NPR

So Far, Three Senators Will Not Seek Re-Election

Three Senators have recently announced retirements -- Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Also, the Republicans vote to overturn the health care law, the RNC has a new chief and guests remember Sargent Shriver.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Health care repeal, alive and well in the House, dead on arrival in the Senate. The man of Steele bows out as the Reince cycle begins at the RNC, and three incumbent senators decide to spend more time with their families. It's Wednesday and time for a retirement edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, Im reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?

Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy.

President RICHARD NIXON: You dont have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics, and two governors sang a little off-key as we marked the Martin Luther King holiday.

The Senate majority leader called the president's dinner guest a dictator. Sarah Palin defends the crosshairs and blood libel. In a bit, we'll focus on the Senate campaign in 2012, as a Republican and a Democrat and Joe Lieberman announced they won't run again.

Later in the program, tips for success as a street musician. Buskers, email us now, talk@npr.org. But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question.

KEN RUDIN: As usual, hello, Neal.

CONAN: Hi, Ken.

RUDIN: Okay, well, Senator Joe Lieberman announced his retirement today, and he was, of course, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000. Four years later, he sought the presidency himself. Before Lieberman, who was the last Democrat who ran for, but was never elected, vice president and who also ran for president four years later.

CONAN: If you think you know the answer, again, the question: Before Joe Lieberman, the last Democrat to be nominated but not elected vice president who also then ran for president himself four years later. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt. And Ken, I guess the political news of the week is the debate in the House of Representatives, as a health care repeal is up.

RUDIN: Well, there are a lot of people who keep saying it's a symbolic effort, but to their credit, the Republicans campaigned on repealing the health care measure, the overhaul, and they're sticking to their promise.

Now, you could say that it will go nowhere because the Senate will defeat it, if it even comes up for a vote in the Senate, and of course, if by some miracle it passes the Senate, President Obama certainly would veto it.

But again, the strategy is, according to the Republicans, is that we'll pass it because promised our constituents that we would repeal it, and then perhaps we'll work with the Obama administration and the Senate Democrats to kind of work out the problems with the bill and work some minor revisions.

CONAN: And in addition to that, people were looking to see if there had been a change in rhetoric after all that discussion following the attempted assassination in Tucson. And yes, the name of the bill is still officially the job-killing Obama health care bill, but there was talk of the job-destroying and the job-crushing bill, but not everybody seemed to be on-message. This is Texas Republican Ted Poe on the floor of the House of Representatives early in the debate yesterday.

Representative TED POE (Republican, Texas): It has been decades since freedom and liberty faced a full frontal assault from a single piece of legislation, a bill that is so damaging in scope that, by its passage, American freedom, American health will be sacrificed on the altar of more government control.

Of course, I'm talking about the universal government takeover of health care.

CONAN: And, well, how many things are wrong in that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But anyway, as you go by that, and the debate today even more heated, it looks as if we're right back to where we were.

RUDIN: Oh, not at all, Neal, because the Democrats and Republicans will be sitting next to each other next Tuesday at the - President Obama's State of the Union address. So everything will be great, just as you remember in the 1970s, when we wore WIN buttons and it stopped inflation?

CONAN: Whip inflation now.

RUDIN: It worked, didn't it? So I guarantee that by sitting together during the State of the Union, everybody is going to be fine, and the rhetoric and the comity, not the comedy that you get on this show, but the comity will be in evidence.

CONAN: Should point out that John McCain, the president's rival, of course, in the last election, wrote a gracious review of the president's speech in Tucson, saying it was just terrific.

RUDIN: Yes, it was. And we saw - you know, we've seen a lot of bitterness come from John McCain since the election. We saw that during the health care, town hall - the health care meeting between President Obama and congressional leaders last year. And you saw the anger that still stays with John McCain to this day. But that was a very gracious op-ed.

CONAN: Speaking of unsuccessful vice presidential nominees, the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, went on Fox News to defend her response to the shooting in Tucson. She, in the course of that interview with Sean Hannity, did say those were crosshairs and said, of course, others had used the crosshairs...

