Political Junkie: Midterm Primaries Come into Focus With the votes counted, polls closed, and many speeches given around the country, NPR's Ken Rudin, aka the Political Junkie, offers his analysis of primary elections.
NPR logo

Political Junkie: Midterm Primaries Come into Focus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6111077/6111078" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Political Junkie: Midterm Primaries Come into Focus

Political Junkie: Midterm Primaries Come into Focus

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/6111077/6111078" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Results are in from yesterday's primaries in Massachusetts and Washington State, which means we now know which candidates will be going head-to-head in the mid term elections everywhere but Louisiana and Hawaii. Hawaii holds its primary this weekend and we'll get to that a little bit later. This hour, we look ahead to November with an extra generous helping of our weekly segment, The Political Junkie.

The 2006 mid terms give the Democrats the best chance to win back the House since the Republicans took control in ‘94. Democratic strategists are counting on an unpopular war and an anti-incumbent wave to bring them the 15 seats they need to form a majority. They need a total of six seats to win the Senate, but that looks like a tougher slog. Republicans, for their part, have good reason to feel better about their prospects of late.

One recent opinion poll put the president's approval rating at 44 percent, about 10 points higher than it was earlier this summer. But with more than a month till Election Day, a great deal could still change.

Later in the program, we'll hear a substantial excerpt from an extraordinary speech at the United Nations today by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who denounced the president of the United States as a dictator, a hypocrite, and as the devil.

But first, a look ahead to November. If you have questions about races for the House, the Senate, or state Houses, about the candidates and the issues - give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And joining us now in Studio 3A is Ken Rudin, NPR'S political editor, author of the Political Junkie column you could read on npr.org, and co-host to the weekly Podcast called It's All Politics.

Let's talk briefly about yesterday's primaries. Given the results in Massachusetts, it's going to be history made this November, either way.

KEN RUDIN: Well, there's certainly if Deval Patrick, the Democratic nominee wins the governorship. He's African-American. Only one black candidate has been elected governor this century, and that's Douglas Wilder of Virginia in 1989. Patrick, of course, was a - was the assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration - for Civil Rights. And, you know, first of all - I mean it's fascinating they were talking about an exciting race in Massachusetts, given the fact that all 10 members of the House are Democrats, both Senators are Democrats and will be there for life. But they have not won the governorship since Michael Dukakis left in 1990. And the fact is that the Republicans do have a shot of keeping the governorship. So it's going to be an interesting race.

CONAN: And that would be the first woman governor in Massachusetts to be elected on her own.

RUDIN: Right. Her name is Kerry Healey. And maybe if the Republicans are smart, they'd focus on her first name rather than her last name.

CONAN: And Washington State, any surprises there?

RUDIN: No. I mean, the big race there is the Senate race. And Maria Cantwell, who was elected six years ago by like 2200 votes over Slade Gorton, she's considered vulnerable by some Republicans but she has a ton of money and she's still never trailed in any of their polls. But it's one of the seats that Democrats should worry about, or at least watch, in November.

CONAN: And at this point, as we look ahead now to November, the Democrats need 15 seats to win this House. To one, I guess, the calculation has to begin with how many seats are actually in play?

RUDIN: Well, we've put together a list - NPR put together a list of the top 50 House seats, and 40 of them are currently controlled by the Republicans. So if it's an overwhelmingly Democratic year, since they only need 15 out of it, maybe they can recapture the House that they lost in ‘94. But again, with President Bush's numbers up, with the latest Gallup/USA Today poll that showed among likely voters, it's 48/48 of what party they want to see retain control of Congress.

And that's pretty interesting, given the fact that you'd think that the Democrats are more anxious to come out - they're angry about what's going on, they have a more reason to come out. If it's 48/48 with 50 - with 48 days to go - coincidently, before the election - the task for the Democrats maybe bigger than we thought.

