NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Columbus. Big Bird bows out; a big bounce for the GOP; and Romney recalculates that 47 percent. It's Wednesday and time for a....
MITT ROMNEY: Completely wrong.
CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?
SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Today, we're both in the critical swing state of Ohio at the studios of member station WOSU in Columbus. After last week's debate, polls show Romney eroded, erased or even reversed the president's lead.
Tomorrow, veep Joe Biden tries to stop the bleeding as he squares off against Paul Ryan in Danville, Kentucky. Ann Romney co-hosts GMA, "Sesame Street" declines a spot on the front lines. In a few minutes, a snapshot of the Buckeye State a month out. Later in the program, we'll focus on the Senate race in Virginia, which features two former governors and which may decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.
But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in the studios at WOSU, and Ken: A, welcome back Ohio; and B, we begin, as usual, with a trivia question.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hello, Columbus, exactly. OK, so we're in Ohio, and the baseball playoffs are underway, right Neal? And tomorrow is the vice presidential debate. So here's a trivia question that combines them all. Let's see if this...
CONAN: Really? OK.
RUDIN: Let's see if this works the way every other one works. Which vice president was elected the same year a professional sports team from Ohio, be it baseball, football, basketball or hockey, last won a championship?
CONAN: So if you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, check yourself into Bellevue or give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. The question again, the last vice president elected on the same year that a Ohio professional sports team won a championship. So Ken, in the meantime, we both watched the debate last week.
I gave it to Romney by just a couple of points. The polls and the pundits argue it was a rout for the Republican candidate. What happened?
RUDIN: Well, that's what the polls show, and it's interesting how that takes off because, as you say, we were both in St. Louis last week, and we thought that Romney did better than Obama, but both made their points, and yet the polls certainly don't show that.
And what's most remarkable to me is how far those polls have come. Like the Pew poll, which had the president up by 51-43 in mid-September, the Pew poll now has it among likely voters Mitt Romney leading 49-45. And not only that, all of Romney's numbers are improved. Like with women, the Pew poll had Obama up by 18 points. Now Romney's even with women.
It's just remarkable off this one I guess impressive debate showing. But everything seems to be going Romney's way, not that they're measuring the drapes, but Obama and the Democrats seem to be very head between the knees in saying what did we do wrong and how Joe Biden must save us tomorrow night in Danville, Kentucky.
But all the numbers seem to be Romney's way. But again, there is still two more presidential debates.
CONAN: And they will be next week, the town hall meeting debate, and then the week after that on foreign policy. In the meantime, the day after those debate results were the lead story, the unemployment numbers were down below eight percent, seemingly at the same level that President Obama took office. It should have been a big deal.
RUDIN: Exactly. I mean, we said from the beginning that no president since Franklin Roosevelt, has been re-elected with unemployment over eight percent. So the numbers came out, and it's now 7.8 percent. It went down three-tenths of a percent. More jobs were created.
Now perhaps that may have slowed Romney's post-debate momentum somewhat, we don't know that yet, but remember in September, October of 1992, George H.W. Bush also the unemployment rate went down three-tenths of one percent, more jobs were created, but a lot of people said - a lot of people's minds, it was already set that bush was failing on the economy.
Romney's hope of course is that the voters think that Obama has failed on the economy.
CONAN: In the meantime, early voting is underway. Last week that seemed to be an advantage for the Democrats, this week maybe not so much. In the meantime, the Obama campaign posted a couple of ads in reply to the presidential debate, one of them enlisting an unlikely advocate. Well, let's listen.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, Dennis Kozlowski, criminals, gluttons of greed, and the evil genius who towered over them, one man has the guts to speak his name.
ROMNEY: Big Bird, Big Bird, Big Bird.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (As Big Bird) It's me, Big Bird.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Big, yellow, a menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's "Sesame Street."
ROMNEY: I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Mitt Romney, taking on our enemies no matter where they nest.
CONAN: Mitt Romney then replied, of course, to the Big Bird controversy yesterday at a campaign event in Hawaii, I say in Iowa, excuse me. If he'd have been Hawaii, that would have been news. In Iowa saying there are bigger issues that face the country.
ROMNEY: These are tough times with real serious issues. So you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird.
CONAN: Well, unlikely the debate or the election is going to be decided on who's going to continue subsidies to PBS, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and NPR, Ken.
RUDIN: Although Cookie Monster is getting a lot of votes as a write-in, I understand, in some of the primaries.
CONAN: I did mean to tell you, but we're trying out Oscar the Grouch for your spot next week.
RUDIN: Lots of luck with that. But, you know, the thing is one of Romney's most memorable lines in the debate last week was the fact that he's going to cut out Big Bird. I like Big Bird. And, you know, it seems like...
CONAN: And Jim Lehrer, I like you, too, but...
RUDIN: Right, and he cut out Jim Lehrer, too. It just seems like President Obama's responses were a little - probably a day or two late, and it should have been during the debates, of course.