RUDIN: Which is true.

CONAN: It's absolutely true, including the Democratic National Committee some years ago. And then Sean Hannity asked her to clarify whether she knew exactly what she was saying when she mentioned the term blood libel.

Ms. PALIN: And blood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands. And in this case, that's exactly what was going on. And yes, the historical knowledge that people have of the term blood libel, it goes back to the Jewish, who were falsely accused back in medieval European times of using the blood of children. And, you know...

CONAN: And, you know...

RUDIN: Well, look. We have spent a lot of time on parsing what Sarah Palin meant and whether she knew what blood libel was or not. The real issue is that - well, first of all, new polls have come out that 30 percent of the American people liked or approved of Sarah Palin's response to the tragedy in Tucson, whereas 78 percent approved of President Obama's speech at the memorial service.

Sarah Palin knows that - look, first of all, a lot of people, the things they said about Sarah Palin and the tea party in the initial moments after the tragedy and horror in Tucson were despicable, and I think they were over the top and just libelous, if nothing else.

But Sarah Palin continues to make this about Sarah Palin. And as Matt Bai wrote in The New York Times today, in a very good piece, I thought, basically that just President Clinton effectively used Newt Gingrich as his foil in approaching his 1996 re-election, Barack Obama could very well have used Sarah Palin because Sarah Palin's numbers are lower than they've ever been since that fellow John McCain picked her as his running mate.

CONAN: And we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, again the last Democrat before Joe Lieberman who was a Democratic vice presidential nominee, unsuccessful, to then run for president himself four years later.

And let's see if we can go first to Linda(ph) and Linda with us from Utopia in Texas. I love the name of that town.

LINDA (Caller): And it is Utopia.

CONAN: Go ahead, Linda.

LINDA: Well, I'm just going to have to flip a coin because I've got two choices, but I'm going to say Endicott Peabody because I have an Endicott Peabody for vice president lapel pin.

CONAN: I think Ken wants that pin, but anyway.

RUDIN: Well, no, I have it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Of course, you know, Endicott Peabody was named after those two, three towns in Massachusetts, Endicott Peabody and Marblehead. I've been using that joke for 50 years. It doesn't matter.

Now, Endicott Peabody...

CONAN: Funny, he doesn't get back to you.

RUDIN: ...did run for vice president, but he was not the Democratic nominee for vice president. He was a self-announced candidate, and, of course, Peabody never ran for president. He was, did run for vice president on his own, never got the nomination.

LINDA: Okay.

CONAN: And if Ken Rudin ever comes to Utopia, you better insure that pin.

RUDIN: I have it. I have one already.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Linda. Let's see if we can go next to -this is Robin(ph), Robin with us from Miami.

ROBIN (Caller): Yes, I am.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ROBIN: Where it's 82 degrees and sunny.

RUDIN: Also Utopia.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Also Utopia, and yes, Robin, we hate you, but go ahead.

ROBIN: Hardly. Walter Mondale?

RUDIN: Well, Walter Mondale was the vice president, and he did run for president four years later, 1984, but the question was: Who ran for vice president but was never elected vice president.

ROBIN: Oh, never...

CONAN: Unsuccessful. So Robin, good choice but not quite.

RUDIN: That's right. The answer was on the fritz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's go to Mark(ph). Mark's with us from Muncie, Indiana. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

MARK (Caller): Hubert Humphrey.

CONAN: Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

RUDIN: Well, again, the same thing. Hubert Humphrey was vice president. He ran for president four years later, in 1968, but he was the incumbent vice president. I'm looking for a Democrat who ran for vice president but was never elected vice president and then ran for president.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go to Anthony(ph), Anthony in San Antonio. Do you have the answer?

ANTHONY (Caller): Yeah, I do have the answer. The answer is Sargent Shriver.

RUDIN: Sargent Shriver is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Sargent Shriver, who passed away this weekend, and we will talk about Sargent Shriver. But Sargent Shriver was George McGovern's second choice for running mate in 1972 but was...

CONAN: He was behind him 120 percent.