CONAN: And let's - for advice on the Senate, let's turn to Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report. She's also with us here in Studio 3A.

Nice of you to come in today.

Ms. JENNIFER DUFFY (Analyst, Cook Political Report): Thank you.

CONAN: And is that analysis, do you think, correct - that six seats are going to be hard for the Democrats to find?

Ms. DUFFY: I think six seats are harder than certainly the four or five we think that they will pick up today. It's not impossible. If there is a Democratic wave out there, you certainly could see that sixth come into play. I mean, the one thing we know about Senate races is that on election night, one party tends to win the lion's share of them.

CONAN: Hmm. So it goes in waves, as you think. Would you agree with Ken, that -do the president's ratings track to election results for the parties?

Ms. DUFFY: It is entirely possible. You are seeing a lot of Republican incumbents, and certainly challengers, distancing themselves from the president. Some of them don't even talk about their party identification in ads. So if voters see particular candidates as independent, that might do them some good.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You mentioned that some of the candidates aren't even mentioning their political affiliation. We have a clip of tape. This is an excerpt - this is not an excerpt - this is, in fact, an ad that's being run by Maryland's Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, who is the - well, you wouldn't know it to hear the ad - but he's the Republican nominee for the United States Senate.

(Soundbite of a political ad)

Lieutenant Governor MICHAEL STEELE (Republican, Maryland): Hey, it's me again Michael Steele. Soon your TV will be jammed with negative ads from the Washington crowd - grainy pictures and spooky music saying Steele hates puppies, and worse. For the record, I love puppies.

CONAN: An ad that's getting a lot of buzz. But apparently, even on his Web site, he neglects to mention that he used to be the chairman of the Republican Party in the state of Maryland.

Ms. DUFFY: That's right. First, you know, Steele has to get some credit for running some of the better ads I have seen this cycle; and I've watched hundreds. You know, Maryland is a very, very blue state. Until they elected a Republican governor in 2002, there hadn't been a Republican elected since 1980. You know, the other thing that separates Steele is he's an African-American. So, you know, it's almost a disconnect for some voters, to see an African-American Republican. It doesn't serve Steele that well to highlight his party identification, so he doesn't.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Ken Rudin, earlier in a somewhat mysterious meeting that he had with reporters - that was first off the record and then later got put on the record - he even said, you know, the Republican was the Scarlet Letter, R was the Scarlet Letter.

RUDIN: Well, Jennifer is exactly right. I mean, before Bob Ehrlich, Spiro Agnew was last Republican governor, and that's certainly a legacy the GOP would love to not be reminded of in Maryland. But given the fact that you haven't elected a Republican senator since 1980, given the fact that it's at least two to one Democratic over Republican, why talk about the Republican credentials? But that's not unusual. I mean, for years, you know, Democratic candidates in Idaho would not talk about the fact that they were Democrat; the fact that they're independent of their party. And that's exactly what candidates, like Michael Steele, has to do to if they're going to win.

CONAN: Mm. And the same thing can be seen in other elections too. Last time you were on talking about the race in New Jersey for U.S. Senate.

RUDIN: That's exactly right, I mean, again, as another blue state where Democrats do very well. But Tom Keane, not only has fact that he's Tom Keane Jr. - the son of a very popular former governor - but the fact is that he reaches out to independent voters. And that's going to be the key if you're going to win in New Jersey.

CONAN: And with those races - are those races considered to be in play - do you think, Jennifer?

Ms. DUFFY: Oh, absolutely. You know, these are two places where Democrats are vulnerable to losses. I think right now, New Jersey is their most vulnerable seat, which is hard to believe - that New Jersey is just not behaving like the blue state it is right now.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Again, we're looking ahead to November's election. If you'd like to ask about specific races for the House, for the Senate, for state Houses, give us a call 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org, and we'll begin with Ken, a popular name on the program. Ken's calling from Canton, Michigan.

