NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The storm stops top-of-the-ticket campaigning for a couple of days; the president plays chief of state; Romney collects cans and water for disaster relief; it's Wednesday and time for a...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Sandy...
CONAN: Edition of the Political Junkie.
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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.
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CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. With less than a week left until election day, Superstorm Sandy carves a new course for both campaigns - for a while. The president surveys storm damage in Jersey with his new admirer Chris Christie. Romney returns to the stump in Florida today. President Obama hits the road to Nevada tomorrow. And even during the Sandy ceasefire, both continued the air war and unleashed new attack ads.
Later, the last days of the campaign countdown with Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. Her regular counterpart Vin Weber can't be with us today, so we'll be joined by Matt Continetti, now the editor of The Washington Free Beacon.
But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, our very own rain man, and as usual, we begin with a trivia question.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, of course, we're going to be talking a lot about Hurricane Sandy, and of course it's obviously so much more than the political framing we're making of it. So I apologize in advance if we're sounding just too callous about it. But this is a political show, so - OK, but anyway, in political terms, Hurricane Sandy can accurately be described as an October surprise.
When was the first time an event late in the presidential campaign season was later called an October surprise?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the first time an event late in a presidential campaign season was dubbed the October surprise, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. Of course, the winner gets a Political Junkie T-shirt and the fabulous no-prize Political Junkie winner's button.
In the meantime, Ken, well, the storm, the storm puts the campaigns on hold and in a sense gives a chance for a reset.
RUDIN: Well, it - you can say that it put it on hold, but actually, I mean, I don't think anything is on hold. Nothing is non-political, especially with six days to go before the election. And you could make the case that what President Obama's doing, you could either say he is campaigning to the fullest, or he is being presidential to the fullest, and I don't know what the difference is, but the point is that whenever you're talking about perhaps a Romney momentum in the polls, we're watching the president campaign or at least be presidential, and I think a lot of voters who may be not - undecided, may be kind of on the fence, are watching a different kind of president, a non-political, with quotes around that, President Obama, and it could be to his benefit.
CONAN: And speaking of non-political, he has been working closely, even as we speak he's touring disaster-struck areas in the hard-hit state of New Jersey with the Republican governor there, Chris Christie, of course the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention earlier this year, a surrogate for Mitt Romney who's had very nice things to say about Barack Obama as chief of state.
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: The federal government's response has been great. I was on the phone at midnight again last night with the president personally. He has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster area. I expedited (unintelligible) - I was on the phone with FEMA at 2 a.m. this morning to answer the questions they needed answered to get that designation. And the president has been outstanding in this, and so the folks at FEMA, Craig Fugate and his folks, have been excellent.
CONAN: And that was on "The Today Show" yesterday. This sort of praise, nice words also from the Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.
RUDIN: Yes, and I mean, if you ask Chris Christie about this, this is not about politics, this is about saving lives and saving neighborhoods and, you know, saving people who are stranded and without power, millions without power, dozens have been killed from this storm. So it's not politics.
But you can't help but compare it to a previous president with a disaster, George W. Bush in 2005, looking at Katrina from Air Force One, not really coordinating, not being on the ground. And so while I think the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency, or at least the Republican ascendancy, was with the lack of response to Katrina. Even though it's only a week to go before the election, President Obama can't help but look better in comparison.
CONAN: And things can always go wrong in the meantime, but at least that's the situation right now. And Mitt Romney yesterday held one event outside of Dayton, Ohio, and that was originally a campaign event, still had all the trappings of a campaign event, but he turned it into an event to raise money and supplies for disaster victims.
And today, though, he's back on the stump, though, with a somewhat muted message.
MITT ROMNEY: We love all of our fellow citizens. We come together at times like this, and we want to make sure that they have a speedy and quick recovery from their financial and, in many cases, personal loss.
ROMNEY: Now, people coming together is what's also going to happen, I believe, on November 7.
CONAN: November 7?
RUDIN: You mean the day after the election?
RUDIN: Well, maybe that's what he's talking about, but...
CONAN: Amazing how quickly rust can accumulate.
RUDIN: Well, but Romney's in a tough position. He can't - I mean, obviously he can't go tour Atlantic City with Chris Christie because that would be a little bit over the top. But again, if he is trailing - now the national polls show him perhaps a point ahead, a point down, very, very close.
CONAN: Depends which poll you look at.
RUDIN: And almost every poll is very, very close. But if you look at the key battleground swing states, which we've been talking about for weeks, Romney is still trailing five points in Ohio, maybe one or two in Virginia, maybe one or two in Florida or maybe pretty close. He can't not be - there's a not of negatives in this sentence - he can't not be campaigning with so much at stake.
CONAN: But at the same time, isn't the race really locked in at this point? Aren't you just keeping yourself on the local news in, well, Dayton or wherever it is you happen to be?
RUDIN: Well, yes and no. There's a report out that the Republicans are suddenly spending a lot of money in states like Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan. Now, I don't know if that means that Romney's doing that because there's no more time to buy in the other swing states or he really feels he has an edge in these heretofore pro-Obama states.
But again, with six days to go, there seems to be a lot of fluidity in this campaign.
