Political Junkie: A Look Ahead to Nov. 6 Elections In this week's edition of the Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, discusses the upcoming elections on Nov. 6. He'll talk about the candidates who are running and the issues that are getting voters charged up.
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Political Junkie: A Look Ahead to Nov. 6 Elections

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NEAL CONAN, host:

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

Of course it's Wednesday, and time for another edition now of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of past political speeches)

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.

Gov. HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Vermont): Byaah.

CONAN: Over the weekend, Barack Obama promised the gloves would come off against his democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Last night in Philly, they did. Most of the talk these days is about next year's election, but yes, there are some big contests happening this year too, nest Tuesday, in fact.

We also have a new poll out this hour on the candidates, of course, but also on issues that voters say are most important to them. That's what we want to hear from you - our own very unscientific poll. Tell us, what are the issues that would sway your vote in 2008? 800-989-8255, 800-989-8255. Also, drop us an e-mail, talk@npr.org. And you can send us your comments on our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. He's NPR's political editor and our own political junkie every Wednesday afternoon.

And Ken, I understand you have a trivia question for us?

KEN RUDIN: I do. First of all, Happy Halloween.

CONAN: Happy Halloween.

RUDIN: And also, news that Robert Goulet died.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Oh, yes.

RUDIN: That's right. Okay.

CONAN: Go ahead.

RUDIN: Bad joke. When was the last time a city won both the World Series and hosted a convention where the nominee was elected within a year of each other? What I mean by that is, Boston hosted the World Series in 2004. They won the World Series 2004. They also hosted the Democratic Convention in 2004. But John Kerry did not win.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

RUDIN: So, when was the last time a city won the World Series and hosted a convention, democratic or Republican, where the nominee was elected within a year of each other?

CONAN: So, it could have been - you won the disputatively, the World Series in 2004 and hosted the…

RUDIN: Correct.

CONAN: Correct, the - next August or less than a year away.

RUDIN: Right. As long as it is within a year, right.

CONAN: Okay, all right. Well, that's the trivia question, we'll see how fast people can Google that one. 800-989-8255 or e-mail us, a better way, talk@npr.org. But, Ken, why don't we start off talking about the debate in Philadelphia last night. A noticeable change in tone?

RUDIN: They - absolutely. They promised fireworks, or at least Barack Obama promised fireworks, and fireworks did come. Hillary Clinton clearly on the -you know, she's the nominal frontrunner, 65 days - as of last night, 65 days to go before the Iowa Caucuses. Democrats know - the democratic challengers know that if they were going to make some kind of headway in this fight for the democratic nomination, they to go after her, and going after her is what they did.

CONAN: And last night, Barack Obama criticized, again, her vote in 2002, which authorized military action in Iraq.

(Soundbite of political debate)

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): She voted for a war, to authorize sending troops into Iraq, and then later said this was a war for diplomacy. I don't think that - and that may be politically savvy, but I don't think that it offers the clear contrast that we need.

CONAN: Barack Obama. And not just he was after the putative frontrunner.

RUDIN: No accident. A matter of fact, I think even a more effective criticism of Hillary Clinton was - well, actually, two people. John Edwards, who's running third in many polls. Obviously, it's one-two-three in Iowa among the three of them. Also, Tim Russert, who is not on the stage as a candidate, but also was very tough on Hillary Clinton. And it wasn't so much about her vote on Iraq, but it was also a recent vote where she joined 75 other senators…

CONAN: Senators.

RUDIN: …to vote to label the Revolutionary Guard in Iran a terrorist organization. Whilst it got 76 votes in the Senate, all the democratic senators who were running for president either opposed it or voted against it, saying that it could lead the Bush administration to use the same pretext to war as they allegedly did in 2002, 2003 in Iraq.

CONAN: And as you've pointed out, Barack Obama was not there for the vote.

RUDIN: He was not there, but he still criticized Hillary for the vote.

