONAN: Well, let's turn to somebody in the trenches in that state. Susan Macmanus follows Florida politics. She's a professor at the University of South Florida. She joins us by phone now from an office in Tampa. Nice to speak with you today.

Professor SUSAN MACMANUS (University of South Florida): Thank you.

CONAN: And as Ken mentioned the litany of problems - Katherine Harris also neglected to tell her campaign managers that she'd received a subpoena.

Prof. MACMANUS: Well, it has been a campaign in chaos. But the irony is that a poll that was released today shows that she probably still will win the Republican primary.

CONAN: Who's she running against?

Prof. MACMANUS: She has three really very interesting candidates. Leroy Collins, who is the son of a former Democratic governor of Florida, and a well-known one.

CONAN: Watkit Lawton(ph)?

Prof. MACMANUS: Yeah, no. Leroy Collins.

CONAN: Leroy Collins, all right.

Prof. MACMANUS: Yes. And he's a retired Navy admiral. Then you've got an entrepreneur - McBride is the gentleman's last name - whose family owns an extensive Christian radio network. Immigrant, speaks Spanish - exactly one of the skills that's very good for a Florida politician to have. And you've got a gentleman who's retired from the federal government, an executive.

So three credible candidates in a way, but they entered late. And the Republicans who are of the anybody but Katherine ilk can't seem to get behind any one of the three, so their votes are likely to be fragmented.

CONAN: Well, she does not suffer from lack of name recognition.

Prof. MACMANUS: No she does not. And people either love her or hate her. Some have likened her profile, in a way, to that of Hillary Clinton, where people have very strong either favorables or unfavorables and not much in between. People really know how they stand on her.

CONAN: Does her campaign, does it suggest that maybe the party is not as much in control of things as they would like to be?

Prof. MACMANUS: Oh, absolutely. And one of the truisms of politics is that the more you have one party control, the more that that generates factionalism and schisms within the party. And I think you're starting to see some of that with the Florida GOP because we have some very competitive primaries. And in the past, the party would probably would have said to the rest of the candidates, if they identified a frontrunner, to sort of suggest that they step aside and wait their turn.

But this time out nobody's waiting and we have some very competitive Republican primaries.

RUDIN: Susan, it's Ken Rudin here. Why - given the fact that the Republican Party establishment from Jeb Bush on down has made it clear from the beginning that Katherine Harris would not be the best candidate. One - I guess we understand why she's running, but why did nobody else get into the race? Why couldn't anybody else - a member of Congress, somebody like that; Tom Gallagher, who's running for governor - why didn't somebody else run?

Prof. MACMANUS: Well there were hopes that the speaker of the house, Allan Bense, from the Pensacola area, would have entered the race. And the White House even courted him several times. But he walked right up to the edge of the water and said thank you very much, but I think I won't. And I think that it kind of caught them off guard. Many of the Republican leadership thought that he would run, and he would've been a very formidable candidate. But now that's let a lot of people inside the state to say you know what, if the Republicans lose this and none of these gentlemen was willing to try to tackle a sitting incumbent U.S. Senator, and she runs, well so be it. And the people that should be blamed are not so much her but the others who wouldn't jump into the race.

CONAN: I understand the - we're talking about interesting Republican primaries - I gather there's one in the Congressional seat that Katherine Harris left to run for Senate.

Prof. MACMANUS: The hottest spot in Florida politics is always the I-4 corridor and the Tampa end, and yes, that is a fascinating race. There are six Republicans all fairly well known, some extremely well funded, who are going at each other to try to get the GOP nomination for Katherine's seat. But on the other side, you have two very competitive, older, single women who are very good themselves in politics, who are running for the Democrats. So you've got a hotbed of competition on both sides of the aisle to replace Katherine Harris in the U.S. Congress.

RUDIN: For all the controversy that Harris is bringing, if you look at the polls in the governor's race, it looks like the Republicans could keep the governorship that Jeb Bush is leaving. So maybe there's not much of an affect on the Harris campaign on the rest of the party?

Prof. MACMANUS: No, that's fairly - just like all of Congressional races, you know, that's fairly isolated, the politics of that. The governor's race is capturing a lot of attention, because like that 13th district, the governor's race itself has extremely good competition for the nomination on both the Republican and the Democratic side of the aisle. Two formidable candidates on the Democratic side trying to capture the nomination and two on the Republican side. So once again, Florida's just competitive. And most people are calling the governor's race too close to call at this point.