CONAN: Interesting, Mickey Carroll of the Quinnipiac poll said Pennsylvania's in Obama's bag, don't even bother looking at it. So that's an interesting take on that. In the meantime, there is a big ad war underway in the Midwest, particularly in the state of Ohio, and this after Mitt Romney claimed in a campaign stop that - after President Obama's promises and the auto bailout campaign, Jeep was going to be shifting all of its Jeep manufacturing out of the United States and into China. He varied that a little bit in this ad.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.
CONAN: And that was then quickly debunked by, among others, Chrysler.
RUDIN: Well, you know, it almost seemed like Chrysler - and GM. Both Chrysler and GM came out and said this is crass politics at its worst. It almost reminded me of Candy Crowley fact-checking during the debates. GM and Chrysler seem to be fact-checking the Romney ad.
But look, Romney's goal, obviously, is if he's going to make a difference in Ohio, he's got to put doubts about President Obama's auto industry bailout, and so much jobs are at stake in Ohio, and so much is responsible because of that. So I think - but it looks like it's backfiring on him in the fact that nonpolitical folks at GM and Chrysler say look, these ads are just simply not true.
CONAN: And the Obama ad is quick to take advantage of that.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The truth: Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio. Mitt Romney on Ohio jobs: wrong then...
ROMNEY: Let Detroit go bankrupt.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Dishonest now.
CONAN: So we're going to have to see how that plays out. In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, the first time the phrase October surprise was used to describe an event late in a presidential campaign. And let's see if we can begin with Tom(ph), and Tom's on the line with us from Des Moines, a swing state, there in Ohio.
TOM: Yes, and we're looking good for Obama right now. My guess is 1956.
CONAN: And what was the event?
TOM: It would be two events. There would be the invasion of Hungary by the Soviets and the invasion of the Suez Canal by the Brits and Israelis.
RUDIN: Well, that's interesting. Both of those did happen, interesting President Eisenhower decided not to get involved in either Hungary or the Suez crisis. Nobody called it an October surprise there. It certainly didn't affect the campaign. Eisenhower had a huge lead over Adlai Stevenson. But that's an interesting point, but it wasn't considered an October surprise back then.
TOM: All right, thank you.
CONAN: Thanks Tom.
RUDIN: I like that one.
CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is - let's go to - this is Jay(ph), Jay with us from Cincinnati.
JAY: Hi, I think that the first October surprise was the notion that Jimmy Carter was going to get the hostages freed from Iran before the election of 1980.
CONAN: Fear of an October surprise by the Reagan campaign.
RUDIN: Well, that's very true. Had there been the freedom of the hostages by the Carter administration, that would have been an October surprise, obviously what Reagan feared. But it never happened, so...
JAY: Right, right, that's what he was trying to prevent is the October surprise.
RUDIN: But it never happened.
CONAN: Thanks very much, and let's see if we can go next to - this is Crystal(ph), Crystal with us from Tulsa.
CRYSTAL: Hi, is it the Cuban Missile Crisis?
CONAN: The missiles of October.
RUDIN: Well, now, that was interesting, too. It was never called an October surprise, but the Republicans looked like they were leading in a lot of 1962 mid-year elections. And then suddenly President Kennedy stood up, told the country that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba, what Republicans were talking about for weeks already. But it wasn't seen - the term October surprise wasn't used then.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Crystal.
RUDIN: These are all actually October surprises, but they weren't called October surprises.
CONAN: Let's go to Neil(ph) and Neil with us from Redwood City in California.
NEIL: Good morning, gentlemen. Does the phrase peace is at hand ring a bell? I believe that you're talking about Henry Kissinger's, if I'm remembering correctly, Henry Kissinger's announcement in October '72 that we had reached a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese.
RUDIN: Now not only - I mean first of all, that wasn't going to change the election. Kissinger absolutely said what you said. He did say there is peace in our time late in the election of '72. The McGovern people said wait a second...
CONAN: He said peace is at hand. Peace in our time was Neville Chamberlain in Munich, somewhat different circumstances.
RUDIN: Peace is at hand, right. Neville Chamberlain, who was that great basketball player. But anyway, this was not the first instance where the October surprise was used. But Kissinger talking about peace is at hand was considered an October surprise, not the first, though.
CONAN: Thanks very much, interesting call. Let's see if we can get one more caller in, and this is John(ph), John with us from Willow, Alaska. Very quickly, John.
JOHN: I'm going to guess Mr. Nixon, the Checkers incident, 1952.
CONAN: The Checkers speech in 1952.
RUDIN: Well, that was a September speech, so it's hard to make that an October surprise, but is that our last - we're running out of time for that?
CONAN: OK, thanks very much, John.
RUDIN: Should we just wait for maybe perhaps an email?
CONAN: We might get an email on this, so we'll hang fire on this. Let's see if we can get a call after the break. In the meantime, when we come back, well, six days until Election Day. We're going to be looking ahead to the countdown to the campaign. We're going to be looking first at the presidential race. So Matt Continetti and Anna Greenberg will join us. Stay with us, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday, TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Less than a week now until the election. It's another supersized edition of the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. Ken, was there a ScuttleButton winner this past week?
RUDIN: There happened to be. I'm glad you asked me that because the last week's puzzle, there was a Babe Ruth Baseball Club button, a Ben Blackburn for governor of Georgia button. There was a Betty Roberts for governor of Oregon, another Betty Roberts for governor of Oregon. There was a Wilson Goode for mayor of Philadelphia, and there was a Toomey for city council.
