LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen. This past week President Bush kicked off a series of speeches on Iraq and the war on terrorism. His first appearance came before a friendly audience at the Annual National American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. With off year congressional elections just two months away, and with Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate at risk, Mr. Bush aimed his rhetoric at boosting the GOP faithful with a call to patriotism.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Earlier this year the Senate voted on a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration. We came within a single vote of passing it. The administration looks forward to continuing to working with the American Legion to make sure we get this important protection in the Constitution of the United States of America.
HANSEN: The president has considerable work to do to help congressional Republicans. Support for the war in Iraq has dwindled with daily reports from Baghdad of rising death tolls. Even the Pentagon late in the week released a report that said the situation in Iraq was on the verge of civil war. There was also discouraging economic news for Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans. While there's been economic growth to report, financial gains are unevenly stacked toward the executive class, while upper and middle managers, along with laborers, are sharing a smaller and smaller slice of the economic pie.
To get some perspective from around the country, we're joined by three colleagues. First Mike Jacobs, the editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He returns to the show. Hi, Mike.
Mr. MIKE JACOBS (Editor/Publisher, Grand Forks Herald): Hello.
HANSEN: Joining us for the first time is Joni Balter, an editorial page columnist for The Seattle Times in Seattle, Washington. Welcome to the show, Joni.
Ms. JONI BALTER (Columnist, The Seattle Times): Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
HANSEN: And Pat Yack returns to the show as well. Pat is editor of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Hi Pat.
Mr. PAT YACK (Editor, The Florida Times-Union): Hi, Liane.
HANSEN: Pat, let's start with you. In Salt Lake City when the president called the war in Iraq the centerpiece of a greater ideological battle around the world, that speech followed similar remarks earlier in the week from other members of the Bush cabinet. Are people in Florida seeing it the way the president presents it?
Mr. YACK: You know, you might want to think so, because of course it's a southern state, the president carried the state twice. But in fact, the latest polls that I saw come out on Florida show that the president's disapproval ratings are higher than his approval ratings on his job performance, how he's handling the economy, and on Iraq.
HANSEN: So they don't see it as a great ideological battle?
Mr. YACK: I don't know that they see it that way at all. I think they see it as a mess.
HANSEN: Mike Jacobs, is that the reaction of people in North Dakota?
Mr. JACOBS: I think that by and large people here in the upper Midwest really wanted this to work. There was a sense almost of a noble mission at first, and North Dakota has sent an awful lot of people from it's National Guard. But now I think the mood has changed dramatically, and there's a real misgiving, I think, about where we are in Iraq at this point.
HANSEN: Joni Balter, gauge the reaction in Seattle.
Ms. BALTER: This is a blue state primarily, not always, but primarily, and there was really tepid support from the very beginning for the war in Iraq and right now the public reaction is very, very skeptical and very, very, very unhappy with the Bush administration.
HANSEN: Joni how do Seattle area residents feel about the economy then? I mean unemployment is down. The average hourly rate is up only slightly. The income rates aren't keeping up with inflation.
Ms. BALTER: We have some of the highest housing prices in the country. There's, you know, these bidding wars when a house comes up. And that's great for the seller but for the buyer, the first time home buyer or the regular worker, there's this feeling that you just can't - you can't keep pace. You can't keep afloat here.
HANSEN: Pat Yack, what are you hearing from Floridians about the economy and it's impact on the family budgets there?
Mr. YACK: Florida has had a pretty good economy. There's been a slowdown, of course, in the housing market, especially in the southern parts of the state, where so much of the housing market is driven by speculators buying homes and condominiums to flip.
The real economic challenge for a lot of Floridians right now are insurance rates. Every time that there's a storm that approaches the state, as it did this past week, there's this collective belief that this is going to slow the economy even further in the state. Taxes are going up on property, and property taxes and insurance rates are two of the big issues in our current gubernatorial race here.
HANSEN: Mike Jacobs in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a drought, a severe drought is the big news in the...
Mr. JACOBS: Well, you know, it's good news and bad news in North Dakota. The bad news is the drought, which has been devastating, even historic in some parts of the state; the good news is that all the rest of you are continuing to use energy and North Dakota's the fifth leading energy producing state in the country. So we're seeing a boom in one part of the economy. The drought is troubling, but overall the state's in better shape than it's been probably in 40, 50 years.
HANSEN: Joni Balter, Washington State has a Senate race. Democrat Maria Cantwell is running for reelection. What are the factors in that contest?
Ms. BALTER: This is one of the top maybe five or six Senate races in the country. You have an incumbent Democrat first term who's facing a really stiff challenge from in some ways a political newcomer, Mike McGavick. He was the CEO of Safeco, an insurance company here. But Mike McGavick is a really competent Republican who had worked previously for Senator Slade Gorton, the person that Maria Cantwell defeated in the year 2000. So he knows politics, he knows business, he's a very polished candidate.
At the moment he's licking his wounds from this attempt that he did to sort of head off criticism about some things in his past, 1993 DUI in Maryland that he trotted out, you know, in the whole world of everybody says they're sorry for something just so they can control the sorry? And the papers came out with a little more detail on the DUI, which made it look like he really was kind of brushing it up and making it look as nice as it possible could. So that's one of the issues in that.
The big issues here have much to do with the war in Iraq. Maria Cantwell, she is a Democrat, she voted for the war resolution and she sort of had this tough time slowly saying, you know, when should soldiers come home? When should we get out of there? And she's really struggled with that. Some of the criticism of her is coming from the left, because she's been slow to say that we should establish a timetable. And this being a Democratic area here, especially in Seattle, she's taking it from the left as well.
HANSEN: Pat Yack, one of the most closely watched Senate races is in your state, Florida. Not so much in anticipation of the outcome but because a famous face from the 2000 presidential election is running for the Republican nomination. Katherine Harris. She's got some problems though, right?
Mr. YACK: Problems would a generous way to describe the situation that she faces here. Early on I think the National Republican Party thought it could capture Florida. The junior senator here is Mel Martinez, who won fairly comfortably and has done well to earn the respect of a lot of Floridians. Bill Nelson, who is a one-term senator, had been in Congress, had been an astronaut going into space, thought that he was vulnerable.
But Nelson has such a commanding lead in this race that it would shock people if the Republican candidate were to rate 45%. In fact, it may be worse than that. I'm not aware of any of the major newspapers in the state that's endorsed Harris, including our own, which has a conservative editorial page. And I fully suspect that Senator Nelson is going to win quite easily here.
The other race in the state that people are watching a great deal is that Jeb Bush, who is a very popular governor in the state, is not able to run again because of term. Charlie Crist, who's the attorney general in the state - very popular - is probably going to win the Republican nomination. The Democratic nomination is still up in the air, and our primary is this coming Tuesday.
HANSEN: Pat Yack is editor of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville. Joni Balter is an editorial page columnist for The Seattle Times. Mike Jacobs is the editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.
Thanks to all of you.
Mr. YACK: Thank you, Liane.
Mr. BALTER: Thank you.
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