Preview: Closing in on the Midterm Elections After the attack ads and name calling, what can American voters expect before next week's election? Political analyst Jennifer Duffy and NPR's Ken Rudin discuss the war of words, and whether 2006 will be the year Democrats retake the House.
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Preview: Closing in on the Midterm Elections

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Preview: Closing in on the Midterm Elections

Preview: Closing in on the Midterm Elections

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

It's Wednesday and the Wednesday before Election Day, so time for another edition of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

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.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Presidential Candidate): Yeah!

CONAN: The day of reckoning is less than a week away. Will 2006 be the year the Democrats retake the House? Is the Senate really in play too, or will the Republican ground game be able to turn things around for the GOP in the last few days?

In the final Junkie before Election Day, a look at the freshest poll numbers for the House, Senate, and gubernatorial races around the country. And its 2004 all over again - a war of words erupts between President Bush and that Senator from Massachusetts. Plus, a very physical kerfuffle at George Allen rally could outshine that macaca incident. Well, maybe not.

Call us with your questions for the Political Junkie about hot races and hot issues around the country. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. And the e-mail address is

And with us, as always, is Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and our very own Political Junkie.

Ken, nice to have you.

KEN RUDIN: Did you say election's next week?

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: Oh, God. I had no idea.

CONAN: You're not even ready for this.

All right. Six days to go. Traditionally in the run-up to election, things that were a little lose; races tend to tighten up. Is that what's happening, as far as you can see?

RUDIN: It's certainly happening in the Senate, because we're talking about New Jersey, which the Democrats were very confident of keeping. Republicans seem to have picked up a little momentum with Thomas Kean running against Bob Menendez. In Maryland, Michael Steele, perhaps, maybe, has picked up a little support. He's African-American Republican running against Ben Cardin for the Paul Sarbanes Senate seat. Bob Ehrlich, the Republican governor of Maryland, now a new poll show a dead even. A new poll in Tom DeLay's old district, Texas 22, now shows the Republican write-in candidate - she's not even on the ballot -running just about even.

So there is some sign of perhaps Republicans doing better in some races, which they should have been doing better all along. But ultimately, I still think it's going to be not a pleasant night for the GOP.

CONAN: On the other hand, in Virginia, the latest polls in the Senate race there show Jim Webb, the Democrat, former Navy secretary, actually ahead - or at least within the margin of error - but ahead of the incumbent, George Allen.

RUDIN: Right, by a couple of points. And again, this race in Virginia's always not a - it's never been about what Jim Webb has to say or what he stands for. It's always have been about George Allen and his missteps - and they continue. And the fact is, a lot of Republicans are very nervous about that seat.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Now, does the tone of campaigns - I mean, as muddy as it's been in a lot of places, in particular in Virginia, - does it get even muddier in the last week when you figure the other guy can't really respond to what you're doing?

RUDIN: Well, plus the fact that a lot of these candidates and campaigns have tons of money stored up for this rainy day. But suddenly, with five, six days to go, you really - you just have to spend it all. There's no, you know, there's no - it makes no sense to keep millions of dollars in your war chest, especially if you're about to go down to defeat. So there are no holds barred.

And obviously, you know, what's very effective about negative campaigns is not so much it changes people's minds, but it suppresses turnout. And in many cases, that's exactly what the candidates want to do.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And another issue that comes up in the end of campaigns, is you look where the national committees - the Democratic Senatorial Committee, the Democratic Congressional Committee, and their Republican counterparts - where they are sending money, at the last minute, in hopes of either salvaging a race that they thought should have been safe, or making inroads where they thought they'd been down.

RUDIN: Right. That seems to be the big news in a lot of the political coverage over the last couple of days. Races where the Republicans should have been competitive, or at least should have won, you see a sign that the Republican Party is pulling out and they're focusing their - either trying to shore up their vulnerable incumbents, or just giving up on some incumbents altogether.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And then there are - it's the Democrats this time around who've been trying to nationalize this campaign, to say this is really about Iraq. And that's been the major issue that's been trouble for the president and trouble for the Republican Party, until - at least in Republican eyes - John Kerry made some comments the other day.