RUDIN: That's right, and they carried Massachusetts. Of course, they lost 49 other states. And then four years later, Sargent Shriver ran for president, in 1976, didn't get anywhere. But Sargent Shriver is the correct answer.

CONAN: So Anthony, we're going to put you on hold and collect your particulars. We will mail you a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt in return for your promise to take a digital picture of yourself and email it to us so we can post it on our wall of shame.

ANTHONY: All right, thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Thank you, Anthony.

RUDIN: For the record, Ed Muskie would have been a close answer, too, but he would have been right before. Ed Muskie was vice presidential nominee in '68, ran for president in '72.

CONAN: And, well, whoever guessed that would have, of course, cried in the snow. Anyway, Sargent Shriver, a great public servant who has been mentioned -never did win public office.

RUDIN: No, and he ran several times. First of all, he ran briefly for governor of Maryland in 1970. He was George McGovern's running mate in '72, ran for president in '76. And we always think of those as failures, but the same time, he was the first director of the Peace Corps under his brother-in-law, President Kennedy. He was, of course, married to Eunice Shriver Kennedy, and of course, he basically conducted Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, anti-poverty efforts, a very important person in the history of anti-poverty and, you know, those kind of efforts.

CONAN: And we have to get back to the political news of the week, though, and Maine Governor Paul LePage, asked by a reporter this week about dealing with the NAACP.

Governor PAUL LePAGE (Republican, Maine): They invited me to go to the state prison to meet black prisoners. I told them I would go. I'd be more than happy to go, but I would meet all prisoners. And they didn't - that wasn't acceptable to them. So tough luck.

Unidentified Woman: And what's your response to them saying there's more than just one incident but rather a pattern?

Gov. LePAGE: Tell them to kiss my butt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Governor LePage, not the first time he's gotten into trouble for such language.

RUDIN: No, exactly right. When he was running for governor, he said if he was elected governor, he would tell President Obama to, quote, "go to hell." He was a tea party favorite, kind of an upset winner in Maine, very conservative. But, as you say, he's not the only governor to get himself in trouble.

We saw Robert Bentley, the new governor of Alabama, who basically said - not basically said...

CONAN: But did say.

RUDIN: He did say. He was sworn in on Monday, and then he went to a church in Birmingham shortly afterwards, and he said anybody here...

CONAN: Martin Luther King Day, by the way.

RUDIN: Martin Luther King Day, exactly, as was Paul LePage - anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother, and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

That's kind of an interesting, shall we say, comment to be said from the governor of a state, Alabama.

CONAN: A spokesman later said no, no, no, it's taken out of context. He was talking the religious context. Of course, he's governor of all the people regardless of race, color, creed, whatever. But again, an unfortunate remark on somebody's first day in office.

Ken Rudin, our political junkie, will stay with us. Coming up, a whirlwind tour of some of the states that have found their senators won't seek another term. We want to hear from you how the 2012 Senate races are shaping up where you live. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, it's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

It's Wednesday. We're here with the political junkie, Ken Rudin, as usual. You can read more about him and download his podcast both at npr.org/junkie - go ahead, try to solve that ScuttleButton puzzle.

Earlier this afternoon, Senator Joe Lieberman told supporters in his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, that his wife had asked him a question.

Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): Joey, how long are you going to stay in the Senate? And I said: Sweetheart, I want to make you a promise today. I promise you that when Regis leaves television, I'll leave the Senate. And here we are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Regis Philbin, of course, the long-time star of "Live with Regis and" a couple of different co-hosts, but in any case announced yesterday that he'll be leaving that show, I guess in August. And Senator Lieberman announced that he'll be leaving the Senate in two years' time, just the latest in a series of high-profile announcements that may change the political map in 2012.

In a minute, we'll go to Connecticut. Later, we'll hear from reporters in Texas and North Dakota, where there will be also be open Senate seats in 2012. We want to hear from you. How are Senate races playing out in your state? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now is John Dankosky, the host of "Where We Live" at member station WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut, also that station's news director. John, nice to have you back so soon.