KEN (Caller): Hi there. I live in the suburbs of Detroit and there's a lot of talk about the governor's race and a lot of talk about the senator's race -with Senator Stabenow and Michael Bouchard and with Jennifer Granholm and Dick DeVos. But there's very, very little talk about the individual congressional races in the 11th District, which is where I live, and the other districts around the state where I see the possibility of a Democratic turnover for the first time in years - but maybe I'm overstating it. I wanted to know what your guest thinks about the possibilities.

CONAN: Well, for the House seats, let's go to Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Well, there's actually nothing I've been watching in Michigan that looks like it's turning over - is the 11th Thaddeus McCotter?

KEN: Yes, it is.

RUDIN:Well, you know, he's - I mean, he's not entrenched, as many members of the Congress are. I think he was first elected two years ago. Democrats have always said that that would be - they would like to have that on their wish list, but I don't - I haven't seen any numbers there or any mistakes by McCotter that makes him think that he's vulnerable.

KEN: Have you seen any numbers at all, sir?

RUDIN: I have not seen them, no.

KEN: Okay, I would like to see some numbers because, you know, I'm throughout -I go throughout the district. I'm a salesman, actually, and I've seen very little signage on McCotter's behalf. I've seen very little signage on behalf of Tony Trupiano, who's the challenger, and you know, nobody knows where it's going.

CONAN: Well, it's still a few weeks before Election Day.

RUDIN: I think that's the problem with many House races, that unless they're specifically targeted by one party or the other, many of these incumbents will just breeze to reelection. That's why there's so much focus on the governor's race, which is thought to be very, very close - less so with the Senate race.

CONAN: And I was going to say, Jennifer Duffy, Governor Granholm seems to be in trouble.

Ms. DUFFY: I think that she is probably the most vulnerable Democratic governor up today. I mean, she is weighed down by a terrible economy. The state ranks third in the nation in unemployment. It ranks 48th in job creation. It seems that every other week, another auto company announces layoffs or closing of plants. This has all weighed her down and, you know, she has not been very aggressive about putting forth a plan, now that it's campaign season…

KEN: Not to disagree with you but I think she has put forth many plans and there's been a lot of distortions on the behalf of the DeVos camp.

CONAN: All right.

Ms. DUFFY: But Dick DeVos is self-funding his race. He used to be the president of Alticor, which is better known as Amway, and has poured millions of his own money into this race - and today it is tied.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the call.

KEN: Okay, thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: And also on the Senate side, Debbie Stabenow?

Ms. DUFFY: Debbie Stabenow, she - you know, she is - she certainly is ahead today, but this is one of those races I watch. One, because of the bad political environment in the state, the bad economic environment - and Mike Bouchard is proving to be a very good challenger. He is the sheriff of Oakland County and is running an aggressive campaign.

CONAN: Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report also with us, our political junkie, Ken Rudin. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. You can zap us an email question as well: talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. More of your calls after a break. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. With the primary season all but over - we'll be talking about Hawaii in a few minutes' time - the attention turns to the battle over control of the House and the Senate, and of course, races for state houses as well. Today Ken Rudin joins us for a double dose of Political Junkie, looking ahead to the midterms in November. Ken Rudin is with us, of course, NPR's political editor. Also with us here in Studio 3A, Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report. Of course you're welcome to join us.

If you have questions about the upcoming elections, the candidates, the issues - give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's go to Frank. Frank's with us from Gilroy, California.

FRANK (Caller): Yes, I was wondering which House and Senate races may be affected by the Jack Abramoff scandal?

CONAN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Well the first one - of course in the Senate you have the case in Montana with Conrad Burns, who's received more money from Jack Abramoff than any member of Congress, and he's running neck and neck with Jon Tester, who's in the bid, I guess, for a third term - first elected in 1988. But, you know, he's a very folksy campaigner and he may pull it off - but that's obviously a race to watch.