CONAN: In the meantime, we have some callers on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, which is, if I can remember it, the last vice president to be elected in the same year in which a professional Ohio sports team won a championship, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And let's see if we can go to - let's see if we can go to - and we're having a little difficulty picking up the lines.
Let's go to line four and Dave(ph) in Woodstock, Illinois. Dave, you're on the line, go ahead please.
DAVE: Good, how about Spiro Agnew and the Reds?
CONAN: Spiro Agnew and the Reds, that would have been...
RUDIN: Well, Spiro Agnew and the Reds would have been 1968, and of course the St. Louis - the Detroit Tigers beat the Cardinals in '68. In '72, the Reds were in the World Series but lost. So it is not Spiro Agnew.
CONAN: Nice try, and let's see if we can go next to line three, and here's a caller from Columbus, and Joe's(ph) with us.
JOE: Hey, guys, how's it going?
CONAN: Not too bad.
JOE: Hey, I remember it well, it was the same year Jose Rijo threw a no-hitter, that was 1990 and Dan Quayle.
RUDIN: Well, I think your math is similar to Dan Quayle's spelling. No, I'm teasing of course. But yes, the Reds did win the World Series in 1990, but no vice president was elected that year. It was not a presidential election year.
JOE: Oh bummer.
CONAN: Paul O'Neill had a hell of a year, though.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go instead to line six, and this is Bob(ph), and Bob's with us on the line from Louisville, Kentucky, not too far away. Bob, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
BOB: All right, I was going to guess Lyndon Johnson in 1960, when the - I think it was Ohio State won the national championship.
CONAN: Well, it's not a professional team, at least technically.
RUDIN: The question was what professional team, not a college team.
CONAN: So what professional team. Let's - here's an email that we have, this is from Kurt(ph) in Renton, Washington, and he says Hubert Horatio Humphrey.
RUDIN: Well, Hubert Horatio Humphrey was elected vice president in 1964, but I can't think - oh actually, the Cleveland Browns did win the NFL championship in 1964, so Hubert Humphrey would have been the right answer if that was the most recent Ohio championship. It's not.
CONAN: And here's an email from Lee(ph) in Cincinnati, who guesses Walter Mondale.
RUDIN: Walter Mondale is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Because in 1976, a very depressing result, the Cincinnati Reds swept my beloved New York Yankees in four games, and in 1976, Walter Mondale was elected vice president.
CONAN: So we will hang on to that email, Lee, and send you a Political Junkie T-shirt and of course the brand new no-prize Political Junkie button. So you'll be the second proud winner of that.
RUDIN: People don't know this, but people lined around the block here in Columbus just to get the T-shirt itself.
RUDIN: Well, no, I made that up, but it's possible.
CONAN: But it's possible. It's not necessarily untrue. In the meantime, Ken, we've been talking about the presidential election. There's news on some Senate races, and one of the really interesting questions, we're going to be talking about the Virginia Senate race a little bit later in the program, and of course the Ohio race a little bit later in the program. But is the decline of Mr. Obama's fortunes going to affect the races down-ticket?
RUDIN: Well, we haven't seen it yet, but that's a very good question because we saw not too long ago, when Tammy Baldwin seemed to open up a slight lead in Wisconsin against Tommy Thompson. Thompson said, well, I would have been doing better had the top of the ticket been doing better.
Now that Mitt Romney's numbers seems to have improved, of course that could change with the next debate, but we think that Republican numbers could go up, as well. But having said that, there's some good news for the Republicans. We saw - there's a WBUR poll in Massachusetts that shows Scott Brown up four points over Elizabeth Warren since the Romney debate.
But - and the Republicans have their candidate in Indiana, Richard Mourdock, up. But of course this is a Republican poll. I'm not sure what that means. And some kind of good news for the Democrats, a new poll came out in North Dakota that has them dead even, this is the seat where Kent Conrad is retiring.
Rick Berg, the congressman there, and Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat, are dead even. And the Republicans were convinced that was a sure pickup. But Heidi Heitkamp - say that one more time fast - Heitkamp is running a very, very good campaign, and that will go down to the wire.
CONAN: And we have some - a debate in Montana, as well.
RUDIN: That was a Butte.
CONAN: So the Senate candidates going there will of course - the Virginia race that we're going to be focusing on later, that's been seen as a key to the control of the U.S. Senate.
RUDIN: Absolutely, and both candidates, Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate, George Allen the former senator and former governor, the Republican candidate, seem to monitor Obama and Romney in the state because that's also very close. But in many, many polls, Kaine seems to have opened up a slight lead. But again, one of those seats that the Republicans desperately want not only for the presidency but for control of the Senate.
CONAN: And of course the conventional wisdom going into this race was of course conventions don't matter. There was a big Democratic bounce after the Democratic convention at the beginning of September. And of course debates don't change anybody's mind, either.
RUDIN: Well, you know, we have seen - the perfect example - it seems like, first of all, the challenger seems to do better in the first debate, and the perfect example is 1984. Walter Mondale really did far better than Ronald Reagan in that debate. Of course, he was down by 7,000 points, so, you know, doing better is just, you know, relative.