So when you add the Babe Ruth baseball, the Ben Blackburn, the Betty Roberts, the Betty Roberts, the Wilson Goode and the Toomey, you have Baseball Ben Betty Betty Goode to me. Yeah, the Chico Escuela - everybody's moaning in this place. But anyway, Ingveld Stubb(ph) of Chevy Chase, Maryland is the winner.
CONAN: And in the meantime, I need to correct myself. Of course I made a mistake saying Des Moines, Ohio. We're speaking a lot about Ohio. It's in Iowa. Everybody knows that.
RUDIN: Another four-letter word.
CONAN: Another four-letter word, and another swing state, as it happens. And is there a new Political Junkie column up?
RUDIN: There is, about the battle for the House.
CONAN: In the meantime, anybody who gets the ScuttleButton puzzle up - correct this week, the winner will get that fabulous Political Junkie T-shirt and the no-prize button. And, well, I'm going to make one more phone call. Let's see if we can get Martin on the line, Martin with us from Arlington in Massachusetts.
MARTIN: How are you doing?
CONAN: And you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question?
MARTIN: Yes, I do, 1968, Mr. - President Johnson falsely said that he was getting a breakthrough in negotiations with the Vietnamese pretty much just to let Humphrey look better and secure the election for him. It kind of short-term worked but didn't really work.
RUDIN: Well, Martin, you don't have it exactly right, but I think Martin should be the winner. It was 1968. Lyndon Johnson stopped the bombing of Vietnam just prior to the election, ostensibly to get the peace process moving but also to help his vice president. So I think Martin does get a T-shirt. At least he gets a half a T-shirt.
CONAN: Half a T-shirt. Do you want the front or the back, Martin?
MARTIN: The back.
CONAN: OK, we're going to put you on hold, collect your particulars, and we'll send you that Junkie T-shirt and of course the no-prize button in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself to post on our wall of shame. In the meantime, ooh, did I just hang up on him? I think I just hung up. I apologize. Will you call back, please, and we'll get you...
RUDIN: It was Martin of Arlington, Massachusetts.
CONAN: Martin of Arlington, Massachusetts. So we want the mailing address to be in Arlington, Massachusetts. As we head into these last days of the campaign, both President Obama and Governor Romney have called off the temporary ceasefire during the hurricane, and they're going to start battling for every vote in swing states from Florida to Ohio to Wisconsin.
If you're in a swing state, call and tell us what would change things this final week. Again, we've split the phone lines today. So if you're leaning Republican, call 800-344-3864; again if you're leaning Republican, 800-344-3864. If you're leaning Democratic, your number, 800-344-3893; again, 800-344-3893.
With us here in Studio 3A is Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, senior vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Anna, welcome back.
ANNA GREENBERG: Thank you.
CONAN: And also with us, Matt Continetti, editor-in-chief of the conservative site The Washington Free Beacon. And Matt Continetti, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.
MATT CONTINETTI: It's good to be here.
CONAN: And how does the storm change the race, Anna?
GREENBERG: I don't think it changes it all that much. It's been pretty stable the entire year, with a small but enduring Obama lead for most of it. And I don't see how it would fundamentally change the election, especially because in a lot of important battleground states, a lot of people have already voted.
I do think in general it helps the president, and I'm not saying this in a crass, exploitative way, but people do look to their leaders on how they rise or don't rise to the occasion when there's a crisis: Oklahoma City, 9/11, Katrina. So I think quite rightly people could look at the president and say how did he deal with the situation.
And I think the validation from Governor Christie is quite helpful. It also meant that, you know, Romney had to suspend what he was doing, and frankly, the main story on him during this was his ad on Jeep, which isn't very helpful, especially the response by GM and Chrysler.
So I think it's not been a helpful week for the Romney and probably slightly - for Romney - and slightly helpful for the president.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, we've never had a natural disaster like this, this close to a presidential election. This is unprecedented.
CONTINETTI: It is, and we were all wondering what that October surprise would be, and I think it was from Mother Nature, Hurricane Sandy. I mean this type of event no one can really prepare for, and you know, I agree with Anna. I don't think it's going to have a major impact on the election. I mean, what can people do?
The president is doing his job, and he seems to be doing it well. And Mitt Romney was holding, you know, charity events, the best he could do. And now it seems like we'll return to the normal campaign late today, early tomorrow.
CONAN: And have you seen polls, any reliable polls, Anna, that come out since Sandy?
GREENBERG: There have been state polls, battleground state polls, where the hurricane has not affected those states, and polling - been allowed to poll. There have been a couple national polls, not too many, but they all have the race pretty much the same, with like a one-point Obama lead.
CONAN: And Matt Continetti, if there's going to be an effect a week from now, next Tuesday, on Election Day, some people say, well, if there are going to places without power in Pennsylvania, a lot of those counties are Obama counties. In Virginia they might be rural areas that might be Romney - nobody really knows.
CONTINETTI: No one does know, do they? No one knows really about the election. It's so hard to predict. Who would have predicted this hurricane? Who would have predicted, you know, what the response is going to be? And I don't think anyone can safely predict, you know, either the outcome of the race or how it's going to affect - how this hurricane is going to affect voting on Tuesday.
CONAN: In this first segment with you guys, we want to focus on the presidential campaign. And how many swing states are we really talking about - seven, eight, nine, 10, 11? Anna?