Now California's a good example, because you have two Republican members of Congress - John Doolittle and Richard Pombo - who have some ethical ties to - ties I should say - I don't know if they're ethical - to Jack Abramoff. And Democrats are pretty confident that they'll make a race of it. But again, it would be tough - they're both Republican districts. The Democratic candidates are not as well funded as they'd like to be.

As a matter of fact, Jerry McNerney - McNerney - who's running against Pombo, was not the choice of the party originally, so he has to come - he's coming from further behind than most Democrats. So, you know, they'd like to run against Abramoff but - in addition to the war and the economy - and I guess the two members of the house from California - Doolittle and Pombo - are probably the most vulnerable.

CONAN: And of course, Rob Ney in Ohio is no longer vulnerable because he's not going to be running.

RUDIN: Neither is Tom Delay, exactly.

CONAN: Exactly. Frank, thanks very much for the call.

FRANK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's get to Brad. Brad calling us from Little Rock, Arkansas.

BRAD (Caller): Yes, I have a question - and see what your thoughts were on the gubernatorial race in Arkansas, because it's fairly interesting - it's the first open-seated race we've had in Arkansas in about 30 years with no incumbent. And the Republican is Asa Hutchinson, who went to Washington to run the DEA and then served as the undersecretary for Department of Homeland Security. And then we've got an in-state good old boy, Mike Bebe, who is the current attorney general - and so it's an interesting battle between those two parties. And also, neither of them (unintelligible) Democrats or Republican, it just seems to come down to, you know, who has the closest (unintelligible) who knows Arkansas better. And it seems a really close play in the south because both are fairly conservative, and just wanted to know what your thoughts were.

CONAN: Jennifer, what do you think?

Ms. DUFFY: You know, Arkansas is probably the least Republican of all the southern states. This is a good race. There has been a Republican governor there now for ten years. Mike Bebe, who is the attorney general, has been running this race for seemingly years. He got a big head start over Asa Hutchinson, and Hutchinson is just now raising the kind of money he needs to be very competitive. I have to put a thumb on the scale for Democrats in this one, though.

RUDIN: One thing to add, though. People who are well remembering in Arkansas, that Asa Hutchinson was one of the lead House prosecutors during the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, and a lot of people remember that pretty well in Arkansas.

CONAN: Both a positive and a negative, so - Brad, thanks very much.

BRAD: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's get to - this will be Joseph. Joseph with us from Cloquet in Minnesota. Am I pronouncing that right?

JOSEPH (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JOSEPH: Yeah, I'm curious about the Senate race in Minnesota because there's an open seat with Mark Dayton not running again. What is your feeling on who is going to win - Amy Klobuchar or Kennedy?

CONAN: Jennifer?

Ms. DUFFY: This is the most competitive open seat - or one of the most competitive open seats - out there right now. There's some polling out there that gives Klobuchar a very wide lead. I am not all that comfortable with that poll. However, I think she's ahead. She's run a very, very good campaign. You know, Mark Kennedy, who serves in Congress, has had tough races in the past. The fact that he does serve in Congress and is a Republican is weighing him down a little bit. He's finally gone on the attack and we'll see if this closes the race some, but right now, again, Klobuchar is running ahead.

RUDIN: I agree. I think the best think that could have happened to the Democrats was Mark Dayton not running for a second term. He was probably doomed to be defeated and that Klobuchar is a much more effective, better Democratic candidate.

CONAN: Thanks, Joseph.

JOSEPH: Thank you.

CONAN: Let me ask you - how reliable are polls this far out from Election Day in an off-year election?

Ms. DUFFY: You know, unfortunately, in this cycle, I have seen more bad polling than ever, and even I am not comfortable relying on a lot of it this time. You know, there are groups out there using different methodologies that have yet to be scientifically proven, but putting them out there as fact. And so, you know, I won't trust most polls these days. I trust the partisan polls more because, you know, a candidate doesn't pay a pollster to get lied to.