CONAN: And then, last night, there was a question from the moderator, from Tim Russert, to Senator Clinton that actually tried to pin her down about what the governor of her state, New York, is doing on the question of people who are in the country without proper documentation - illegal aliens, a lot of people call them. He wants to issue them a form of driver's license. Senator Clinton was asked about it and came out not exactly right on the button with a yes or no answer. And this is how John Edwards took after her afterwards.

(Soundbite of political debate)

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes, just a few minutes ago. And I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them.

CONAN: And that issue of trustability, that's something that John Edwards can work on.

RUDIN: Absolutely. And I think those are the two main criticisms of Hillary Clinton yesterday, both the trustability, the honesty, the candor. I mean, we've seen several debates where she, you know, she's the very effective that she has complete command of the facts, but she doesn't always answer the question. That was true about Eliot Spitzer's - about the driver's license. It was true about Charlie Rangel's new tax plan. It was true about opening up the National Archives for any correspondence between herself and her husband when Bill Clinton was president.

There's also the question of electability. Chris Dodd, the senator from Connecticut, raised that. He said, look, it's a fact of life. I'm not proud of this. But the fact is some polls show that 50 percent of folks will not vote for Hillary Clinton under any circumstances.

And Democrats - it's not only the candidates who are on the stage, a lot of Democrats have told me over and over again that while they would love to vote for Hillary Clinton, the fact that they're nervous about whether she could sustain - stand up to the attacks to come from the White House and the Republicans.

CONAN: Hmm. The vast right-wing conspiracy.

RUDIN: That's right.

CONAN: In the meantime, she got endorsement from the vast left-wing conspiracy, AFSCME, the public service union and a very large union, endorsed her. This is going to be important especially in Iowa.

RUDIN: It is. Although, we did see a lot of unions endorsed Howard Dean in 2004 and that was…

CONAN: Including AFSCME.

RUDIN: Including AFSCME. And that didn't do for AFSCME. And it didn't do so well. But the point is it was very interesting to get that kind of good news day after a withering attack in Philadelphia.

CONAN: That's the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. I had to memorize that one time.

RUDIN: Okay.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Rob(ph). Rob's with us from Detroit.

BOB(ph) (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Bob, go ahead, I'm sorry.

BOB: Yeah. The answer is '84. Detroit won the World Series and Ronald Reagan was nominated.

RUDIN: No, because Ronald Reagan was nominated in 1980 in Detroit, in '84…

BOB: Ooh.

RUDIN: It wasn't in '84. 1980 is when Reagan was nominated and, of course, the Tigers won on '84. So that's four years apart. So the answer is not Detroit.

BOB: Okay.

CONAN: Hmm. Thanks very much.

BOB: Yup.

CONAN: Joining us now is Ken - is Andy Kohut. The Pew Research Center put out a new poll this afternoon with both the latest numbers on the candidates and also issues that voters say they care the most about. Andy Kohut, of course, is director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and joins us from - today, from our bureau in New York.

Andy, good to have you on the program again.

Mr. ANDY KOHUT (Director, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And the frontrunners in this poll are still Clinton and Giuliani. Giuliani on the Republican side. But there's been a lot of fluidity on the Republican side as well and Fred Thompson seems to be slipping.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah. There's no clear second choice candidate. Giuliani's at 31, McCain's at 18, Thompson is at 17. Thompson has fallen from a few months ago. McCain has fallen over the longer term. And it's also pretty loose. The ones - one thing that's news in this poll is that Huckabee has doubled his level of support. He's up to eight percent. And he gets even more support among conservatives. And the real problem for McCain is he's not well regarded by many conservatives. And the race is, in fact, much closer among conservatives generally and almost dead even among white evangelical Protestants.

CONAN: On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton - well, with regards to results from last night, remained to come in, but nevertheless, in this poll, obviously taken before that, she continues to widen her lead.