GREENBERG: Oh, I think fewer than that, because I think states like Wisconsin, Ohio are going to go for Obama. I don't think they're really swing. I think the cake is baked in those states. I think Florida is tied, Virginia is tied, North Carolina is tied. I think those three, I think Colorado has been moving back and forth between a slight Romney tide, slight Obama, so I'd put Colorado.
Those four I think are the ones that are really - really up for grabs. But I think that Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, all of those states, the president's had an enduring lead, you know, since the second debate.
CONAN: If that's the case, Matt Continetti, people are spending a lot of money in states they don't need to be.
CONTINETTI: And the president's spending a lot of time. He's going to Wisconsin tomorrow. So if your based on candidate travel, it doesn't seem to me that he thinks Wisconsin is in the bag. He would be going, you know, elsewhere. I was looking at the map, and in 2008 Obama won many states that were traditionally Republican, that Bush had won in 2004 - Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.
And when I look at that map, then I say, OK, well, Indiana's already for Romney. The other states, I believe, are much closer than Anna does. And yet we also have ads going up and state polls conducting - showing a close race in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, even one shock poll over the weekend - again, from a newspaper in Minnesota, not from any Republican outlet - showing Minnesota with Obama under 50 there and Romney within striking distance.
So I actually think the map has expanded, and I think it's expanded to favor Romney.
RUDIN: Matt, by calculation, though, everybody says that if Obama does win Ohio, and every poll has the president up in Ohio, the last - the Quinnipiac poll has him up by five - Romney has to basically win almost every other swing state. And I know that you're saying the numbers have tightened in states like Minnesota and Pennsylvania. Whether that's true or not we'll see.
But none of these battleground polls shows Romney up. I mean so in other words in the next six days not only is he going to have to win them - I mean he's going to have to win them all, but from behind. That's a tough task.
CONTINETTI: It's a tough task, but it's not an impossible one. Polls close. Polls close within the last week of the race, and many undecideds tend to break for the challenger - not all the time, but often they do. So I don't think it's within - you know, without - outside the realm of possibility that Romney closes in these states.
CONAN: Let's see if we get a caller in on the conversation. We'll start with Ally(ph), Ally with us on the Democratic line from Rocky Mount in North Carolina.
ALLY: Yes, I was just going to say that especially since Romney does not seem very clear on what he wants to do with making FEMA into a private sector, I think especially in times like these with natural disasters, I think FEMA should stay federal. So I think Obama definitely has the right way in keeping it federal for that reason.
CONAN: Ally referring to a comment that Governor Romney made about - that FEMA's duties ought to be spread more to the states or even privatized. He has since modified those remarks to some degree. But Matt Continetti, is this going to come back to haunt him?
CONTINETTI: Well, I think people are trying to make it come back to haunt him. I don't think it will in the end. I think fundamentally this race is about the economy, and I think polls have shown that voters, in particular independent voters, think that Mitt Romney is better equipped than the president to address the economy.
CONAN: Ally, thanks very much for the phone call.
ALLY: All right, thanks.
GREENBERG: Can I just weigh in here? You know, I think that people, especially on the right, when they talk about deficit reduction, they always like to go after disaster relief, and it's not just - I mean they like to go after FEMA, they like to go after - I mean (unintelligible) someone who, you know, attacked relief for Katrina.
But when they happen, people actually want the government to come in and help, and I think it is - was a very tough position for him to take in this particular moment on top of the stories about the Jeep ad and GM and Chrysler attacking him, you know, publicly on running that ad. So I think he did not look very presidential during this Sandy period, and I do think it certainly hurts him because I never believed there was any Romney momentum. There's no evidence of it. But if there was, I think it certainly stopped it.
CONAN: As you look at the constituencies these two candidates are going for, President Obama seems to be going after distinct groups. He's going after young people who helped him last time around. He's going for Hispanic voters who helped him last time around. He's expecting the vote of the vast majority of African-Americans. He's expecting to be helped by the - his gap in women that they've been supporting him as well and targeting ads to those particular communities. Is that working?
GREENBERG: Well, that's how campaigns run.
GREENBERG: So you might have some advertising that's national. It's on national cable that's trying to introduce broad themes. But most campaigns target the state or region, and then they target within it, not just in the content of the ad but also in the placement of the ad, for instance, when they're actually running. So if you're targeting women, especially older women, you often target daytime TV, for example. So that's really how campaigns work. Do I think it's working? Well, I think Obama is going to win, and I think he's well ahead, not just nationally but in the battleground states. So I would say it's working. I would also add that his field program is, you know...
CONAN: The ground game.
GREENBERG: The ground game is, you know, going very well. And if you look at reports on early vote and vote by mail, there are big Democratic advantages in these battleground states, and that's a big - that's a very big part of his campaign, and arguably, he's put as much time and effort and money into it as Karl Rove did for Bush in 2004.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, the Romney ground game and also the Romney constituency which seems to be a broader section of the populace.
CONTINETTI: Well, I mean, just in terms of the ground game, there's this battle of expectations both sides now, the Obama people saying that they have it all in bag in terms of early voting. Other guys that I read and that are keyed into this say it's actually much more competitive than that. Of course, Democrats are always going to have an advantage in the early vote because it tends to attract Democrats, go to the early vote, whereas mainly Republicans, independents come on Election Day. But in fact when you look at some of the turnout in the McCain counties in Ohio, the vote there is up from where it was in 2008. So that's, in their view, a positive sign in the early game.