CONAN: Well, we'll find out next week. Here's an e-mail we got from Stephen(ph). Can you comment on the race between incumbent, Clay Shaw, and his challenger, Ron Klein? I've not heard much about this race.

Prof. MACMANUS: That is probably - if any seat can be won by the Democrats this time out, that's the Congressional seat that most pundits believe that Democrats might pick up. Ron Klein has been a very successful and very well known state legislator. Of course, Clay Shaw's been in office quite some time. I've never seen so much money going into a race so early as in that one, and a lot of focus groups and polling and everything else - you name it, it's happening right there in that district.

CONAN: And one final question before we let you go, and that is the governor -he's got an interesting last name there. He's term-limited, he can't run again. What's he going to be doing?

Prof. MACMANUS: The number one question that people ask, both inside of Florida and outside Florida. Well, some people say he's going to make money. Others say he's biding his time until the time is right for him to make a run for the presidency. But one thing is true about Jeb Bush. He keeps his opinions on things like that close to the vest, and even his closest friends don't know the answer.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Susan, appreciate your time today.

Ms. MACMANUS: I enjoyed it, thank you.

CONAN: Susan MacManus is an expert on Florida politics, a professor at the University of South Florida and joined us by phone from an office in Tampa. And let's see if we can get some of these other questions on the air. By the way, if you have a question for the political junkie about upcoming primaries or even races in the fall, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's start with John(ph). John's calling from San Francisco.

JOHN (Caller): Yes, good afternoon, gentlemen.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

JOHN: I'm interested in finding out Ken's evaluation of the Arizona primary where immigration is a hot issue, especially focusing on the Eighth Congressional District. And I'm interested in finding out if State Senator Randy Graf were to win that primary, what would be the outcome in November?

RUDIN: Boy, I love questions that I know things about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: This is a race around Tucson, Arizona, where Congressman Jim Colby, who has been around for 22 years in Congress, is retiring. Colby is basically a moderate who supports President Bush's approach to immigration. Randy Graf is a strong conservative, ran against Colby two years ago in the primary, did well. He is the ostensible frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the September 12 primary. Jim Colby has said that if Randy Graf is a Representative of Arizona, if he wins the primary, then the Republican Party will probably lose that seat. He's very strong on anti-immigration, and there are two moderates who are running against Graf in the primary. A lot of Republicans feel that if Graf wins the primary, the Democrats have a good shot of winning that seat, which has been Republican seat for at least the 22 years that Colby has been in Congress.

CONAN: And is John right, immigration the big issue there?

RUDIN: Absolutely. The district has a 261-mile border that shares with Mexico. Illegal immigration is a key issue in many races in Arizona, including the Senate race, but that open Eight Congressional District around Tucson -immigration is the real deal there.

CONAN: John, thanks very much.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. There's a primary election coming up in New York, and there is a man who is trying to be the New Lamont of the state of New York, challenging Hillary Rodham Clinton from the left. How's he doing?

RUDIN: Right. I think the key words are lots of luck. His name is Jonathan Tasini. He's hoping to replicate what Ned Lamont pulled off in Connecticut when he beat Joe Lieberman, because his argument is against Hillary Clinton's support for the war when she voted in 2002 for the authorization to go to war. But one, Hillary Clinton has $44 million in the bank. Tasini has, I think, carfare, and about that - maybe lunch money. Plus the fact that Hillary Clinton has done - she has distanced herself not so much from her vote in 2002, but she has criticized the president on the conduct of the war, she has called for Rumsfeld's resignation, and she has really distanced herself, unlike Lieberman, who stood very - who supported the war far longer than many Democrats felt he should have.

CONAN: Got the kiss, or was it a hug, or whatever it was.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: We're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. You can read his weekly column at our Web site, npr.org. New column up today?

RUDIN: Yes, it's up. And I read it every week.

CONAN: You read it every week?

RUDIN: I do, I do.

CONAN: That's a recommendation for you. You can also reach him every week here on the Political Junkie segment on TALK OF THE NATION at 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller in, Joanne(ph). Joanne's calling from Coventry in Rhode Island.

JOANNE (Caller): Hi. I just have a comment to make. We have Senator Chafee, who's in a primary against another Republican. It really doesn't matter who wins the primary because I don't think many Democrats or many people in the state of Rhode Island are going to re-elect a Republican knowing what the risk is in the balance of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

CONAN: And is Mr. Chafee, or for that matter his father, somebody you would've voted for in the past?