CONAN: With - we're talking with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. Up next, the swing state politics here in Ohio. We'll preview Thursday's one and only vice presidential debate and the issue you want to hear addressed by the vice presidential candidates. You can email us now, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even give us a call, 800-989-8255. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: It's the TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. And it's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. We're now a month before Election Day, and we're in Columbus. We'll talk with WOSU news director Mike Thompson about how the election is playing out here in the perennial swing state.
Tomorrow it's the first and only vice presidential debate of the campaign between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan. What's the specific issue you would like to hear them address? 800-989-8255. Email email@example.com.
But first, Ken, do we have a ScuttleButton winner from last week?
RUDIN: We actually do, and coincidentally the puzzle was there were four buttons there. There was a Goodbye Mr. Third Term candidate, an anti-FDR button. There was a Herb Kohl button for the senator from Wisconsin. There was Humphrey-Muskie hum button, and there was a Bess Myerson button.
RUDIN: Yes. So when you add goodbye Mr. Third Term, Herb Kohl, Humphrey-Muskie hum and Bess Myerson, you have "Goodbye Columbus." Mike Thompson's even laughing.
CONAN: Philip Roth.
RUDIN: Yes. And Claire Winkem(ph) of Cincinnati, Ohio, which is also in this state, as far as I know, is the winner, "Goodbye Columbus."
CONAN: Congratulations to her, and you can check out Ken's latest column. She will be getting, of course, that fabulous new button, as well as a Political Junkie t-shirt.
RUDIN: She's lined around the block along with the others, yes.
CONAN: Ken's latest column and that new ScuttleButton puzzle is online at npr.org/junkie. Ohio obviously one of the hottest political spots in the country right now. Both presidential candidates were here in the state yesterday. Early voting just began, and both Mitt Romney and President Obama, well, they'll be back.
Mike Thompson joins us here in studio. He's the news and public affairs director for WOSU in Columbus. Nice to have you back on the program.
MIKE THOMPSON: Thanks for having me, Neal.
CONAN: And the state, well, it seemed to be leaning Mr. Obama's way just a week ago. Then the debate happened, and it seems to be back up for grabs.
THOMPSON: Yeah, most polls had President Obama, you know, extending his lead to between eight and 10 points before the debate, and now, depending on the poll you look at, it's been a four-point lead for the president or tied. Some of the automated polls show the race within one point. The CNN poll had the president up by four points, the one that came out yesterday afternoon.
So the president is back to where he was before, really before the 47 percent video came out. That's where the president, he was up like three or four points then, the 47 percent video came out right after the convention. He extended his lead, and now it's back to where it was.
CONAN: And he comes to Ohio and hammers on the point, one point he did not hammer in the debate, of the auto bailout.
THOMPSON: Yeah, the auto bailout. He's been pushing that. That's always - you know the old joke: noun, verb, auto bailout. That's the president's campaign here in Ohio. Also women's health issues. There's ads back up on the air touting, you know, women's reproductive health and Planned Parenthood and things like that, highlighting Mitt Romney's statements on that.
So he's back to where he was prior to the convention, and of course he's - the president really has been pushing it in last few stops here: Register to vote; get out the vote. Yesterday was the deadline to register to vote. He was on the campus of Ohio State. He had buses to bring supporters from the campus to the early voting location where they could register and vote. So that's a big focus of the Democrats' campaign here now.
CONAN: And a court decision that will allow in-person early voting the last three days before Election Day.
THOMPSON: For now. The Secretary of State Jon Husted has appealed that to the United States Supreme Court. He says that it's an unprecedented intrusion on the federal courts onto a state's ability to run an election. The court of appeals ruling, however, was pretty one-sided against Secretary of State Husted and for the president's campaign, which was pushing for the early voting that last weekend before the election.
RUDIN: You know, you can't turn on a TV in Ohio without seeing negative ads. I was watching in my hotel room, the porn channel in my hotel room.
RUDIN: Negative Obama and Romney ads constantly. It just was awful. But here's the thing - before the 47-percent comment, a lot of the Republicans are saying - they were trying to figure out how Mitt Romney can win without Ohio. The fact that Romney has now spent like four of the last five days in the Buckeye State seems like they have a new understanding that it's in play.
THOMPSON: You know, looking at that map, he really cannot win without Ohio. If Romney loses Ohio, the only other state he could lose is New Hampshire, of the six or eight swing states. So Ohio really is crucial to Mitt Romney. It makes for a much easier path for him to get the nomination.
CONAN: The victory.
THOMPSON: I mean the victory, yes, right, in November. So that's why he's here. And I think that, you know, there were some Romney supporters who were fearful that he might actually pull out of Ohio when the polls showed him trailing by 10 points. Al Gore did that in 2000, I think 10 days, two weeks before the election. He pulled out of Ohio when the polls turned badly against him, and Al Gore lost Ohio by like two or three points.
And many people feel that cost him the election. So I think Republicans here in Ohio were glad to see him do so well in the debate, and they're glad now to see the polls coming back his way.