I'm looking at two numbers or two blocs of voters. One is independent voters. If Obama wins, it will be the first time in - since 2004 that a president is re-elected without winning independents. 2004, Bush lost independents but only by one point. The polls - all the polls show Obama with a sizable deficit, much greater than one point among independent voters, in some cases up to 12 points, sometimes even higher. So independent voters are not supporting the president. They haven't supported the president for several years.
The other is the white vote. We had a very Democratic electorate in 2008, and also, we had many more African-Americans come to the polls in 2008 than in previous elections, and that helped Obama. But what I think we might end up seeing now is that we're going to see an electorate that resembles more closely the 2004 one. And that with Romney's double-digit leads among the white vote I think also favors him in the end.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon. Also with us, Anna Greenberg, senior vice president, principal at Greenland - Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democratic political polling outfit. And, of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Jeff(ph) is on the Republican line, calling from Birchwood in Wisconsin.
JEFF: Hi. Good afternoon. I was just calling - I know this is a terrible October surprise obviously if we're - whatever side of the aisle you're on or whoever you support and Godspeed to the people on the East Coast. I think Romney is going to have to hit the ground running on this Benghazi fiasco and how the administration basically left our citizens over there high and dry with no support. And I think he's going to have push that hard because the mainstream media obviously with the Hurricane Sandy is - that's basically taken front and center on all media outlets and he's going to have to try to make some hay with that because the truth will come out before Election Day, I think, is going to be a big thing.
CONAN: All right. Jeff, thanks very much for the call. Anna Greenberg, the Benghazi crisis where, of course, four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed and, well, revelations about emails and when - what the president knew and when he knew it.
GREENBERG: Well, I don't want to get into what the facts are because it's a - could be the entire show.
GREENBERG: But what I would say politically is that the best chance that Romney had to take on that issue were during the debates. And, you know, I think the consensus is it didn't really happen. So the response for Jeff during the vice presidential debate and then the second presidential debate deflected and so I think he missed an opportunity. Foreign policy is not driving this election. The economy is driving this election. So I don't think even if he were able to do that, I don't know that it would, you know, move many people.
I do want to go back to something that Matt just said. If you look at the independent vote, you cannot assume it is static. It is dynamic. The independent vote shifts. Some people say they're independent, but they lean towards one party or the other. The electorate has become more Democratic since 2010. Independent voters should be tougher. Obama can, you know, Obama can win and lose the independent vote because the composition of the electorate is changing, and all the right-wing commentators who talk about this neglect to look at the overall party ID trends.
CONTINETTI: So Obama can win the independent vote by double digits and still win the election.
GREENBERG: No. Lose.
RUDIN: He'll lose.
GREENBERG: Yes. He...
CONTINETTI: Lose. That's right. He could lose it like by double...
GREENBERG: ...could lose the independent vote by 10 points, and he can still win the election.
CONTINETTI: ...10 points.
CONTINETTI: But he's losing it by 12.
GREENBERG: Well, that's - we're more into (unintelligible) territory.
CONAN: Ken Rudin?
RUDIN: Anna and Matt, if you go to, you know, before you go to bed on election night, what are the two or three states that you're watching most closely...
CONAN: I don't think they go to bed on election night.
RUDIN: I don't like to go to...
CONTINETTI: I'll be here at NPR, so I won't be going to bed.
RUDIN: But election night, before the - as the polls close, what are the states you're looking at most?
GREENBERG: I think Florida is a big question mark for a lot of reasons. It's a very tough state to work in presidentially. It's incredibly diverse. They've changed some of the voting rules, and it has been tied for a long time. And I have no idea what's going to happen in Florida.
CONTINETTI: Yeah, that's right. I actually think election night may be, you know, over and done earlier than we expect simply because, you know, if Romney doesn't win in Florida, he doesn't win in Virginia, he doesn't win in Ohio, well, then Obama is going to win. I mean, that's pretty obvious. So it could be an early night. On the other hand, if, as we're seeing, this is just a toss-up election and you have very small vote margins deciding these contexts, it will be a long election night because we're waiting for those ballots to be counted.
RUDIN: And these are early states. Florida is between - polls close between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m., New Hampshire at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. Virginia is 7:00 p.m. So a lot of time, it will look perhaps early in the night if those states don't go for Romney early could be a short night.
CONTINETTI: It's over. But, of course, if, let's say, he wins Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire...
CONAN: Romney, you're talking about.
CONTINETTI: Romney - and loses Ohio, then I still - I think we have to wait up to see what happens in Wisconsin. So it will depend on those first states.
GREENBERG: And Colorado.
CONTINETTI: Yeah. And Colorado. And he'll have to win both.
CONAN: Do either of you put credence in the possibility that one candidate might win the popular vote and the other one the electoral vote or that we might even get electoral tie?
GREENBERG: I don't. I think that Obama has had a clear but small lead nationally and a clear but small lead in the battleground states, so I don't see how he loses to popular vote and wins the Electoral College.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, very quickly.
CONTINETTI: I agree with Anna for once.
CONTINETTI: Yeah, the winner of the popular vote will be the winner in the Electoral College.