Mr. JOHN DANKOSKY (News Director, WNPR): Yes, thanks so much. Good to talk to you guys.

CONAN: And is this a long time coming, Senator Lieberman's announcement? This come as a surprise?

Mr. DANKOSKY: It comes as a huge surprise to a lot of people. We were kind of shocked when we started hearing this news the other day because, well, we knew Joe was going to be up to something in the next year, but we just didn't expect this announcement right now.

We'd heard from the secretary of the state, or former secretary of the state here, Susan Bysiewicz, that she was going to enter into the race. So we thought something might be up.

But just hearing those words out of his mouth that he was not going to be here after 2012 was a shock to an awful lot of people and, I have to tell you guys, a shock to an awful lot of Democrats who weren't real thrilled with Joe Lieberman over the course of the last couple years.

One Democrat told me, she said she was very disappointed to hear this because she wouldn't get a chance to vote him out of office. That's how a lot of Democrats were feeling in Connecticut these last couple years.

CONAN: He went from vice presidential candidate to presidential candidate to then, well, persona non grata. He, of course, lost the Democratic primary, ran as an independent and then ended up backing his friend and Republican John McCain.

RUDIN: And criticizing Barack Obama in the process at the Republican convention.

CONAN: In a speech to the Republican convention, yes.

Mr. DANKOSKY: Yeah, that moment, where he stood up in front of the Republican convention, was really the final straw for many, many Democrats. But going back to his support for the Iraq War, that's where he began to lose the support of a lot of the people who'd supported him over years and years here in the state.

And he did lose that nomination to Ned Lamont, and he barely won re-election as an independent, or, as he was saying, an independent Democrat at the time. Ned Lamont, the man who almost beat him and then ran unsuccessfully for governor just this last year, I just talked with him a couple minutes ago.

He said, you know, a couple years ago, there was nothing that he thinks Joe wouldn't have done or said to make sure he got re-elected. He was really, really surprised because, in Ned's words, the idea of not being in the Senate was just unconscionable to Joe, and today, it's entirely changed, it seems.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: John, even before the Iraq War and the backing of McCain, he gave, Lieberman gave that famous speech on the Senate floor in 1998 when he criticized President Clinton's behavior with Monica Lewinski.

There were a lot of Democrats even back then who felt that he was just too sanctimonious and things like that. But at the same time, many feel that Al Gore picked Joe Lieberman as his running mate because of that speech.

Mr. DANKOSKY: Well, and at that time, he was also just about the most popular politician in Connecticut history. You probably remember this, Ken. He had about 80 percent approval ratings. Everyone loved Joe at that time and in part because he was able to step outside the box.

Look, Connecticut is a blue state, and it's a Democratic state. But the biggest majority of the people are actually unaffiliated, independent voters. They are not the typical Democrats. And they don't really care necessarily what the big Democratic Party is saying. They liked the Joe Lieberman who was able to criticize Bill Clinton on one hand and then work on environmental regulation on the other hand and reach across the aisle.

But what happened after that was just very, very strange, where he became very, very conservative on many key issues, and the progressives and the liberals who had supported him weren't able to anymore. They threw their support behind Ned Lamont, and he was never able to regain any of that support in the state.

CONAN: Despite his - if you said one senator was the key in the "don't ask, don't tell" battle, it would have to have been Joe Lieberman.

Mr. DANKOSKY: And absolutely. And that's something that a number of people in just the last several months have come up and said to me is they believed in Joe Lieberman on this "don't ask, don't tell" battle, and in many ways, guys, it seems like the end for Chris Dodd, as well.

You know, when Chris Dodd, about a year ago now, said he wasn't coming back, which was a big shock to everyone, it was pretty clear that Chris Dodd was not going to get re-elected.

Then what did he do? He stepped into a couple of enormous battles over health care and about financial reform, and he got a lot done in the last year. And a lot of people on both sides of the aisle said, well good for Chris Dodd.

Maybe that's what they're looking at Joe Lieberman to do. Starting with "don't ask, don't tell," maybe doing some things where he's able to work with both parties in the next couple years.