RUDIN: What John Kerry said is obviously a momentary blip, and it's great news for the Republican Party. Who knew that the October surprise or the November surprise would be not coming from Karl Rove, but from John Kerry himself? This is a great distraction. The Republican Party loves it. They would love to re-fight the 2004 presidential race, and we know how that turned out.

And the last thing the Democrats want to do is have this distraction. Because until now, this has been a referendum on the war in Iraq and President Bush's leadership.

CONAN: Let's get some callers on the line, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us

We'll begin with Matt. Matt with us from Colchester in Vermont.

MATT (Caller): How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MATT: Great. I think this issue with Kerry is simple. What Bush likes to do, and what he's done since day one is - if you oppose him, you are anti-American. You are anti-patriotic. Anything you say that is against the war means that you must be against - you must hate America. That's what they like to say.

This Kerry situation is getting, like you said, it's handed to them but they're twisting it into something that it's not. Because if you read the two transcripts, it was an error in something he said. Obviously the perception is going to be different. But it's a desperate move because they're, you know, they're getting creamed in the polls. And they're probably going to lose the House so they're grasping at straws at this point.

CONAN: Well, even John McCain - who's a friend of John Kerry's and worked with him very hard on a lot of issues in the United States Senate - even he said that he thought John Kerry ought to apologize. We're seeing a lot of Democratic candidates, including Harold Ford in Tennessee, Ken Rudin, saying...

RUDIN: Well, see that's the stuff...

CONAN: ...John Kerry ought to apologize.

RUDIN: It's not just President Bush trying to distort what John Kerry had to say. I mean, John Kerry himself said he botched this joke. Dick Cheney, the vice president, is having a great time with this. He said that John Kerry was for the joke before he was against the joke. And Democratic candidates, Neal, like you just said, are really attacking John Kerry. Harold Ford called and said that Kerry was wrong. Jon Tester, the Democratic Senate candidate in Montana, said his remarks were just plain stupid. Bob Casey, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, cancelled the John Kerry appearance today. Kerry is coming back to Washington, doesn't want to be a distraction.

I mean, you could blame or credit the Republican White House for the attacks on Kerry, but clearly the Democratic Party is not comfortable with this latest thing.

CONAN: Hmm. Matt, thanks very much.

MATT: Thanks.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get - this is Robert. Robert on the line with us from Rochester, New York.

ROBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Robert. Go ahead, please.

ROBERT: Thank you. As a registered Democrat, I wanted to express my disillusionment with the Democratic Party. Even if, as expected, they take the Congress - control over the Congress, the House, at least if not the Senate, as they expect to be doing, that is taking control of the House - because they're not addressing the overriding question that people are going to be voting on; that is the war in Iraq.

CONAN: Oh, the Democrats, Ken Rudin, certainly do not have a unified policy.

ROBERT: I'd like to explain what I mean by that. They constantly - all politicians, constantly say that they should be held accountable or responsible for their behavior. But the only way to hold the Bush administration accountable is to impeach the president - which they can do if they have control of the House.

CONAN: And the Senate. There's two Houses.

ROBERT: One is they have the Senate, as well, then they have the opportunity to convict him. But merely saying that they're going to change the course means very little. Because although it takes a majority to pass a bill - which the Democrats would be able to do; having control of the House and Senate - the president can veto it. And to override a veto, you have to have two-thirds of the vote.

And I want to give you another example of...

CONAN: Well, Robert, we want to give some other people a chance to get in on the program. But I wanted to give Ken Rudin a chance to respond to your question. Is impeachment of the president a live issue for the Democrats?

RUDIN: No. No. Well, obviously, Nancy Pelosi - who is expected to be the speaker of the House, should the Democrats win control - has said no, it's off the table. That doesn't mean the investigations and the commit - the hearings into the decision to go to war with Iraq is off the table. That will obviously happened.

But, you know, it's one thing - first of all, you're not going to even have a united Democratic party. You have a lot of conservative pro-life, pro-gun Democrats who may win in a bunch of seats - in Indiana, perhaps North Carolina - and it would be very interesting to see how the Democratic Party gets along.

We've seen, the last couple of years, Republican fights over things like Iraq and Social Security and immigration overhaul. The Republican Party has not gotten its act together.

CONAN: And budgets as well.