RUDIN: And Ohio was so crucial for Bush over Kerry in 2004. That was only by two points or less and obviously crucial for both candidates this time.
THOMPSON: This is - I've said this is the reverse of 2004. You have 53 to 55 percent of the American public who think the country's on the wrong track. You have an incumbent who is very much disliked by the hard partisans of the opposite party, as Bush was by the Democrats and President Obama by the Republicans.
And you have a candidate, a challenger who is having a hard time. He's wealthy and from Massachusetts and having a hard time connecting with average voters, as John Kerry did and as Mitt Romney is now. The debate helped Mitt Romney there. Looking at the polls, President Obama's numbers really haven't changed much in Ohio.
Looking at the CNN poll yesterday, he still has a 20-point lead among women. Mitt Romney still has that 12-point lead among men. It's the undecideds. They were four or five percent undecided in the polls before the debate. It's now down to two percent, and you have to assume that those folks were swayed by Mitt Romney's performance in the debate.
CONAN: Interesting races down-ticket as well. Senator Sherrod Brown given an edge, a lead before this latest debate, and now those polls are tracking rather more closely.
THOMPSON: Yeah, he had a 10-point lead, and it's been pretty consistent, Ken. It goes - it shrinks a bit here and there. I still think it's probably closer to that 10-point lead, but if Republicans are more excited to come out for Mitt Romney, that can only help Josh Mandel, Sherrod Brown's challenger.
CONAN: And in the congressional seats, any races you're looking at with interest?
THOMPSON: No, the redistricting process really secured the seats either for the Democrats or for Republicans, in more cases the Republicans' cases. There's a few up in the northern part of the state that are more competitive, Betty Sutton and Jim Renacci, they're fighting off - fighting each other in northern Ohio.
But here in central Ohio, the two Republicans are safe, and the new congressional district that was carved out is safe for the Democrat, most likely.
CONAN: And maybe 10 days ago Republicans were seriously worried. Do you get that same sense from Democrats now?
THOMPSON: I think, you know, talking to the Democrats, now this is not a scientific sample, surely, when we went to the OSU rally yesterday, they were still optimistic, but they were disappointed in the president's debate performance. I think they will be, as all the rest of us, watching the second debate and look for something better.
If he has another poor performance in that debate, then I see Democrats getting really nervous.
RUDIN: And how much are the Democrats putting on Joe Biden versus Paul Ryan tomorrow night?
THOMPSON: You know, I think it's kind of like the halftime show at the Super Bowl. I think they'll watch it. Barring a disaster by either candidate, I mean a complete disaster, I don't think it'll have much of an impact on the Ohio vote either way.
CONAN: Mike Thompson, thanks very much for your time.
THOMPSON: You're welcome, thanks for having me.
CONAN: Mike Thompson, the news and public affairs director at WOSU, joining us here in his studio. And Ken, we'll be talking more about that vice presidential debate, but we want to hear from callers as well. What specific issue - this is their only one, so it's going to cover the entire gamut. So what specific issue would you like to hear them address?
And the vice presidential debate, is it going to make a difference?
RUDIN: Well, we always - we've talked about this for years, go back to 19 - whatever year, 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen allegedly wiped the floor with you're no - you're no Jack Kennedy, that line to Dan Quayle, everybody loved Bentsen's line, everybody laughed at Dan Quayle, and the Bush-Quayle ticket won 40 out of 50 states.
But again, so it didn't really have that much of an effect, but it still can matter, it still can affect your candidacy, because a lot of people are talking about Joe Biden and Paul Ryan as perhaps 2016 presidential candidates. So there's a lot riding on that for them as well.
CONAN: And as they go into this, there seems to be a mismatch of experience. Joe Biden, of course, has been around the United States Senate seemingly forever, on the Foreign Relations Committee, and so has a lot of experience. Paul Ryan makes light of his own lack of experience in international affairs, for example.
RUDIN: Right, and you remember the old famous Reagan line to Walter Mondale, I'm not going to make light of my - I'm not going to make my opponent's youth and experience. But this is nearly 28 years' difference in age between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, which is the greatest gap in vice presidential debate history.
And you know, four years ago we all waited for Joe Biden to make the gaffe against Sarah Palin, but he was very calm. He was reserved. And he's very smart. People forget that while the media love to talk about him as a gaffe machine, and sometimes he can be a gaffe machine, he's also a very good debater. So Paul Ryan has a lot, you know, he's going to be up against a pretty tough opponent tomorrow night.
CONAN: And Paul Ryan comes in with - depends on how you look at it - the advantage or the burden of very specific positions when he laid out his budget plan last year.
RUDIN: Exactly. And conservatives have said from the beginning what they love so much about the Paul Ryan pick is that when he debates Joe Biden, he will show the nation the importance of this issue and how it's - what he's proposing is the right path for the country. And so both sides, both the Democrats and Republicans have a lot going - see a lot going on for this debate.