RUDIN: Remember just a few days before the Connecticut Senate primary, some polls had Ned Lamont up over Joe Lieberman by 14 points and he won by only four, so it's - there's a lot of volatility in these numbers.

CONAN: Just out of curiosity, what are those polls - since those are the two big candidates in Connecticut staging a rerun - what do they say now?

RUDIN: Well, I could say with pretty much assurance that the Republicans will not win that seat. But the last polls I saw were that Lieberman still had a slight lead. But every day you see another union defecting from Lieberman, going towards Lamont. More and more Democrats are moving away from him. But again, you know, given the fact that he has a large percentage of the Republican vote - and if he maintains 35, you know, 35 percent of the Democratic vote - he could win another term.

CONAN: All right. Let's get Becca on the line. Becca's calling us from Reno, Nevada.

BECCA (Caller): Hello, thank you for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

BECCA: I just, you know, just noticing Nevada's had kind of a political awakening, if you can say that. And I was curious if you had seen any major changes coming from this state and how it will affect the nation?

CONAN: What do you think, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, not yet. And the reason I say not yet is because Nevada has suddenly become a player in the presidential primary system, in the fact that it is a caucus state for 2008. And early, as a matter of fact, it's right after Iowa. So you'll see more presidential candidates going there - not only in 2008 but in 2006 - both for Jack Carter, President Jimmy Carter's son who's running against John Ensign for the Senate seat and Jon Porter, who's a somewhat vulnerable Republican in the 3rd District there. But I don't think there's going to be any changes. I think Ensign certainly wins with little effort. I think Porter wins again. But you're going to see more political activity there because of the importance of Nevada in the presidential sweepstakes.

CONAN: Senate seat all but wrapped up, do you think?

Ms. DUFFY: Senate seat's wrapped up. The race to watch in Nevada is the governor's race. It's very close. You have Congressman Jim Gibbons as the Republican nominee. The Democrat is a woman named Dina Titus, who is the state senate president. This is going to be quite a race and I think Titus, who is from Las Vegas, is out to prove that Democrats can attract votes in the more rural parts of the state. The polls show Gibbons slightly ahead today but this race has only just begun.

RUDIN: Plus the fact that the outgoing governor, Kenny Guin, hates Jim Gibbons' guts, so the Republicans are not getting along and that could help the Democrats.

CONAN: All right Becca, thanks very much.

BECCA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a call from Alaska on the line. This is Tony. Tony's calling us from Anchorage.

TONY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi there.

TONY: Well, I have a comment. Gone unnoticed has been the race in Alaska. Congressman Don Young, although he has a lot of seniority - there's a newcomer named Diane Benson running on the Democratic ticket who is catching up pretty rapidly. The last poll that was done - unofficial poll - about a month ago, she was less than ten points behind him.


RUDIN: Wow. I mean, I haven't seen that. Don Young's been there since 1972, since Nick Begich died in the plane crash with Hal Boggs. We always think of that. But he seems entrenched. What's most interesting about Alaska, though, is the governor's race. When Frank Murkowski lost the primary there everybody said that the Democrats are going to take back the governorship with Tony Knolls, but the woman who beat Murkowski in the primary - Sarah Palin, I believe -looks like she's going to actually keep that seat for the Republicans, and that's a big surprise.

TONY: Well, the interesting - the parallel is that both Sarah Palin and Diane Benson are recognized as new faces, honest people, incorruptible, and that wave - it seems to be sweeping Alaska.

RUDIN: Nobody's ever said Don Young is a new face, you're absolutely right about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Tony, thanks very much.

TONY: You're welcome.

CONAN: Let's get some caller - another call from Nevada. Ray is with us from Lake Tahoe.

RAY (Caller): Hi. What is the best way to find out which organization or societies giving money to the candidates? Because in this year, I mean, the easiest way would be, to me, going after candidates that they have less the support of organizations - especially foreign influence, like APEC(ph) or others.