RUDIN: And budgets, certainly. But regarding the first point - yes, there is no uniform Democratic position on the war in Iraq but there is no - there is no Democratic leader. It's one thing when you have a presidential race and you have a Democratic nominee and he or she will have the position, but you have 400 - you know, you have 200 plus Democratic members of the house and 45 plus Democratic members of the Senate and they all have their own view about how to resolve this issue. What works in San Francisco doesn't necessarily work in, you know, Alabama.

CONAN: Or as you see, particularly in the Tennessee Senate race, which is very close, that Harold Ford, Jr. is not on the liberal side of the Democratic Party.

RUDIN: Well, people forget that actually he challenged Nancy Pelosi as leader a few years back because he had thought she was too liberal. But, you know, he quotes Ronald Reagan, he quotes the Ten Commandments. He talks about faith, he's talked about illegal immigration. It's, you know - and obviously Republicans try to paint him as a liberal but he's pretty close to a moderate Republican in many places.

CONAN: Let's get on with Marty. Marty's with us from St. Paul in Minnesota.

MARTY (Caller): Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

MARTY: Hey, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARTY: I've been watching pretty closely the race for the open seat in Minnesota's Sixth District. There's - it's the race the Democrat is Patty Wetterling and her opponent is Republican Michele Bachmann. And in the campaign it's - I find it interesting that Bachmann, she's painting herself pretty much as just a pro-war, fiscal conservative - but she's known more here as a born-again social conservative. She's anti-public education, anti-abortion, anti-gay. And I find it curious that she's not professing those views in her own support or why her opponent, Wetterling, is not castigating her for her views.

CONAN: Well, don't candidates tend to emphasize the issues they think will be most popular with the voters, do you think, Marty?

MARTY: Well yeah, but why - I guess I'm curious as to why then her...

CONAN: Opponent hasn't tried to stick it to her? What do you think Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: Well actually, that's a fascinating race because this is a Republican district - a socially conservative district. This is the one that Mark Kennedy's giving up to run for the Senate, and as you say, Michele Bachmann, the Republican, is a social conservative - evangelical conservative - very strong with the religious right. But having said that, once the Mark Foley scandal broke - remember, the Democrat in this race, Patty Wetterling - her son - her 11-year-old son was kidnapped 16 years ago or something, and never found, and she almost had an issue. And I thought that the race was a turn on the Mark Foley thing given the fact that Wetterling - given the fact that the Republican, Michele Bachmann, is a very strong social conservative embarrassed by Mark Foley. So I actually - what I've been reading about the race is those issues are actually in play. But maybe everybody knows who Bachmann and Wetterling are and they don't feel that they have to just sell themselves with a few days to go before the election.

CONAN: Marty, thanks for the call.

MARTY: Thank you.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. With less than a week to go before the midterm elections, today we've super-sized our regular visit with the Political Junkie. With us, as always, is Ken Rudin, NPR's Political Editor. You can read his latest column and download the It's All Politics Podcast at our Web site, and check out to find out which key races could swing control of the House and who's likely to win next week. Again, that's at

And joining us now is Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report. She's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A to talk about Senate and gubernatorial races. Nice to have you back on the program, Jennifer.

Ms.�JENNIFER DUFFY (Analyst, Cook Political Report): Thank you. Nice to be here.

CONAN: And what are you seeing dramatic changes in as we are now six days out.

Ms.�DUFFY: Six days out. It's interesting that I am seeing a lot of volatility in governor's races. There are a lot or races that are becoming more competitive instead of less competitive. The Senate picture has not changed substantially. You know, Republicans still have those seven seats that they're worried about. Democrats have one more seat to worry about than they did two weeks ago, and that's in Maryland.

CONAN: In Maryland it's gotten that close?

Ms.�DUFFY: It has gotten very interesting indeed, yes.

CONAN: Maryland is a state with two to one Democratic registration advantage.

Ms.�DUFFY: That's right, but you have - you know, you have a Republican in Michael Steele, Lieutenant Governor, an African-American who is working very hard to appeal to Democratic voters and is obviously meeting with some success.

CONAN: Mm hmm. And again, in the governors' races, can you pick out a trend?

Ms.�DUFFY: I started to notice, three to four weeks ago, that the poor climate nationally for Republicans - that it's been impacting, you know, senators and members of Congress - has started to impact governors and Republican gubernatorial candidates. Races I thought were over, like in Alaska, are now again very competitive. Idaho is suddenly a two-point race.