CONAN: Well, let's get some callers in on the conversation. What specific issue would you like to hear address at the vice presidential debate coming up tomorrow night in Danville, Kentucky? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll start with Margaret, line 2. Margaret with us from Hampton in Virginia.
MARGARET: Hi. I would like to know why there's no reaction to Romney's constant assertion that he's going to roll back environmental laws and regulations, including disempowering or discontinuing the EPA. I mean, this will have a tremendous health impact in our - on our nation, and likewise, it has somewhat of a climate impact as noted by the recent NOAA study.
CONAN: And so let's unpack that just a little bit from the partisan aspect. I don't think Martha Raddatz of ABC News is going to put it quite that way, but the environment as an issue didn't come up in the first debate with the presidential candidates, Ken.
RUDIN: No. And Margaret's question seems to be what I hear from a lot of Democrats. Why didn't the Democrats - now, I think her question was, why haven't the media talked about it? But a lot of people I've talked to said, why didn't Obama, why didn't they talk about all these things...
RUDIN: ...in Romney's record responding to the 47 percent responding to, you know, alleged changes of positions on so many issues? Why didn't they do that during the debate? I expect the focus tomorrow really be on the Medicare issue, and I think both Ryan and Biden will welcome that. But, again, that's one of the issues that a lot of Democrats are rolling their eyes saying, why didn't it come up before?
CONAN: Betsy on email weighed in on the same issue as Margaret did: How do you plan to address the extremes of weather that are impacting the economy and people's lives and the urgent problems of climate change that's causing these extremes? But a little bit more like one of the questions that might actually appear in the debate tomorrow night. 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. Ken Rudin, the Political Junkie is with us, as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go to Elizabeth on line 5 from Niceville in Florida. Niceville...
ELIZABETH: Can you hear me?
CONAN: ...is it really Niceville?
ELIZABETH: Yes. It is, really Niceville. We are near Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle of Florida.
RUDIN: Ah. OK. Well, you'll be - should be located right next to Pleasantville in New York.
RUDIN: Don't say Farmville (unintelligible).
CONAN: That's different. Yes. Go ahead, Elizabeth. I'm sorry.
ELIZABETH: That's OK. I am really interested in hearing a little bit more specific information. Last week during the debate, Mitt Romney was indicating that his across-the-board 20 percent tax cuts would essentially be revenue neutral. And then in a previous interview, Ryan indicated that the map was too complicated to go into and exactly which loopholes and deductions would be eliminated. I would really, really like to hear specifically what the plan is. I can't seem to find any specifics about it.
CONAN: Well, presidential candidate Romney says we don't want to get into specifics because these are the principles that we've laid out. We'll get into specifics when we're in talks with congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle and you - after horse trade there so don't you want to get tied down to specifics ahead of time. It's the principle of revenue neutral. That was one of the things, Ken, that President Obama tried to challenge last week. He said the arithmetic just doesn't add up.
RUDIN: Exactly. And the fact is one debate that might be able to take place is between Romney and Ryan over how much budget cuts should you make because Romney for all his lack of specifics is far less - far more reticent than Ryan as far as, you know, across-the-board cuts. So Ryan's - actually, Ryan's budget cuts are far more drastic than Romney's. And I expect that question to come up tomorrow.
CONAN: Elizabeth, thanks very much.
ELIZABETH: Thank you. Have a great day.
CONAN: You too. This is email from Eloise: I would love to hear the vice presidential candidates asked how they would do or handle policy difference with their bosses. I'm thinking specifically about how Paul Ryan would handle the issues of his budget program that Romney stated he does not agree with and indicates he would not implement. How does he handle carefully crafted program being selectively picked apart? You can do the same thing with Joe Biden, and he didn't support all of the Obamacare provisions.
RUDIN: Right. And Obama didn't have - didn't evolve about same-sex marriage until Joe Biden made him do that. But I think that's a fair question about Romney and Ryan because there are a lot of things that Ryan - that the House voted for that those - some will say drastic cuts that Romney has tried to tamp down. And we noticed that since that debate, the Romney campaign, most specifically Ann Romney and the Romney boys, had done what they can to soften the Mitt Romney image, make him not as harsh, not as strident and not as, I guess, an ideologue and more of like a nice guy. And that's...
CONAN: Maybe from Niceville.
RUDIN: From Niceville exactly or Farmville. But I think that's part of the fact that we've seen that and showing in the polls as well.
CONAN: And he seems to be incorporating a lot more of those personal stories in his stump speech and that sort of thing that connects with voters. Let's see if we go to Joe, and Joe is on the line with us from Lansing in Michigan on line 7. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOE: Yeah. Hi. You know, your conversation is going exactly where my question would be is, you know, to see where some of the math comes from that doesn't seem to add up. And it seems to me every single day, Romney moves farther and farther and farther away from Ryan. So I'm curious just exactly if Biden will hold his feet to the fire on math, abortion. Picture it. I mean, it seems like every day, there's a new idea why they're completely different. I'm just curious to see exactly now how far he's going to push it.
CONAN: And a new statement by Mitt Romney today that he would not seek to change the current laws on abortion. But some people question his language, but anyway.