CONAN: Jennifer, I guess the first place to look would be what the parties themselves are doing.

Ms. DUFFY: That's right. You know, what the parties give to candidates, although they really make the difference giving in something called an independent expenditure, which is not coordinated with the campaign. I mean if you're interested to see what kind of organizations are giving to candidates, there is a Web site called OpenSecrets.com, which tends to break it down by industries and big donors.

And you know, if you are sort of a hardcore into this, you could always go to FEC.gov and look at the report. Every candidate must list every cent they take in and every cent they spend.

CONAN: Is it easy to figure out who has - I mean if you, you know, that this is the Club for Growth or MoveOn.org?

Ms. DUFFY: Sometimes that's easy. Open Secrets will help you with that a little bit more.

CONAN: And obviously, Ken, we have many candidates funding their own races and a lot of money from in-state as well.

RUDIN: That's absolutely right. And that's been a trend, especially the fact that you have a lot of people trying to run away from the party label -Republicans running away from the party label. We just saw an ad the other day for Mike McGavick who's running in Washington State. He's not looking at party money so much as he's trying to get - like John McCain came in. They're looking less at the party structure and more of the independent vote, and people like McCain are going to try to do that for them as well.

CONAN: So in other words, Ray, it's not so easy.

RAY: All right. Thanks very much.

CONAN: Good luck to you. Let's go to Tom. Tom's with us from Tallahassee.

TOM (Caller): Hey, how you doing?

CONAN: All right.

TOM: Well, this is a nice controversial one that always gets people's attention…

RUDIN: Katherine Harris.

TOM: Katherine Harris, yes. Despised by Democrats - even Jeb Bush was worried that if she won the nomination she could help flesh out the Democrats in the next election. But she won even against Leroy Collins who was the son of one our previous, very popular governors. So it looks like amongst the Republicans, you have a majority of voters in this state, she's very popular and is looking like she may have a shot at it. She's very well funded, has a lot of her own money, and has tremendous name recognition - and all the Republicans in this state pretty much appreciate what she did almost as much as the Democrats hate what she did.

CONAN: Jennifer Duffy is shaking her head.

Ms. DUFFY: I don't think that Harris is going to get very far. I mean she has talked about spending some of her own money. She put a little bit in the beginning. Nobody's seen another dime. I mean at this point this race has really slipped to the bottom of my list.

Now having said that, Florida still has enough of a Republican vote that, you know, Bill Nelson, the incumbent in this race, isn't going to rack up an enormous win here. But not only am I fairly sure she's not going to win this race, I think that this race has become such a non-event that she will not hurt other Republicans on the ticket.

TOM: Well, you may be in for a surprise because she has such recognition and she won handily against someone who was extremely popular.

CONAN: All right, Tom. Thanks very much. We'll sit by and we may be surprised on Election Day.

We're talking, on our Political Junkie segment this week, with Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report. Of course, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor is here with us as well. You're listening to the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Drew on the line. Drew calling us from Wichita in Kansas.

DREW (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you.

CONAN: Sure.

DREW: One of the things that kind of struck me for several weeks now, is with so much talk about taking the House, taking the Senate, losing the House, losing the Senate - what do your experts think about the possibilities of candidate backlash or voter apathy because of the nationalization of things?

They say all politics is local. Is that a dog that could bite people this year?

CONAN: What do you think, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, Republicans certainly hope all politics is local. Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the NRCC - the Congressional Campaign Committee for the Republicans - say that these are individual races. It's not a national trend. These are one-by-one and that's what's going to determine who's going to win the control of the House.

But the Democrats, of course - given the fact that the war was unpopular, given the fact that President Bush is seemingly unpopular - although as we said earlier in the show, he's up to 44 percent in the latest poll. But, again, you know, the Bush numbers have held back the Republican Party. Democrats would love to run on a national basis. And that's really the key. If it's a local race and you entrust your - look, there are many Republican congressman who have won by 10, 12, 15, 20 points two years ago and now they find themselves in a tough race.