Mr. KOHUT: She has a 21-point lead over Barack Obama, 43, 45 to 24. And that's a much broader lead than she had back in March when it was only 11 points. Obama has - the numbers have gone down and her numbers have gone up and Edwards stayed pretty flat on a national basis.

CONAN: And I was interested in some of the issues that you were polling about and which ones are most important to most Americans and how that's changed over the past four years.

Mr. KOHUT: Well, in so many ways, this poll shows that the terrain and the trends are favorable to the Democrats. And you certainly see that in what are voter concerns. They are the issues that the Democrats poll better on - there's more confidence in the Democratic Party - the economy, health care, Iraq, education. A great - also, a great increase in concern about energy. On the other hand, terrorism has fallen. It's still an important concern but it's fallen from 77 percent four years ago to 69 percent now.

And across the board, we see fewer people saying that the social issues are of concern. Abortion, 47 to 39 percent in the current poll. Gay marriage, 32 to 22 percent. So the issues that have animated the Republican Party and provided cohesiveness, Republicans are - they themselves are saying they're less important to them, as well as independence, of course. But also, the issue of terrorism being lower and the domestic agenda being higher, and Iraq continuing to be the dominant issue.

CONAN: I was interested, the issue of abortion in 2004, October 2004, it says N.A., not applicable. You didn't ask about it four years ago?

Mr. KOHUT: We asked about it in October 2004. You're reading immigration there.

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. KOHUT: Immigration, we did not ask about. No.

CONAN: Yeah. And now it's 56 people…

Mr. KOHUT: Fifty-six percent.

CONAN: …say, you know, it's obviously something the Republicans really hope to cash in on this time around.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah, they hope to cash in on it, but it didn't work for them in 2006. And it tends to be an issue that has a national registration but it really is more spotty in how it's effective. It's most effective in areas that are overwhelmed by immigrants and also in other areas where there aren't any but there's really a lot of nationalist concern about the culture changing and that sort of thing.

CONAN: We're on with Andy Kohut and, of course, our political junkie Ken Rudin, who's with us every Wednesday. If you'd like to read his column, called the Political Junkie, you can go to our Web site, that's at npr.org.

He also joins us every Wednesday here on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get a caller on the line. This is Craig(ph). Craig with us from Chicago.

CRAIG (Caller): I'm just calling to say that the environment is my number one issue. It just seems - and I'd like to see a candidate who would put the environment on people standing with the economy. I don't see how you can - you're in this going forward, we're going to be able to take the environmental problem without the economy taking a little bit of a hit because it all boils down to consumption, the amount of things we use. I don't think there's a way to fix it without just using less.

CONAN: Andy Kohut, where does the environment stack up in terms of issues?

Mr. KOHUT: Higher than it stacks up four years ago. Fifty-eight percent say the environment is a very big concern of theirs and making a choice this year. But it doesn't measure up with the economy. It doesn't measure up with health care. It doesn't measure up to some of these other issues. But in so many ways, what we've seen is the intensity of concerns about the environment increased. So it could be one of those issues that really galvanizes support among some constituencies of candidates or supporters for some of these candidates.

CONAN: And like values issues have been seen as Republican issues, the environment has been seen as a democratic issue, is that right?

Mr. KOHUT: Democrat - there's more confidence in Democrats. For people who are concerned about the environment, the Democrats, yes.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Thanks very much for the call, Craig.

CRAIG: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another in. This is Mike(ph). Mike's with us from Albany in New York.

MIKE (Caller): Yeah. I'm interested in health care and specifically about HIV/AIDS, both here at home and around the world. You know, with effective treatment and prevention options we've got a chance to really get a handle on the epidemic. And I'm looking for a candidate who will put out a specific platform to get treatment to people all over the world and here at home, common sense prevention like needle exchange and comprehensive sex ed. Someone who's going to take some political courage to step forward on. But the details really matter on HIV/AIDS. And I think with the million of people living with the disease in the country right now, there's a lot of voters and a lot of families, friends, loved ones that care about where the candidates stand.

