LYNN NEARY, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
Democrats and Republicans are fighting for control of Congress. U.S. troops pull back from checkpoints in Baghdad, giving in to demands from the Iraqi prime minister. And the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential election may return former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega to power.
NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr is with us to talk about these stories.
Hello, Dan. So good to be with you.
DANIEL SCHORR: Hi, Lynn.
NEARY: Well, President Bush this week, Dan, is traveling around the country, campaigning for Republican candidates. He's been concentrating his efforts on red states, where Republicans usually are expected to win. Why is the president spending so much time in friendly territory?
SCHORR: Well, because he's not quite so sure anymore that they are going to win. Some of the latest polls to come in, like Andy Kohut, indicates for House seats that the Democrats now can claim to get maybe as many as 20, six to eight percent being undecided. The change of strategy that's going on among the Republicans, I think it's simply because they're not sure that sure states are sure anymore, like Nebraska or Montana, for example.
NEARY: So what are you expecting? Are the Democrats going to take over the House? Will they win?
SCHORR: Well, the chances seem very good, depending on all the polls, that they have a quite good chance of taking over the House, and not such a good chance - but still a little chance - of even taking over the Senate. You know, what we're looking at right now is what they sometimes call the possibility of a re-alignment. For 12 years it's been pretty well all Republican. And now the time has come when it may be moving back into the Democratic column, thanks to the various things that have happened in this administration, starting with Iraq.
NEARY: Now, Senator John Kerry found himself in some hot water this week for remarks that he made at a campaign stop in California. Senator Kerry warned college students that if they didn't study hard, they might end up serving in Iraq. Later, he apologized. He said it was a botched joke. It's not what he meant to say. But will those words have lasting affect on this congressional race, do you think, or on his career?
SCHORR: Oh, I don't think it will have much affect on the congressional race, but on his career, if any, I think yes. He came out sounding as though - and there was a great deal of confusion from beginning to end as to just what he said and just what exactly he meant to say in speaking to Pasadena College out in California - might have been trying to tell them that if they want to get good jobs and not have to be reduced to going into the Army, they should study hard. It was supposed to be a speech about learning and studying. It didn't work very well. It sounded as though he's making a very nasty dig at President Bush. And as to whether Senator Kerry will run again, I don't know if he planned to, but I must say this set back his chances some.
NEARY: Let's turn now to Iraq. Military checkpoints around the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City were dismantled this week, on orders from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He ordered the U.S. military to take them down. What does that mean when Prime Minister Maliki is continuing to distance himself from the U.S.? And what does it mean that the U.S. military complied with his demands?
SCHORR: It means that Prime Minister Maliki has constituents just like an American has constituents. He has to play to Iraqis. He has to keep them onboard. And one way of keeping them onboard is to be able to say they're not being pushed around all the time by the U.S. Army. They're reaching probably another little difficult moment because pretty soon now it appears that former President Saddam Hussein is about to be delivered his first, his first verdict in all the trials that are going on there. I assume that you'll be hearing from Saddam supporters when that happens. So I think that Maliki really has to straighten himself out. He has troubles ahead.
NEARY: And Dan, Nicaragua is in the news again, for the first time in quite a while. Presidential elections on Sunday. Former President Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader and the great foe of Washington during the 1980s, is making a strong showing, expected possibly to win this election.
NEARY: What do you make of all this?
SCHORR: What I make of all this is that after they finished with the Iran-contra affair, some 20 years ago, they thought perhaps if they could raise the living standards of Nicaraguans, they wouldn't go in for communists or the neo-communists. Apparently that hasn't quite happened. And so Daniel Ortega is making some kind of a comeback. Except, I can assure you, that this time it will not be an Iran-contra affair.
(Soundbite of laughter)
NEARY: Okay. And moving to another part of the world now, North Korea. Apparently they're going to return to six-party talks about its nuclear program. The Chinese government made that announcement this week...
NEARY: ...after some maneuvering in Beijing between American and North Korean officials.
NEARY: Now, North Korea had agreed to talks before, before pulling out in protest of U.S. policies. So is there anything that indicates that if this round of talks goes forward, that more progress is going to be made at this point?
SCHORR: Well, clearly what North Korea is looking for is getting prestige, raising a sense of being recognized by the United States. They want to talk to the U.S., the great superpower on that side. And U.S. doesn't want to. And so they have to figure out ways in which you do and you don't. In this case, they got together, Chris Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary, got together with the Chinese and the North Koreans and they agreed to go back to a six-party talk. But now the North Koreans can say, yeah, but we got them to do that. And so games are being played while nuclear arms are being built.
NEARY: But still significant, isn't it, that an agreement was reached to have these six-party talks.
SCHORR: Well, it's better to have them than not to have them. But I simply wouldn't count on a great deal happening as a result of them.
NEARY: Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.
Good talking with you again, Dan.
SCHORR: My pleasure, Lynn.
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