CONAN: Idaho?

Ms.�DUFFY: Idaho.

CONAN: All right, if you say so. Ken, is that what you're seeing as well?

RUDIN: It is absolutely. And in other races like the Minnesota governor's race - Tim Pawlenty is the Republican governor - Minnesota - who basically has done an okay job. There's nothing wrong except the fact that the climate is so hostile to Republicans that if he goes down there will be no other reason except for the fact that he has an R after his last name.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Shannon. Shannon with us, from St. Paul in Minnesota. Go ahead, please.

SHANNON (Caller): Hi. I was actually just wanting to ask about any sort of trend toward any third or fourth-party candidates anywhere. Because the more that I listen to the political doublespeak, the more it sounds like all I'm hearing are Republicrats and Democricans. I don't believe - I'm starting to not see a difference anywhere. I'm from Minnesota and you were just talking about our gubernatorial race here. And Peter Hutchinson - I like what the man has to say. And I'm one of those people who unfortunately might be an insincere voter because I don't want to see Pawlenty back in the office because of my personal politics.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Well, one Independent who we think is doing pretty well, Ken Rudin, is Mr.�Lieberman in Connecticut, but I'm not sure if that's who Shannon is talking about.

RUDIN: No, of course. Joe Lieberman is an Independent only because he lost a Democratic primary. And if he gets reelected on Tuesday, which we think he will, he says he will caucus and remain with the Democratic Party. One kind of Independent is Bernie Sanders, who's running for the Senate in Vermont. He is the only true Independent of the House, the only non-Democrat, non-Republican. And he's likely to go from the only Independent in the House to the only Independent in the Senate. I should say, though, that regarding Peter Hutchinson and other third-party candidates. Kevin Zeese, running for the Senate in Maryland, has been endorsed by the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, and the Populist Party - which has never happened before.

My Political Junkie - is it time for my shameless plug?

CONAN: Shameless plug? What should be different this time?

RUDIN: Political Junkie this week - is all about third-party and independent candidates.

CONAN: Jennifer, what do you say?

Ms.�DUFFY: You know, it's interesting. I am seeing some third parties do better than they might otherwise. Still not close to winning, but there's a third-party candidate in the Illinois gubernatorial race who no one has ever heard of who is now pulling at 14, 15 percent because voters cannot stand their choices.

CONAN: Shannon, are you going to hold your nose and vote for somebody there in that election? I think Shannon's left us, anyway. Thanks very much for the call.

And let's go now to - this will be Jessica. Jessica, elsewhere in Minnesota. This in Northfield, Minnesota.

JESSICA (Caller): Hi.


JESSICA: Yes. I - for full disclosure, I'm a candidate for state Senate here in southeastern Minnesota. And I'm wondering what your guests think - whether your guest thinks that there's going to be any trickle-down effect to the state House races. In, you know, what we're seeing as viability of Democratic candidates in races that were not previously thought to be competitive, whether we're going to see any major shifts in the state Houses. And if we do, what effect that will have on the national climate.

CONAN: Jennifer, what do you think?

Ms.�DUFFY: Well, there is going to be some shifts in control of state legislatures that was going to happen probably, regardless of the climate. There are a number of state legislatures that are very close. But when you talk about a trickle-down effect what you're really talking about is who turns out to vote. I mean, if you're talking about a Republican base that is feeling a little bit demoralized, they're not going to vote in the kind of numbers that they voted in in the past. That obviously hurts candidates - Republican candidates - all the way down the ballot.

CONAN: And of course, state legislatures are going to be exceptionally important because we've now found out, as in Texas, if you're going to redraw district lines, you don't have to wait until the next census to do it - do you Ken?

RUDIN: Well, I think that's a one-of-a-kind thing. Obviously, that's what Tom Delay designed redistricting plan that - usually it's once every decade and the Republicans try to do it twice a decade and made major gains for it. But my sense is that other states are not going to try to duplicate that.

CONAN: Jessica, good luck.

JESSICA: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

JESSICA: Thanks for the...