CONAN: In the meantime, I'm sure people are handicapping the race for the Republican and Democratic nominations already.

Mr. DANKOSKY: Well, we already have somebody jumping into it. I mentioned the name of Susan Bysiewicz. She was the secretary of the state of Connecticut for a long time. She tried to run for governor for a while. Then she tried to run for attorney general. And she wasn't qualified to be attorney general.

So right now, she's out of a job in politics. Just last week, she said she's taking a job with a local law firm, and then, two or three days later, she said, no, I'm going to run for Senate in 2012. So she's in the race already.

Chris Murphy, who is a young guy, a representative in the 5th District here, in Congress, is thought to be a Democratic frontrunner for that. And of course, the name Linda McMahon is hovering on the Republican side. She spent about $50 million of her own money.

CONAN: We're not going to have wrestle with Linda McMahon again, will we?

Mr. DANKOSKY: It seems as though we might. I mean, she was willing to spend a ton of money to lose pretty badly, honestly, to Richard Blumenthal in this last Senate race, and she's been talked about as a possible contender. Maybe Tom Foley, who's a Republican who lost in the governor's race, as well, in a very, very close race.

Those are a couple names on the Republican side. But it's very, very early. I mean, I just got done with a Senate race. Do we have to do this again so soon?

CONAN: Yeah, I'm afraid so. John Dankosky, thanks very much for your time.

Mr. DANKOSKY: Thanks, guys.

CONAN: John Dankosky, news director of WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut. We want to hear from you. What's happening with the 2012 Senate races where you live? 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. Martha(ph) is on the line from Hudson, Massachusetts.

MARTHA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Martha.

MARTHA: We've got some hot news about the Scott Brown election coming up in 2012.

CONAN: Scott Brown won a special election, of course, about this time last year.

RUDIN: This day.

CONAN: This day last year. I was just going to through that in my head. Thank you, Ken. And he, of course, would be up for re-election in 2012. Go ahead, Martha.

MARTHA: Well, out of left field came Bob Massie, Robert Massie, who ran for lieutenant governor about 10, 15 years ago but then was pulled down by health problems. But he's recovered from his health problems, and he's back in the field, and he's announced, much to the surprise of just about everybody, and to the thrill of a lot of people because he's a very distinguished, very accomplished, very good candidate.

CONAN: Well, Scott Brown's going to be a tough race.

RUDIN: He is. I mean, he's still very popular in Massachusetts. But again, I assume we're not talking to Martha Coakley. We're talking to Martha but not Martha Coakley. But Martha, I have a question, though.

Massachusetts will lose one seat in the redistricting next year. There's a lot of pressure on one of those Democrats to drop out of the congressional race and run against Scott Brown. Do you see one of the members of Congress doing that?

MARTHA: We have about four or five names of people we expect might run. So this candidacy of Robert Massie came as a surprise. They're - he's got a good chance of making some good, strong arguments against Scott Brown for Massachusetts citizens.

CONAN: Martha, thanks very much for the update.

MARTHA: Yeah.

CONAN: Also with us now is Wayne Slater, senior political writer for The Dallas Morning News, with us from the studios of member station KUT in Austin. Wayne, nice to have you with us.

Mr. WAYNE SLATER (Senior Political Writer, The Dallas Morning News): Great to be with you.

CONAN: And Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison kept, I guess, a campaign promise. She said if she did not get elected or got elected governor, either way, she was not going to run again for Senate.

Mr. SLATER: That's right. Over the last year, year and a half, she said she was going to run, not going to run, going to quit, not going to quit. I guess she's going to quit.

CONAN: I guess she's going to quit. She's finally made that announcement, though in a statement. She had a peroration or a news conference or anything?

Mr. SLATER: No, basically a statement. It was kind of out of the blue. It seems awfully early in the process. Some of us who are watching her fundraising, or the lack of it, kind of got the sense that she was not likely to want to run again. And that fractious primary last year against Governor Rick Perry, where he labeled her part of the spawn of the Washington, I think took it out of her.

CONAN: And so she is back. Any news on what she plans to do?