RUDIN: Right. And exactly - and, you know, it reminds me. Going back to - we always think of, you know, Bentsen and Quayle and how Bentsen demolished Dan Quayle. But a lot of the discussion in that debate was Bentsen's differences with Dukakis. For all the, you know, for all the differences about - he had with Quail...
CONAN: Quemoy and Matsu didn't come up?
RUDIN: No. I saw them at concert, though. They were great. No, but I mean, the thing is Bentsen and Dukakis had many, many different issues, and they were on the defensive for much of that campaign, which one is running the ticket? Romney will make the case, of course. Look, I'm on the top of the ticket, and Ryan is my running mate.
CONAN: Joe, thanks very much for the call.
JOE: Thank you.
CONAN: We'll be interesting - we'll be listening with interest tomorrow night to the vice presidential debate. Political junkie Ken Rudin will stay with us. Up next, the battle of the former governors in Virginia for the Senate seat there. Democrat Tim Kaine, Republican George Allen remain close in the latest polls. Governor Kaine will join us, along with Republican Tom Davis. Virginia voters, call and tell us what's the most important issue for you in the Senate race, 800-989-8255. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: Right now, it's supersized swing state edition of the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is with us here in Columbus, Ohio. And joining us now is Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from the state of Virginia, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, currently director of the federal government affairs for Deloitte and Touche. He's joined us by phone from San Francisco. And, congressman, nice of you to be with us again.
TOM DAVIS: Well, thanks for having me.
CONAN: And we're focusing on the senate race in Virginia. And it's interesting. We've invited both candidates on. Tim Kaine, the Democrat, will be with us. Unfortunately, George Allen could not fit it into his schedule. But as you look at the race, what is going to decide this, do you think?
DAVIS: I think the presidential race. I think this race is really about turnout. What we're seeing in Virginia and elsewhere are these races have become more parliamentary elections, if anything else. I guess the best way to describe it is we used to vote for congressman and look out for the name on the back of the jersey. And if we liked it, we vote for it. Now we're looking at the color of the jersey. So you're finding very, very little ticket splitting in these races. And I think that's certainly true in Virginia where George Allen was chairman of the Republican Senate campaign committee, and Tim Kaine was chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
CONAN: And some people have said the candidates both have a problem that every time they try to get out of the shadows, one or the other presidential candidates shows up in Richmond or Charlottesville or in Northern Virginia.
DAVIS: You know, the race is surprisingly, you know, fluid underneath. When you go out and ring doors, people haven't made up their mind in the Senate. But, you know, if the past is any clue, this is going to break along lines of the presidential, and I think we'll find very little ticket splitting. You'll get some for Kaine in the Richmond area that will help him in the more urbanized areas, 'cause in the rural areas, I think you'll see Allen running a little stronger probably.
CONAN: Tim Kaine, of course, the former mayor of Richmond as well. So one of the issues I wanted to ask you about was the women's vote and the effort in the legislature last year to have a intrusive use of - and was that arthroscopy? It's not arthroscopy.
CONAN: Ultrasound for women who were seeking abortions.
DAVIS: Right. Well, of course, George Allen wasn't anywhere near that. He wasn't in Richmond at that point. I don't - they tried to tie him to that, but I don't think they've been very successful. Probably didn't help the party brand with urban women, but I don't know that that's really rubbed off on Allen. He wasn't near Richmond when it's being discussed and didn't support it.
CONAN: His opponent says you can look in vain on his website for anything opposing it, though.
DAVIS: Well, I mean, that's what you do in a campaign. But there's nothing really to tie him to that.
CONAN: Similarly, the Allen campaign says during his governorship, Tim Kaine was a part-time performer, in fact, spending a lot of time as the Democratic National Committee chairman.
DAVIS: Well, he did. He was a part-time governor in his last year in office. That's the price you pay. We had a Republican governor do that before, Jim Gilmore, and just got lambasted. His numbers plummeted. It's never helpful when somebody takes that on, but I think it has to - the president - Kaine took the job on. I don't think that helps him, but what it does do is it accents the partisanization on both sides and it makes it harder for him to claim, you know, independence with that when you're out there being Obama's - being cheerleader there, chairman of Democratic National Committee. So both candidates have really been tied to their parties.
RUDIN: Congressman, six years ago, George Allen was basically a shoo-in for re-election until that infamous or famous, whatever, macaca comment. Has he outgrown that? Has he gotten past that? Because I still see references to much in the media...
DAVIS: I haven't seen any ads with that. I think it lingers in the background. This state's had hundreds of thousands of people moved in over the last six years that aren't part of that. Really, what took George Allen down was 2006. It was just a very Democratic year. It was a huge rebellion against six years of the Bush administration.
And macaca, I think, showed a vulnerability (unintelligible) hadn't seen before. They brought a lot of money into the state on behalf of Jim Webb, who ended up winning the race by 9,000 votes. But I don't think there's a huge hangover from that. But the difficulty Allen's had is he hasn't won a race in 12 years, and Kaine hasn't been on the ballot for seven years. So both of these guys - although they're great with old Virginia, you have so many people moving into the state now and I think they're going to vote their party.