JOANNE: I voted for his father and I voted for him. He was the only Republican lever that I ever turned. I - it's really a shame that it's gotten so that you have to count every single point, and I doubt whether Senator Chafee will be re-elected.

CONAN: Is Joanne right?

RUDIN: Well, Chafee has tough time in the September 12 primary. Conservatives hate his guts, basically. Chafee did not vote for President Bush in 2004. He wrote in President Bush's father's name. He's the only Republican to vote against the war, he's the only Republican to vote against Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court. He votes against tax cuts, he votes against the Bush administration on almost everything. But Republicans insist, he's the only Republican who carried the state. He's a liberal Republican in the bluest of blue states. The Democratic nominee is a guy named Sheldon Whitehouse.

CONAN: Does he have ambitions for the - never mind.

RUDIN: First things first, right. But Stephen Laffey is the conservative mayor of Cranston who is running against Chafee in the September 12th primary. If he beats Chafee, and he could - people say there's no way the Republicans could hold on to that seat. The only chance the Republican party has, is if they re-nominate Chafee, and most Republicans just don't like Lincoln Chafee.

JOANNE: Most Democrats won't risk having one point skewed for the Democrats in Rhode Island. We are a blue state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Joanne, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

JOANNE: You're welcome.

CONAN: So long. Let's go to Elizabeth(ph), Elizabeth in Corning, New York.

ELIZABETH (Caller): Hi.


ELIZABETH: Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ELIZABETH: I had a question. I'm in a very Republican area of New York in Amory Houghton's former congressional district, and there's a freshman Congressman, Randy Kuhl, that's up for re-election. And I was wondering what your guest thought of him not making it, hopefully, because of the Democrats at the top of the ticket, you know, Spitzer and Clinton. If he could be defeated. His opponent, Eric Massa, is not that well known, but I just wanted to get an opinion on that.

RUDIN: I think I saw a wire story, today or yesterday, that Eric Massa just came out and said that Donald Rumsfeld is lying, is an absolute liar. And it has gotten a lot play on the blogs and stuff. But the problem for the Republican Party in New York State is it's dying. Governor Pataki is not running for a fourth term, and if he did he would've gotten swamped anyway.


RUDIN: Eliot Spitzer is likely an overwhelming - will overwhelmingly win the governorship. Hillary Clinton, a major, easy re-election victory in the Senate race, and Republicans who are left hanging - basically the House candidates are running scared. So there is certainly going to be no top of the ticket support for Republicans who are running there. Just today, Mayor Bloomberg of New York said he would not endorse either - anybody - either Democrat or Republican, in the governor's race. And again, that just shows the weakness of the Republican Party in New York state this year.

ELIZABETH: Well I thought it was interesting, moveon.org has been running ads against this guy Kohl for his votes for Halliburton, which he's claiming are…

CONAN: Whoops. Somebody sabotaged your phone call there, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH: No, I was just wondering. moveon.com has gotten involved with running ads against Kohl, so I was interested to see that they were paying attention to a little race like this.

RUDIN: There's no such thin as a little race when the Democrats only need 15 seats to recapture the control of the House. So every seat is important, and certainly the old Houghton seat in upstate New York is one of them.

ELIZABETH: Great. We can only hope. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Elizabeth. And one other item before we let you go. The New Jersey Senate race, this is Bob Menendez, appointed to fill out the remainder of Jon Corzine's term; and the son of the 9/11 commissioner and former governor of the state of New Jersey, Tom Kean.

RUDIN: Well, there's a new poll that came out today from Fairleigh Dickinson University that has Tom Kean, Jr., up about four points, 43-39 over Menendez, an appointed Senator. They say that if the war were not a factor, Kean would win overwhelmingly. Menendez is a former Congressman from Hudson County, the ethically challenged Hudson County. And so ethics that - Kean is trying to use the issue of ethics, but Menendez is trying to paint Kean as a Bush clone, even though he's pro-choice and pro-stem-cell research and things like that. So if it's national referendum, Kean could be in big trouble. And as you well know because I read this week's column, the last Democratic Senator to lose in New Jersey was William Smathers in 1942.

CONAN: William Smathers.


CONAN: All right. Ken Rudin lost just yesterday and then again today, but then he woke up both days. Ken Rudin, thanks very much for being with us.

RUDIN: I think I lost more people listening to that last fact than I could've possibly. Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Ken Rudin with us every Wednesday on our Political Junkie segment. I'm Neal Conan, this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song I Want To Grow Up and Be a Politician by The Byrds)

Roger McGuinn: (Singing) …to be a politician and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.

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