CONAN: She was thanking us for the show before I rudely cut us off. (Unintelligible) button. she should do that. Yeah, right here at NPR. Any case, if you've got questions about specific races around the country, give us a call. 800-989-8255. E-mail is

Turnout for midterm election usually hovers around 39 percent, which makes out woefully low, but Michael McDonald says not to worry. He wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on Sunday debunking some of the myths, as he calls them, about decline in voter turnout. He's been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you on the program.

Mr.�MICHAEL MCDONALD (Washington Post): Great to be here.

CONAN: You say there are fewer Americans bothering to vote is a myth.

Mr.�MCDONALD: That's correct. Or at least the declining number of voters is a myth.

CONAN: And how so?

Mr.�MCDONALD: Well, it gets into some statistics which people probably will get cross-eyed at, but the way which we've been calculating turnout rates is with this - as a percentage of the voting-age population and it includes people who are ineligible to vote. And when you take the people who are ineligible to vote - the non-citizens - some of them are illegal but a lot of them are here legally - and the felons...

CONAN: In many states.

Mr.�MCDONALD: In many states, not all states. There are two states that allow felons to vote from prison, which would be an interesting campaign. But in any case...

CONAN: A lot of the candidates wouldn't have to go far.

Mr.�MCDONALD: That's right. Door-to-door would become a whole new meaning...

CONAN: Just down the cellblock.

Mr.�MCDONALD: So, in any case - so when you remove those people, we haven't seen a decline out in presidential or in congressional elections since 1972.

CONAN: Mm hmm. There is also a great emphasis that people put on this idea that the Republicans, in particular, have this sophisticated ground game that in the last 72 hours will get out the vote and drive people to the polls.

Mr.�MCDONALD: Absolutely. And so what you need to do that, you need some people on the ground, some volunteers to go out and do the door-to-door knocking. And what we see by all indications when you look at surveys, Democrats are much more energized than the Republicans are this year. So just as a sheer operational standpoint for the Republicans to get the bodies out to do the sort of thing they did in Ohio, say, in 2004, they're already at a disadvantage. And this is not to say that the Democrats, on the other hand, aren't fired up. And they're going to have at least a comparable ground operation to the Republicans this time around.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Let's get a caller on the line. This is Carla(ph). Carla's with us from Tallahassee in Florida.

CARLA: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air, Carla. Go ahead please.

CARLA: Hi, I'd like to know if there's been any trends in effectiveness of dirty campaigning - whether voters are catching on to it or not.

CONAN: Mm hmm. Michael McDonald, this is another one of the issues you addressed.

Mr.�MCDONALD: Another myth, and I hate to disagree with Ken, who's very knowledgeable about this, but if we - we actually have some turnout statistics. Half a million people have already voted in Tennessee, and if we project that forward to see how, you know, look at past elections and see comparable percentages of early votes in Tennessee - we're going to have a turnout rate that's almost 50 percent in Tennessee in this election. And that's pretty high for a midterm election. It's going to be, you know, about ten percentage points higher than the national rate. And so it tells you the closeness of the election. There are other things that are going on besides the negative campaigning that are going to pull people to the polls.

CONAN: Ken, you want to defend yourself on that?

RUDIN: I agree with everything he just said. I do.

CONAN: All right. Carla, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

CARLA: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And this is Evie(ph). Edie's with us from Copenhagen in Denmark.

EVIE (Caller): Yes, hi.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead please.

EDIE: It's funny that you take my call right now because that was exactly what I was going to ask you. Being an overseas voter I get a lot of information about when it's time to register, don't forget to mail your ballot - a lot of information which I never got when I was in the States. And I was just going to ask about voter education and how that could affect the whole political scene?

CONAN: Mm hmm. What do you think, Michael?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, let me give a plug for an organization that I'm on the board of directors of, which is the Overseas Vote Foundation, and we do registration and absentee balloting for overseas voters. So I hope that other overseas citizens who are listening in might go and get their registration.

Cause you have to do it way in advance. You've got to get your registration in, you've got to get your absentee application in and have it go back and forth overseas. It's very difficult for overseas voters. Not just the citizens like the caller, but also our military stationed in Iraq.

And the question about information - well, there are a number of Web sites that are out there. And your best information at this point, you can get by visiting those campaign Web sites and looking at the candidates, looking what they have to say to you, and a lot of people are doing that.