Mr. SLATER: Not really. She told me that she wants to go into some - into private business or private enterprise or private affairs in some way. That sounds like she doesn't want to be a lobbyist, and it doesn't sound like a nonprofit, don't know.

CONAN: All right, Ken?

RUDIN: Wayne, obviously we just talked about Connecticut. That looks like a Democratic state. But Texas is a Republican state, and there's no shortage of Republicans already lining up for that seat.

Mr. SLATER: Oh, yeah. I mean, no, the frontrunner has to be the lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, millionaire Houstonian. He's been the lieutenant governor for - since 2003, has a lot of money. He can self-finance the race.

Also, he made a very good commercial his last time he ran for re-election, when he was on a cutting horse. And Texans watching the commercial, somebody riding a horse, can tell whether they're faking it or not, and he isn't faking it. Another establishment figure would be the former secretary of state, Roger Williams, a Fort Worth car dealer. He doesn't have the money.

RUDIN: President Bush...

Mr. SLATER: But he is...

RUDIN: The first President Bush just endorsed him.

Mr. SLATER: Exactly. He's a guy who got the support of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bush 41, this week, at his office in Houston, so that's good. Williams is going to have some support. The problem, of course, in Texas, like so many states, is that there are going to be candidates favored by the tea party. And those two who really have emerged already are the former solicitor general, a guy named Ted Cruz, very attractive, very smart guy, 40 years old, who would like to run - in fact, when he was working with the attorney general here in Texas some years ago, was part of the successful defense team defending the right to have the Ten Commandments monument on the capitol grounds where it remains today. Also, the railroad commissioner, a guy name Michael Williams, a very successful in, I guess, a bit of messing with Texans, the senator from South Carolina...

CONAN: Jim DeMint?

Mr. SLATER: Jim DeMint, just sent an email out saying he likes Michael Williams, and he likes Ted Cruz, and he sent that to a lot of...

CONAN: And John Cornyn did not like that so.

RUDIN: Stay out of it.

CONAN: Stay out of it.

Mr. SLATER: He did not like that. Don't mess with Texas.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Richard. Richard with us from San Antonio.

RICHARD (Caller): Hey. How is it going? I was just commenting on our Senate race over here where Kay Bailey is going to leave. It's unfortunate that, in my opinion, the - we're going to have somebody like Dewhurst who is - I hate to say - a crony of Governor Perry, but he just doesn't seem too real for me as far as I'm concerned, but then again, I'm a center-left progressive. And I chose - I would choose Senator Bailey for governor over Perry just because Perry just seems to be so conservative demagogue-ish.

CONAN: That race is over, Richard, and...

RICHARD: I know. Oh, I know. It's plenty over, but I was saying at the time. I should have clarified, Mr. Conan. I do know how you like specifics and being clear on all the specifics.

CONAN: I do like your point, though, Richard. I think one of the things he's saying, Ken, is that, interestingly, any Republican, as we're listening to that list from Wayne Slater, any of those Republicans would be more conservative than Kay Bailey Hutchison. Interesting also, that any Democrat who wins in the state of Connecticut likely to be more liberal than Joe Lieberman.

RUDIN: And we're seeing that in a lot of states. The Republicans are moving to the right. The Democrats are moving to the left. But, Wayne Slater, we keep talking about how this - the Democratic Party in Texas because of demographics is going to finally make its move, but in the governor's race, they didn't come close, and I don't think they'll come close in the Senate race either, will they?

Mr. SLATER: No. The secret here really for the Democrats is demographic. When will Hispanics vote in the numbers that reflect their political potential? It hasn't happened yet. It's not likely to happen in the next two or four years. This is going to remain a Republican state where every statewide office holder, as you know Ken, is a Republican, and that's not likely to change. In fact, there was a poll just the other day - I guess, it was earlier this week - that showed that virtually any of these top Republican potential candidates would beat any of the potential Democratic candidates by double digits.

CONAN: Wayne Slater, thanks very much as always.

Mr. SLATER: Good to be with you.

CONAN: Wayne Slater, senior political writer for The Dallas Morning News, with us from KUT, our member station in Austin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION and the Political Junkie from NPR News.