CONAN: When we come back, we'll focus more on the House and the Senate and which party may control those. It's Political Junkie day on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: Right now, countdown to the election. It's a supersized edition of the Political Junkie. Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday with our guests Matt Continetti and Anna Greenberg. Matt Continetti, editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news site, and Anna Greenberg, Democratic political campaign consultant, senior vice president and principal at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
And, well, we've talked about the presidential campaign. Ken Rudin, as we enter the race, six days to go now, Democrats need 25 seats to regain control of the House of Representatives. Republicans need four or three seats, depending on who wins the presidential campaign, to regain control of the Senate.
RUDIN: Right. And the Senate thing is kind of iffy because for the longest time, we kind of thought that, well, a year ago, everybody said that the Republicans had a very good shot at taking back the Senate. The numbers were in their favor. 23 of the 33 seats were Democratic controlled, so they'd be more targets.
CONAN: And a lot of Democrats resigned.
RUDIN: Right, and retiring, exactly. But then you have the problems and what's going on. First of all, you have Olympia Snowe retiring in Maine. That hurts them. Scott Brown is no better than even in Massachusetts for that Senate seat against Elizabeth Warren. That's trouble too. And there are other states that the Republicans were doing much better earlier seems to have tightened. Nebraska, which I thought was clearly a Republican win and I think it will be Republican win, but Bob Kerrey's numbers are looking much more positive than they were a couple of weeks ago. So a lot of the things have narrowed.
But at the same time, Pennsylvania, where we all thought Democrat Bob Casey has a huge lead, the millionaire, self-financing Tom Smith, a Republican, has narrowed that as well. So a lot of it is up in the air. But on the House side, it's hard to see the case at all that the Democrats take back the House. There are a lot of vulnerable Republicans, a lot of vulnerable freshmen Republicans who won in 2010. But there are a lot of Democrats retiring in the South, Southern states, where the Republicans look likely to pick up those seats.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, on the Senate, what states are you going to be looking at to point to who's going to control that House of Congress?
CONTINETTI: There are so many good contests this year. Great Senate races, though not very great Senate candidates. And, of course, we always talk about control of the Senate. No one controls the Senate.
CONTINETTI: They had 60 votes in Obama's first two years once Al Franken got in. Even he didn't control the Senate. They had to drop the public option to get the health care bill through. So you have to have 60, 65 votes in order to control the Senate. So no matter which party has a majority of senators, they won't have control. I'm going to be looking at Virginia. I think that's the most interesting race. It's neck and neck. It shows kind of the dynamics of the presidential race, I think, because Virginia is very much like the rest of the country. And I think the winner of the presidential is going to pull over his candidate across the finish line for the Senate race as well.
CONAN: Two former governors running in Virginia, name recognition not a problem for either one.
GREENBERG: No. And this - I think that that's right. I think, in a lot of ways, this does sort of resemble the presidential. I do think that Allen has his own set of issues stemming from his last campaign, and I think that Kaine has some built-in advantages around Northern Virginia. And I wouldn't be surprised if Romney won and Kaine won. I think it's a possibility.
CONAN: And then you look to the race in Massachusetts. The incumbent who, of course, won, well, he won, basically saying, no, it isn't Ted Kennedy's seat. It's the people's seat in Massachusetts. And he's now facing a tougher than expected candidate in Elizabeth Warren.
GREENBERG: Well, the race has been even since she got into the race. But in the last couple weeks, there's been a - polls consistently have come out with her a little more ahead. So actually, she's slightly favored in terms of public opinion data. I think what we're asking Brown to do is really hard because they do not like Romney in that state, and he is doing very badly. And you're asking him to over perform his presidential candidate by 15 or 20 points in some places. It's very hard. Ticket splitting is not that common, and usually, when it happens, it happens - it's two or three percentage points. You know, 2 or 3 percent of voters voting for Romney would then vote for, you know, Warren or vice versa. It's really hard when it's, you know, 15, 20 points.
RUDIN: But that's the same case in state like Montana where Obama is very unpopular.
RUDIN: Jon Tester, the Democratic senator, has to run will beyond what Obama is going to get.
GREENBERG: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And I think that's true in North Dakota too. I mean, I think that that's the challenge for Democrats in these red states as well, and always has been.
CONAN: Matt Continetti, let me ask you, though, about New England. Difficult for Republicans. They could lose two seats there, not only Massachusetts but Maine.
CONTINETTI: Oh, that's right, yes, and because they're helped by Angus King, the independent who says he'll probably caucus with the Democrats if he wins the election as I think he will. I mean, I actually think there might be a lot of opportunities for ticket splitting. You just went through some of them, whether Kaine wins Virginia and Romney wins or, you know, Obama wins Massachusetts, but Brown wins the Senate.
I mean, with Brown, it's not so much the Romney Democrats as it is the Brown Democrats. And he did have crossover appeal when he ran in 2010. The question is, can he maintain that? And it's possible he will just because, you know, it's - he's playing - as you see his campaign ads, he's playing, you know, I'm the guy on the street, and that's the heart of professor. And you want to vote for the guy on the street. Let's see if it works.
GREENBERG: But my point is ticket splitting is in Virginia, the race is tight presidentially and in the Senate. So 1 or 2 percent ticket splitting can change the outcome. In a state like Massachusetts or North Dakota, Montana, you're asking 10, 15 percent to split their tickets. That's much higher. That's my only point.