If they vote on the merits of the Democrat versus Republican, in many states, in may races, the Republicans should do okay. But if you're weighing that with a national mood - an anger about the economy, about the war, about President Bush - then the Democrats certainly would benefit.

DREW: Okay. I was very curious about that, and combining it with the almost seemingly endless necessities for fundraising, I just sometimes wonder if our local voter doesn't begin to wonder about the great visitors from the East sometimes.

CONAN: Drew, thanks very much.

DREW: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye, bye. Jennifer, nobody has called to ask about the Senate race in Missouri, where Democrat Claire McCaskill is in a statistical dead heat - the last time we looked - with Republican Senator Jim Talent.

Ms. DUFFY: You know, Missouri is an interesting state. While Republicans have made significant gains there in the last three elections, the races at the top of the ticket - governor, president, Senate - have all been decided by and large by four points or less.

Right now Talent/McCaskill are literally fighting over five percent of the vote - five percent of undecided voters. To me, Missouri's the bellwether in this cycle. If the Democratic wave is strong enough, then Jim Talent loses. I mean he does not come into this race with any ethical problems. You know, he's certainly - he does his job, he's got accomplishments to tout, he has enough money and he's running a good campaign.

So if an incumbent like that does lose, then it tells me that the wave is fairly strong.

CONAN: And one other question - we just have a few seconds before we have to let you go - and that is, certainly in the last presidential election we saw a lot of outside groups - the so-called 527s - play a big role in political advertising. Is that going to happen again this year?

Ms. DUFFY: There are 527s out there this year. They tend to be smaller. They tend to be mostly on the Democratic side. I mean the Republican organizations - Americans for Job Security, the Chamber of Commerce - you know, they're in there for Republicans. Both parties I think you're going to see expend a great deal of money in these states. But the big groups like Americans Come Together, which was a Democratic group, or you know, certainly Swift Boat Veterans for Truth just does not have much of a role in this election - that I've seen yet.

CONAN: Jennifer Duffy, analyst with the Cook Political Report, joined us here in Studio 3A. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time.

Ms. DUFFY: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, stay right there. When we come back we're going to be looking ahead to the primary in the state of Hawaii. Also when we come back we'll be listening to a substantial excerpt of a speech earlier today by Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez - who described the president of the United States, before the general assembly of the United Nations, as the Devil.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to the 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.

The White House says it's disappointed in the military coup that toppled Thailand's government. Press secretary Tony Snow says the administration wants to see democracy restored there swiftly. While Thailand's prime minister was the United Nations general assembly meetings, the nation's army commander seized power. He's now promising fresh elections in a year's time.

And NASA officials say the Space Shuttle Atlantis is safe to land tomorrow, despite small, mysterious pieces of space debris floating around the vehicle while it was docked at the International Space Station. NASA says a camera check shows that the spaceship has not suffered any heat shield or other critical damage.

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

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, we'll focus on American carmakers now in a fight for survival: Camry verses Explorer. Plus a retired federal judge accuses Congress and the White House of trying to strip the courts of their oversight authority, particularly in cases involving terrorism. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

In just a moment we'll be going to listen to a large part of today's speech at the United Nations by Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez. But let's finish up the primary season or at least one of the two remaining primaries. On Saturday, it's going to be in the state of Hawaii.

And, of course, Ken Rudin, our political junkie is still with us. Joining us now on the phone is Richard Borreca. He's the state bureau capital chief of the Honolulu Star Bulletin. And he's with us today by phone from the capital building in Honolulu. And nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. RICHARD BORRECA (State Bureau Chief, Honolulu Star Bulletin): Neal, it's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: Long-time senator, a Democrat, Daniel Akaka, faces what many regard as a stiff race from his competition, Congressman Ed Case. What do the polls show?