Now, with us on the phone from her office is Kristen Daum, a reporter at The Fargo Forum.

Kristen, nice to speak with you.

Ms. KRISTEN DAUM (Reporter, The Fargo Forum): Nice to speak with you. Thank you for having me on.

CONAN: And, of course, the third senator to announce that he will not be running is the Democrat from the state of North Dakota.

Ms. DAUM: Yes. Kent Conrad kind of shocked us all yesterday with his announcement. I guess some could say they saw it coming. Others, for the most part, said they couldn't. So it was - it came as a shock, I think, to many here and just especially a year after we had Senator Dorgan announce his retirement. And in November, we also lost Representative Earl Pomeroy in the elections, so we're going to have a fresh delegation here in two years, no matter what.

CONAN: And a lot of people are saying, yeah, it used to be all moderate Democrats. It's all going to be conservative Republicans.

Ms. DAUM: Right. Exactly.

CONAN: And who's lining up to run on the Republican side in 2012?

Ms. DAUM: Well, basically, I think you could say on both sides of the aisle, really, it's a free-for-all at this point. Anybody who wants to run or has the potential to run has an opportunity to throw their hat in the ring. But for the Republicans at this point, the names that probably come to mind right now are Brian Kalk, who's a public service commissioner here in North Dakota, and he announced last week that he is forming an exploratory committee to gauge public support for a bid, but he's obviously not a candidate yet himself.

Others like, you know, just yesterday, Rick Berg, his name came up. He just won the House seat over Earl Pomeroy back in November, and so some GOP supporters are saying he could choose to move up to the Senate in two years, rather than seek another term in the House, which...

CONAN: And...

Ms. DAUM: ...and so others - well, there's a lot of state officials, you know, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, Governor Jack Dalrymple, all of those have come to light as well as possibilities. So it's a lot to kind of weigh at this point.

CONAN: You'll note that I left you to pronounce Stenehjem because I...

Ms. DAUM: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...didn't know how. Any Democrats likely to be prominent?

Ms. DAUM: Yeah. Again, on that side as well, there's a lot of names coming out, but I don't think relatively speaking there as prominent or maybe as well known as the Republican side because Republicans do have the edge, especially when it comes to state government here in North Dakota.

But in terms of Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp's name has come up. She was a former attorney general and ran for governor back in 2000, and she's been considered as a possibility for the Senate race. I don't think that's as much of a possibility because she has said that she wants the governorship so - but her name is predominately out there as a possibility, as well her brother has been mentioned. Joel Heitkamp, he's a former state legislator and a radio personality here in Fargo.

And as well a whole slew of state legislators: you've got Mac Schneider in Grand Forks, Corey Mock in Grand Forks, Ryan Taylor, he is from Towner, North Dakota, a rural area. And he's a rancher there, but he's the leader of the Democrats in the legislature. So he's become kind of an up-and-comer that could be one to keep an eye on in the months to come.

CONAN: Kristen Daum, thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.

Ms. DAUM: Thank you.

CONAN: And Kristen Daum, a reporter for The Fargo Forum, with us from her office there.

Interesting, well, sort of maybe an entrance in the Utah senatorial race. This was at a news conference just about an hour ago. President Obama, well, he's talking with President Hu of China, but he also pointed out to his ambassador in the crowd and said, well, he noted that maybe he might get a challenge for the president from that ambassador.

President BARACK OBAMA: So I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: And I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And that ambassador, Jim Huntsman(ph), from Utah...

RUDIN: Jon Huntsman.

CONAN: Jon Huntsman, excuse me. And maybe a presidential candidate, maybe a senatorial candidate.

RUDIN: Right. Orrin Hatch is running for X amount of term next year, and he's already in big trouble. Some polls showing - finishing as low as third place.

CONAN: All right, Ken Rudin, our political junkie, with us every Wednesday. Ken, as always, thank you for your time.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, street musicians have a lot to think about: weather, appropriate music, customer demographics - call and tell us your tips for success as a street musician. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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