In fact, when we have competitive elections - where we see more voter information, where people actually know what the positions of the candidates are - is when the campaigns are out there spreading that information. Some of it may be negative but a lot of its truthful too. And so people kind of are able to look through all the noise and see what is really true.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Evie, and good luck voting.

EVIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye, bye. And one final myth that you address, Michael McDonald, is the idea that easy registration - motor voter - will increase turnout.

Mr. MCDONALD: That's correct. And what we really didn't see was increases in turnout. We saw increases in the number of people registered to vote. But registering to vote is just one step of the process. You also have to be interested in voting.

Where we really see increases in Regis - turnouts I should say - is in states that have Election Day registrations. So places like Minnesota we've been talking about, Wisconsin and others that allow people to register when they go to the polls on Election Day. And there we see healthy six to seven percentage point increases of turnout in those states versus other states.

And it has something to do with intention then. Because if you're in the DMV line and you've got a form to fill out to register to vote, do you fill it out? You know, maybe not cause you're not even sure if you're going to still be living in the same place in six months or so. So maybe you just throw it in the trashcan and maybe it's just not really important to you.

But when it really becomes important to you, when it gets close to the election, that's when the registration, that's when those sorts of barriers of registration are going to drive down turnout. That's why Election Day registration has this beneficial effect.

CONAN: And how does that compare to the state like Oregon where all of the voting is early voting?

Mr. MCDONALD: Oregon's an interesting case, too. So they - for the listeners, they have all mail-in voting in Oregon. They don't even have polling places. You can drop your ballot at the election offices but that's about it. So what happens there?

Well, in presidential election years, people vote, people turnout, they're interested. And they're going to vote in Oregon, regardless of this kind of structured mail-in balloting. But where we see turnout gains in Oregon, are in these midterm elections and in the local elections. And so in fact, it's been a way in which local jurisdictions have been able to increase turnout for important bond issues - have been to do all mail-in balloting in the past.

RUDIN: Michael, what do you make of the fact that surveys show that more and more African-Americans and others feel that their vote won't count either. When they show up at the polls, they won't register; the numbers are wrong; the registration process is screwed up. They feel that, why bother, cause it's not going to count ultimately.

Mr. MCDONALD: It's very discouraging from my perspective because I'd really like to see people participating. And I would encourage those people to go out and vote, because on the most part, your vote will be counted. There are some isolated instances out there, of poor Election Day management. And I'm sure we're going to find more about that after this election too. But those are the exceptions to the rule.

The norm is that most places get it right. Most places, there are people who are honestly working hard and volunteering a lot of their time to make sure that your vote is counted. And so, for those people, please go out and vote.

CONAN: Michael McDonald, thank you very much for joining us today.

Mr. MCDONALD: Thank you.

CONAN: Michael McDonald, a visiting fellow that the Brookings Institution who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about voter turnout.

You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an e-mail question. John from Oswego, New York. Could you discuss Kinky Friedman's changes in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race. I think he's not only a great candidate but full of humor and optimism, which is greatly missing in other races. There's an Independent for you...

Ms. DUFFY: There are two Independents - two viable Independents in that race. It's interesting that I think that if Kinky Friedman's probably gotten more attention outside of the Texas for his race, than inside. And his candidacy has sort of come to a screeching halt thanks to a millionaire trial lawyer who gave the Democrat in this race - Chris Bell - $2.5 million to, one: improve his own standing here. But two: to sort of aim at Kinky Friedman. And he's done it.

In the last poll I saw, Friedman's now running fourth, Chris Bell has moved up to second place. So unfortunately I can't give him a lot of hope that there will Kinky Friedman as the governor of Texas.

CONAN: Go ahead.

RUDIN: Kinky Friedman calls his vote the middle finger vote.

Ms. DUFFY: Well, his slogan is also, why the hell not?

CONAN: Let's get Ashley on the line. Ashley's with us from St. Joseph in Missouri.

ASHLEY (Caller): Hi.


ASHLEY: Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ASHLEY: I was wondering, Missouri's got the stem-cell referendum coming and that has been weighing heavily on the McCaskill/Talent race.

CONAN: The Senate race there. Talent, the incumbent Republican - Claire McCaskill the challenger.

ASHLEY: Right. And I was wondering if you guys felt that the stem-cell initiative helped or hindered the McCaskill race?

CONAN: What do you think, Jennifer Duffy?