MR. BORRECA: The polls show that Akaka has about a 13 percent lead. But there's a lot of questions about the polls. And Hawaii's polls really haven't been that accurate in the last decade or so. People say that the state decides late. Some of the polls have a high undecided.

So it's - other people are saying that this is actually going to be a 50/50 horserace.

CONAN: Is that what you're hearing, Ken?

RUDIN: Yeah I am actually. The fact is that Daniel Akaka is 82 years old. I mean if you're talking about new leadership, you have Daniel Inouye, the other senator who's 84 years. Ed Kaye said, look, one of these days you're going to have to have new leadership. And he's brash and he's only been in Congress a few years, but the fact is he has a lot of money behind him. And if he can upset Akaka - not macaca, that's the Virginia race…

CONAN: That's Virginia. That's another race.

RUDIN: Right. But if he can beat Akaka, there's no Republican candidate worth mentioning in this race. Whoever wins Saturday's primary will be the next senator.

CONAN: Richard Borreca, is it time for a change? Is that basically the campaign slogan?

MR. BORRECA: It's a time for transition is what Case is saying. The actual age - Akaka and Inouye are both 82. The other congressman is Neil Abercrombie and he's 68. So it's obviously an aging Congressional delegation for Hawaii. And Case says that, listen, these people are not going to live forever, you should get someone who's younger in. So at least you have one younger person while you're still enjoying the seniority of Dan Inouye.

CONAN: Is race still a factor? Is race a factor - in the election? Senator Akaka traces his roots back…

MR. BORRECA: It's being used very subtly in this campaign, in that Akaka is stressing that Hawaii's delegation should be reflective of the state. Obviously, Dan Akaka is native Hawaiian and is saying that you really need someone who has a Hawaiian heart in the nation's capital.

CONAN: And what about those two Congressional races?

MR. BORRECA: The two Congressional races - one of them is almost over for all purposes. Neil Abercrombie has token opposition in both the Democratic primary and then the general election. On the other side, in the second Congressional district, this seat that's being vacated by Ed Case is rural Oahu, which is Honolulu and then all of the neighbor islands in this state.

And that district has attracted eight Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates. And that one is, no one is able to figure out what's happening in that. In fact, one of the neighbor island papers ran a poll this weekend that has 42 percent undecided.

CONAN: Hmm. So with all of this, Ken, it sounds like there's still a lot left to be decided in Hawaii.

RUDIN: There is. And one of the reasons I think Ed Case is running is that you also have a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, who is most likely going to win reelection. So if fate should intervene with two 82-year-old senators, you know that a Republican would be appointed. And I think that's one of the reasons why Ed Case made his play right at this time.

CONAN: And have there been debates, Richard Borreca?

Mr. BORRECA: There was only one debate. Case, early on, made that a part of his campaign, is why won't you debate me, Senator Akaka? Akaka relented and had one debate on state-wide public television. And frankly, Akaka did not do well in it. He relied heavily on his briefing books. He stumbled a couple of times, and he frankly looked old. It wasn't that he was out of place, but he didn't like he was at all comfortable. And Case calls that the turning point for his campaign, if he can win, which is still - you know, it's really difficult. Hawaii doesn't have any kind of a tradition of throwing out incumbents, and no incumbent Congressional member has ever lost a race in Hawaii.

CONAN: First time for everything, I guess. Richard Borreca, thanks very much.

RUDIN: And what Richard failed to mention is Akaka is the only palindrome in the U.S. Senate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I knew that - the next thing he was going to say. Richard Borreca, the state capital bureau chief for the Honolulu Star Bulletin, with us by phone from the capital building in Honolulu, and Ken Rudin - go back to your office. Ken Rudin is the political junkie here at NPR, and he joined us today here in Studio 3A. There's an interactive map that details state races at our Web site. You can get analysis and predictions on this fall's House, Senate, and gubernatorial contests at npr.org. And if you must, you can read the Political Junkie column.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.