RUDIN: Matt, just like with Maine, had Olympia Snowe run again, she clearly would have won. I think we can make the case that had Dick Lugar run again in Indiana, he would have won, too, that race is in jeopardy of the Republican's losing.
CONTINETTI: It is. I mean, I think we should give Joe Donnelly, the Democrat, credit. I mean, he's a conservative Democrat. He's a good candidate. I - when I just look at the candidates, as I think I have mentioned, I think the Democrats have better candidates. You know, they have tested candidates. You go Florida where Bill Nelson, the incumbent, is running against Connie Mack IV. You know, Bill Nelson has been around. He knows this is - he knows the game, and he's also to the right of the Democratic Party in a lot of ways, the National Democratic Party.
You look at places, you know, the mess that we got into in Missouri when Todd Akin made that ridiculous comment, you know. Claire McCaskill, everyone thought she was (unintelligible), she's run a pretty decent campaign. She hasn't made any major errors.
CONAN: And back on the trail today after her mother died on Monday. Yes.
CONTINETTI: And then finally, Ohio. You know, Sherrod Brown, he's in a tough fight there against Josh Mandel. At the end of the day, I think a lot of people, they like Josh Mandel or whatever, but they don't take him very seriously because he looks so young. So I think when you just look at candidates, even John Tester, right? I mean, he's come to Washington and voted with Obama a lot of times, more often than many Montanans probably want. But he's also just - he's a likeable guy. He's got a great story from there, from Big Sandy, Montana. So I think in terms of just pure candidates, right now, the Democrats have an advantage.
CONAN: Let's see if we get a caller in on the conversation. And let's go to Maya. Maya with us from Tallahassee.
MAYA: Hi. I'm a little nervous. First time on national radio, and I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
MAYA: OK. I'm concerned about the local race - well, not local, local, but our House district race between Steve Southerland, is a Republican, and Al Lawson, who's a Democrat. And I'm concerned, of course, because I'm a Democrat, and I want a majority of Democrats in the House and Senate this time. My fear is based on a show I saw last night on "Frontline," interestingly, about Montana, and the big money that comes in. You know, 501(c)(4) organizations pumping money in and inundating voters with mail and negative attack and so on. So I guess my thing would be that the money hasn't really made an appearance so much yet. But I think next week, it's going to be a big, big thing.
CONAN: They may not have - be able to buy anymore time there in Tallahassee.
CONAN: But, Ken, what...
MAYA: No. You know, I don't know about the buying time. I'm not expert in media, but, yeah, I'm just concerned about the mail and all that stuff.
CONAN: Can you tell us about the Southerland/Lawson race?
RUDIN: Yeah. This - I mean, Southerland was elected 2010. I think he was the first Democrat elect - first Republican elected in that district since 1066. I think it's been a long, long time.
RUDIN: But, you know, I was in Florida last week. And basically, even the Bill Nelson/Connie Mack Senate race gets crowded out because everything, every ad you see is about the presidential race. It's hard to make a difference. Of course, Allen West is in that tough race in the north Palm Beach County.
CONAN: Just north, yeah.
RUDIN: Right. But Steve Southerland is up in the panhandle, I mean, in northern Florida, around Jacksonville.
MAYA: Yes, yes.
RUDIN: You know, again the first Republican. He looks like he's going to hold on to that seat.
MAYA: Unfortunately, because I'm just afraid that too many Republicans again opposing Obama if he gets re-elected, I pray. You know, it's going to be the same traffic jam or blockage we saw in the first four years of Obama's presidency.
CONAN: All right. Maya, you did great your first time on national radio.
MAYA: Thank you, Neal. Thank you so much.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Any particular House races you're looking at, Matt?
CONTINETTI: Well, I like Texas' 22 with...
CONTINETTI: ...23, yeah, with Quico Canseco, who's one of those surprise wins in 2010, a Hispanic Republican. Again, very close race and, you know, he may not be one who comes back next time. But it shows, you know, a real test in states such as Texas whether the Republicans can make an appeal toward the Hispanic vote. Blake Farenthold, who is nearby, won his race in 2010 with a large margin of Hispanic voters. And I don't think he's as much in danger this year.
CONAN: Anna, any particular House races you're looking at?
GREENBERG: Well, you know, in full disclosure, I work for Pete Gallego, who's running against Quico Canseco. In full disclosure, I'm working for Christie Vilsack running against Steve King, but that's a race that I'm keeping a very close eye on because it's actually a Republican-leaning district. The last poll that we released public has her down two points. It's real. And it would be a big win for people who don't like the Tea Party if Christie Vilsack was able to take out Steve King.
CONAN: Anna Greenberg, who works for Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. I think she's got a corner office there.
CONAN: And also with us, Matt Continetti, editor in chief at the Washington Free Beacon. Of course, Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Let's go next to Mark, and Mark's an absentee in Florida.
MARK: Yes. I'd like to ask about the characterization of FATCA overseas in the hire act legislation. And how are candidates and the media addressing the important absentee votes.
CONAN: The absentee votes are absolutely critical because a lot of people are voting absentee this time even if they're just down the street. But are you talking about particularly people overseas, Mark?
MARK: Yes. There are many, many people that are very, very upset about FATCA legislation, and the characterization of people overseas as rich and also the record-number of people that are renouncing due to that type of problem.