RUDIN: I was going to say, in 2006 and 2008, big Democratic years in Virginia. 2011 and 2010 - I'm sorry, 2009 and 2010, huge Republican years. What does Virginia look like now? I mean obviously a lot of the voters are moving into northern Virginia, which seems to skew Democratic. How do you describe the state of Virginia right now?
DAVIS: Well, you know, people moving into North Virginia are from all over. The people who moved into Arlington and Alexandria and the closer in areas tend to orient toward Washington. But the people moving in to far out suburbs tend to be more Republican. You have migration into greater Richmond now. They have four Fortune 500 companies there. Basically, Virginia is a state that is growing in population. And I think 2012 is a dead-even state in a dead-even year. And it's close. I don't think anybody can tell you with certainty where this race is going to go right now at the presidential or the Senate level. We've had polls all year that have gone back and forth, but they've all been a margin of error.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. And we'll start with Tilly(ph), and Tilly's on the line us from Roanoke in Virginia.
TILLY: Hi. Full disclosure, I was a Tim Kaine volunteer when he ran for governor, but I have great respect for Congressman Davis. I wish all Virginia Republicans were as moderate as he was. But my question is, I worked at a community college as an adjunct instructor in another part of the state, and I lost my job. I assumed funding cuts were part of the reason. And my main concern with the Senate race between Tim Kaine and George Allen is, how will that be addressed? It seems to me when I hear Republicans talk about cutting the federal deficit - and Congressman Davis can chime in if he disagrees with me, surely - that the Republican Party seemed to be about maintaining military and defense spending but cutting education spending. And certainly this is a prime concern for me beyond, you know, who I would vote for in the race.
DAVIS: Well, thanks. Let me try to address it. I mean, both parties have their pluses and minuses. Let me just say at the state level, which funds most of the community college money, it's not federal, what is crowded out, higher education spending (unintelligible) this state and other states are rising Medicaid cost. Medicaid is a, you know, federal mandate and almost 20 percent of the state budget is now Medicaid funding. So when you put more mandates of states to pay for health care, and Obamacare, another example because you have a state component of that going in, that is crowding out money for higher education. So on that sense it doesn't help you.
When it comes to federal spending, Democrats favor more federal money for education, Republicans I think a little more for defense. But the reality is, we don't have money for either. We're borrowing 40 cents on the dollar, and nobody seems to want to address that. Romney did in the last debate, said, you know, is it worth borrowing money from China to fund. But we've just seen the federal government that has over the last decade, the deficits have just ballooned. And they're just in denial right now because interest rates are so low and they're borrowing to the hilt. And there's going to come a day of reckoning and it is not going to be very pretty.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And let's see if we can go next to - this is Edmund(ph), and Edmund is on the line with us from Boston (unintelligible) northeastern Virginia.
EDMUND: Yeah. Good afternoon. God, I love your program. You know, you guys are the best on the dial.
CONAN: Thanks very much.
EDMUND: You know, I lived in Virginia seven and a half years. And when I was down there, my father was serving two Republicans presidents from the Council on Environmental Quality, CEQ, when it was first founded. And he said to me that the Republican - those Republicans would be turning in their graves over the things that the Republicans are doing in Virginia currently. And all the friends that I talked to in Virginia, all the women I talked to, were well educated, smart women, both Republican and Democrat, are horrified about what the Republican leadership down there is trying to do to them. And they're, you know, to a woman are completely opposed to the agenda, and they're going to vote Democrat. And some of these have been like lifelong Republicans too. I mean, these women are just horrified, and I can understand why. I've got three daughters. I'd be horrified too. And I...
CONAN: And, Congressman...
DAVIS: Well, let me - I'm a member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation board of directors. And frankly, the governor and the state have been very good about fulfilling their mandates on the bay. Rob Wittman, Scott Rigell, Frank Wolf, Republican congressmen have been very good on that issue. We've had some other members from agricultural areas take a little bit different view. This stuff tends to break down about where you're from. We've had Democrats from the oil patch or from coal country seem to take a different stand than Democrats from urban areas. I think it reflects, basically, geography more than party. You know, that's been my observation as I've looked at this and looked at the votes.
You look at a Democrat from West Virginia, for example, congressman (unintelligible) very strong hold (unintelligible) EPA. Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, had an ad with him shooting up the cap and trade legislation (unintelligible) so I think this is more geographical than it is anything else. We've had some strong Republican support (unintelligible) environmental issues.
CONAN: Congressman Davis, thanks very much for being with us today.
DAVIS: My pleasure. Thank you.
CONAN: Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, a former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Again, we did invite George Allen, the senatorial candidate, to join us, and he declined to do so. But former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine joins us now. And Governor Kaine is on the line with us from Fairfax in Virginia. And good of you to be with us today.
TIM KAINE: Neal, glad to be with you.