Ms. DUFFY: Well, it's interesting. When this got put on the ballot, Democrats were very, very enthusiastic. They believed it would turn out voters in suburban St. Louis, suburban Kansas City, and it's a very well funded campaign. What has happened is that there is an anti-stem cell campaign that's more grassroots oriented. It's in the churches and in other places.

You know, this is the closest Senate race in the country. I mean they are fighting over 2 to 4 percent of the vote here. I think only in the final analysis when we look at turnout numbers, we're going to see who it helped or hurt. But, one: I don't think it is the boon for Democrats that they hoped it would be because it had in fact energized the Republican base. And, two: nobody ever could prove to me that a vote for stem cell was actually, it would be guaranteed a vote against a Republican.


CONAN: Thanks, Ashley.

ASHLEY: Thank you.

CONAN: And one last question before we go to the break. This, an e-mail from Eric in Tucson, Arizona. Any evidence from polling that issues from more than the past few months affect the races? That is, do people remember Katrina, the Abramoff scandal and how much money was spread through the Republican Party -or is it just issues of the moment that matter? And by that I assume he means Iraq, Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Well, I think there's truth to that. I think the Katrina, I think the Abramoff, I think the Mark Foley, all those things may affect a handful of races that they're generally affected altogether. In other words, if Mark Foley was close to a member of Congress or gave money to a member of Congress or if Jack Abramoff gave money to a member of Congress, I think those members could be in trouble. Conrad Burns of Montana, or maybe Deborah Price, the Congresswoman from Ohio who got money from Mark Foley.

But otherwise, the whole national culture of corruption theme I think really plays both ways. I think most voters feel that they all do it. Look at Bill Jefferson in Louisiana. He'll probably lose on November 7th or at least go into a runoff.

CONAN: When we come back from a short break, we're going to make Ken Rudin and Jennifer Duffy look into their crystal balls and make some predictions about next Tuesday's outcomes. And we'll introduce you to NPR's new ombudsman, Bill Marimow. If you have questions about what you hear on NPR, give us a call: 800-989-2855. E-mail:

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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

In a moment, we'll introduce you to NPR's new ombudsman, Bill Marimow. If you'd like to get in on that conversation, give us a call: 800-989-2855, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is

But first we're going to pin Ken Rudin and Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report to the wall. Elections on Tuesday, six days away. Ken Rudin, what happens in the House of Representatives?

RUDIN: Well, I keep changing my number on the House every day, but I still think the Democrats win control. They need 15 seats, a net of 15 to pick up. And right now I have it between 18 and 24. Some people have it much more and there could be a big Democratic wave. But right now I do have the Democrats winning control but just by the 18 to 24 seats.

CONAN: Jennifer Duffy, the United States Senate?

Ms. DUFFY: Control in the Senate is hanging by a thread. I'm at five to six seats for Democrats. They need six.

CONAN: They need six to get control. So right on the edge there. What do you think about the Senate, Ken?

RUDIN: Right now I have actually four seats. They need six. I have four Republican seats going down - Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana and Ohio. Obviously, as Jennifer said, we're all watching Missouri, we're watching Tennessee, we're watching Virginia. Two of those three will decide the next majority in the Senate.

CONAN: And on the other side, still, New Jersey, of course - and you're saying now, Maryland maybe.

Ms. DUFFY: Right. But in an environment like this where there is this Democratic wave building, you can easily see a scenario where Democrats could hold on to every one of their own seats.

CONAN: In the gubernatorial races, Jennifer?

Ms. DUFFY: Democrats pick up six to eight.

CONAN: What do you think, Ken?

RUDIN: I have eight and most of them will be in open seats where the incumbent is not running like Ohio, and New York, and Massachusetts, and Colorado.

CONAN: Jennifer Duffy, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate it. We'll have you back to validate these numbers after Election Day. Jennifer Duffy, an analyst with the Cook Political Report, with us here in Studio 3A. Ken Rudin, we're going to be hearing endlessly over the next week. I'm sorry about that. He's our political editor here at NPR News...

RUDIN: You should also know that NPR election night coverage from 8:00 p.m. till 5:00 a.m. on NPR, National Public Radio.

CONAN: Ken Rudin - go away, Ken.

RUDIN: Bye, bye.

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