CONAN: I'm looking around the table, and I - with myself as well. I'm unfamiliar with the fat cat remark in terms of addressing people overseas.
MARK: FATCA is F-A-T-C-A is legislation connected to the hire act that was a revenue-producing side to address new jobs. And it's basically not very well-accepted overseas, and the media has not yet covered it.
CONAN: Fairly not because I...
CONAN: (Unintelligible) blank but Mark, well, I promise we will look into it.
MARK: Yes, please, that. And, yes, FATCA is a very big issue and not addressed and the ex-patriots are not addressed in any of the discussions.
MARK: Three hundred thousand of them in Florida.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mark. Appreciate it. Ken?
RUDIN: You know, we were talking earlier about House races to watch and, of course, Anna just mentioned Christie Vilsack and Steve King in Iowa. But there's another one when - two incumbents running against each other in Iowa, that's Leonard Boswell and - what's his name?
GREENBERG: Tom Latham.
RUDIN: Tom Latham, the Republican. You also have another - you have several - and also, you have Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton in Ohio. And, you know, both Republicans in New Hampshire are in some danger of losing. I don't think they'll both lose. But if they do and the two Democrats win, it'll be the first time in history that women control every congressional seat in a state, and that will be New Hampshire if that happens.
CONAN: In the meantime, you could have a Republican win a congressional seat in the state of Massachusetts and upset the apple cart there and change its all-Democratic line-up for the first time in, what? How many years, Ken?
RUDIN: That's - well, they've had a Republican not too long ago, but this, again, John Tierney, who's family is involved in some kind of financial scandal. That'll be interesting in an overwhelming Democratic state to get an openly gay Republican congressman in that seat.
GREENBERG: But we need to say one thing about Massachusetts stakes. It's actually not normally Democratic district. It is about 50-50 district if you look at Democratic performance or presidential performance. So, you know...
RUDIN: That's the old Torkildsen seat? I think it was. The Republicans haven't held in about 20 years.
GREENBERG: Right. But I'm just saying Tierney has his own set of problems, but it's also not a heavily Democratic district, which exacerbates his problems in that district.
CONAN: Let's get one last caller in, and we go to Susie. Susie with us from Ladue in St. Louis, Missouri.
SUSIE: Hi. I'm - we're demographic. I'm a 69-year-old woman who in an independent, but I'm going for Obama. But we have Claire McCaskill who is the incumbent senator and has one of the wonderful state auditor in Missouri. She saves all kind of - kinds of money and was very careful with the books. And we are - we have a AAA credit rating with a Democratic governor, who's being challenged by another one who thinks that a businessman equates to a good governor. But Jay Nixon has kept us with a AAA rate credit rating as a governor, and I think that will help Claire McCaskill. She - they're trying to claim, at this point - the Republicans are trying to claim that her husband has had some kind of questionable dealings. They're searching for whatever they can because she's done a very good job as a senator.
CONAN: Well, Matt Continetti, I think you said earlier, no matter whether the governor is helping her or the president is helping her, the Republican candidate is helping Claire McCaskill.
SUSIE: Yes. She - he is, definitely. Although we have an extraordinarily strong fundamentalist Christian base here.
CONAN: It's going to be closer than people think, I think.
CONAN: But the betting right now is Claire McCaskill pulls it out.
CONTINETTI: Can I say something about Missouri? You know, it's interesting. If we just teleported back four years ago and the day after Election Day 2008, we will say, OK, well, since most presidents are re-elected with a larger share of the vote than they got the first time around, that would probably mean that Obama would be expanding the map as well. And I believe that there are, you know, Missouri would have been one state where you would said, oh, well, maybe Obama could win, 'cause the margin was so close in 2008. It was actually a narrow McCain victory. Other states like Arizona, the Obama campaign was thinking of targeting. Even Georgia at that time there, they were saying that they were going to look into Georgia. That hasn't happened.
And instead, what we - the map has changed in a way. It's the same states we've been arguing out over between 2004 and 2008, and now some of these northern Great Lake states that I don't think people were anticipating.
CONAN: So quick prediction, a Republican president, Matt Continetti, yes?
CONTINETTI: I think so. I think Romney wins 51 percent.
CONAN: Republican Senate?
CONAN: Republican House?
GREENBERG: Obama wins by two points, Democratic Senate, Republican House.
RUDIN: I agree with the latter.
CONAN: So we're going to have an exciting four years of tremendous legislative progress.
RUDIN: Well, that's scary because let's see what happens with the blame game that goes on in the election. Do we blame Sandy? Do we blame Paul Ryan? Do we blame Mitt Romney? Do we blame Herman Cain? There's going to be a lot of blame...
GREENBERG: Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock...
GREENBERG: There's just no shortage.
CONAN: And, of course, in this program, we have somebody we can always blame, Political Junkie Ken Rudin...
CONAN: ...with us every Wednesday. Thank you very much.
RUDIN: Thank you, I think.
GREENBERG: Thank you.
CONAN: And, Anna Greenberg, thank you for your time today.
GREENBERG: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And, Matt Continetti, appreciate your time.
CONTINETTI: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: Good luck with the new job. It's the Political Junkie from NPR News. Of course, next week, we'll be back with results, actual votes. Join us for that. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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