CONAN: And we were hearing Tom Davis. I'm not sure you have the chance to hear, but he was saying he thinks the Senate race is tracking pretty closely with the presidential race.
KAINE: It's been fairly close, Neal, from the very beginning. In, you know, for a long period of time, frankly, my numbers were a little bit below the president's. In the most recent weeks they've been a little bit above the president's. I think while the presidential race affects both George Allen and me, the fact that Virginians know us both so well - George has been an elected office for probably two decades in Virginia, and I've been an elected office for 16 years - it does mean that Virginians who can be a little bit independent and ticket-splitting I think are looking at us and they're making their, you know, their own minds up about each of our candidacies.
CONAN: And as you say, these voters know you both pretty well. It's hard to find a bigger name recognition across the state of Virginia than two former governors. Though there's so much - so many people moving into the state. They may not remember.
KAINE: You know, that is a good point. The new voters - you know, we saw population growth of more than 10 percent during the 2000s, and it accelerates every day, largely in Northern Virginia but elsewhere too. And so that does mean nobody can rest on their laurels. I think we both start with pretty high name recognition for candidates, and folks know what they like and don't like about us. But we have really been aggressive in reaching out to new voters because, you're right, that dynamic growth of the new Virginia is always a real factor in these elections.
CONAN: We're talking with former Governor Tim Kaine, the Democratic senatorial candidate in Virginia. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Governor, in 2009, Republicans like swept everything in Virginia. In 2010, they did pretty well - they did well as well. And yet there was a lot of controversy. We talked earlier in the program about Governor McDonnell's ultrasound abortion program. How do you find...
CONAN: Which he's since retracted.
RUDIN: Which he's since retracted, but there was certainly a sentiment in the legislature among the Republicans for it. How is abortion playing in this race in Virginia? Because it's hard to say that Virginia is clearly a red or a blue state on this issue.
KAINE: It's very true. We were clearly red on this issue and red in national politics 10 years ago, but we're purple now. And part of being the battleground is you have a few good years. Democrats had great years '05, '06, '07, '08, and the Republicans have had some good years recently. But what I find as I'm traveling around Virginia is the whole series of issues, whether it's the general assembly mandating that women have an invasive ultrasound - ultimately the provision was softened by Governor McDonnell, but it's still medically unnecessary and expensive and against women's will that there'd be these ultrasound; proposals to do personhood legislation, which my opponent supports at the federal level; the efforts to potentially, you know, roll back, via the Blunt Amendment, the requirement that employers offer contraceptive coverage their employees; efforts to defund Planned Parenthood - all of these efforts in Virginia are causing a high degree of concern and not just among women voters but male voters as well. I talk to people all the time on the trail. You know, the kind of comic(ph) way they would come up to me, it's usually a man, comes up and says, hey, I've never supported you, I'm supporting you now. And I ask why, expecting a compliment about myself. And then they say, because the other side has just gone too far in terms of taking choices away from women. These are economic issues. We can't have a strong economy if we disempower women.
CONAN: Just to point out, voters' anger might be taken out on those people in the legislature who supported this. They're not up for election this time. They have off-year elections in Virginia for the state legislature. So it's federal office...
KAINE: Well, it is true, but my opponent, George Allen, one of the key proposals that was on the table when the legislative session was personhood legislation, which would say that life begins at conception and all personhood rights attached thereto. That legislation was rejected by the Mississippi electorate in a referendum, it was rejected by the Virginia legislature. It passed one House and got defeated in the State Senate, but George Allen is proposing during this entire campaign, he has said that he wants to pass this legislation at the federal level. So it's very much a live issue in my campaign.
CONAN: And how do you respond to his criticism that you effectively were a part-time governor in your service as Democratic National Committee chair?
KAINE: Well, sort of two ways. I kind of point out he's got a clear double standard because when he was the senator from Virginia, he was chairman of the Republicans Senate Campaign Committee. He had lavish praise for then-Republican Governor Jim Gilmore when he became head of the Republican National Committee. And he's been a huge supporter of our current governor, Bob McDonnell, being head of the Republican Governors Association. So I think his criticism of me for accepting a draft to be in a leadership position is a little bit of a double standard. Virginians recognize that.
But more importantly, it's really about results. The one year where I was both governor and national party chair was probably my best year as governor in many ways. Every publication that ranks American states as one to 50 in terms of best state for business in the United States listed Virginia number one. The Pew Center on states said we were one of four states that was tackling the recession in the most creative and fiscally responsible way. And key legislative initiatives - open space preservation, reduction of infant mortality, banning smoking in restaurants and bars, we got all of that done, working in a bipartisan way. My work at the party didn't affect my service as governor. And even George Allen's former chief of staff - who was a chief of staff when he was governor - has said that.
CONAN: Well, Governor, thanks very much for taking the time to be with us today.
KAINE: Hey, absolutely. It's great to be with you.
CONAN: Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor and running now for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Again, we invited George Allen to be on, and he couldn't find the time to do it. Ken Rudin will be back with us next Wednesday in the Political Junkie. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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