CONAN: Andy Kohut, health care is certainly way up there on everybody's list. IS there any way to break out that HIV/AIDS question?

Mr. KOHUT: Not from this poll. But I will say that in the global surveys that we do, HIV/AIDS is such a dominant issue in many developing countries, particularly in Africa. It just doesn't have - it's not that it's unimportant issue in the United States and other Western countries, but it just doesn't have the same broad resonance that it has in places such as Africa and even parts of eastern Europe where it's a more common problem.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mike, appreciate it.

MIKE: Thanks.

CONAN: This from Molly(ph) on e-mail, telling us that what an important issue -she thinks health care is the most important. I'm not satisfied with the position of universal care. Insurance must be portable from job to job and not deny coverage for those who have had or continued to have a health issue. I'm a brain tumor survivor so this issue hits close to home.

Anyway, Andy Kohut, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome, Neal.

CONAN: Andy Kohut is the director of the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. New poll out today the candidates and the issues that matter to voters. He was with us from our bureau in New York.

Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. We have Ken Rudin, our political junkie. This is Jim(ph). Jim with us from Cleveland, Ohio.

JIM (Caller): Hi. I was going to guess New York in '96 for the Political Junkie's trivia question.

RUDIN: No, because - let's see, what happened in 1996.

CONAN: The Yankees won the World Series.

RUDIN: The Yankees won the World Series and Bill Clinton was nominated in Chicago.

JIM: Oh, okay. I thought maybe New York. Hey, could you - I just have a quick question for the political junkie about Mike Gravel's million-dollar offer yesterday.

RUDIN: Sure.

JIM: First, did he actually speak in a coffeehouse in Philadelphia? And second, was that offer even legal and I'll hang up. Thank you.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Well, I don't know how anybody accepts money for that. I think MSNBC or NBC News' criteria is that that they just felt he was not a serious candidate, did not have a serious presence in campaign events in Iowa and New Hampshire. But I thought, actually, it was interesting without him. I was actually thinking of going as Mike Gravel tonight on trick or treating, but - see if anybody recognizes me. But I think it seemed to be more substantial than most without him.

CONAN: Let's get Michael(ph) on the line. Michael with us from Portland, Oregon.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: And your answer for the trivia question is?

MICHAEL: My answer for the trivia question is the Los Angeles Dodgers won in Chicago in 1959. John Kennedy won the presidential nomination in Los Angeles in 1960.

CONAN: We've got to get balloons dropping. We've got to get whistles blowing.

RUDIN: Well, actually, Los Angeles won in '59 and it was Los Angeles that nominated John F. Kennedy. So it was the Dodgers in the '59, nominated Kennedy in '60. That is correct.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Michael. Congratulations.

MICHAEL: Oh, thank you.

CONAN: And we just have a few seconds, Ken. But there are elections next Tuesday, a couple of gubernatorial seats up.

RUDIN: That's the biggest one to see who the governor will be. Obviously, the Republicans won in Louisiana with Bobby Jindal last week. Democrats are likely to pick up the governorship - I'm really messed up tonight - with Steve Beshear, former lieutenant governor against Ernie Fletcher.

CONAN: He's going to finally win one.

RUDIN: He's run before. He was the Senate nominee against Mitch McConnell in '96. He ran for governor in the past. But Ernie Fletcher has been under attack for the moment he was elected as the first Republican governor of Kentucky in nearly 40 years. But it looks like the Democrats will pick that up.

CONAN: And one other governor's race?

RUDIN: Haley Barber likely to win reelection in Mississippi. He got good strong marks up for his response to Katrina.

CONAN: And we're going to have all of this on an expanded edition of the Political Junkie next Wednesday. We're going to be longer every Wednesday between now and election day. So you'll get the results of next Tuesday's elections and we'll talk about other political issues as we run up to next year's political - next year's presidential election.

Ken Rudin, thanks so much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin, here with us in Studio 3A.

I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.

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