Key demographic groups, particularly women and Latino voters, gave President Obama the lead in toss-up states such as Ohio and Virginia, and carried him to re-election over Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The result confirmed much of the polling predictions from the past few months.
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NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The president scores four more years; a divided Congress remains, well, divided; and guess what? Florida is still counting. It's Wednesday and time for a post-election 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 W. 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. Today the year's biggest week in politics. President Obama loses some of the massive support he had four years ago but gains a second term as president. Female and Latino voters in battleground states like Ohio and Virginia tip the scales for the Democrats. The count is on in Florida, and a recount may not be far behind. And the GOP regroups.
Later in the hour, former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele join us on the future of their parties. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And we begin as usual with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, I just want to tell Abigail Evans, the four-year-old, that it's over. Barack Obama...
CONAN: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are not going to torture her dreams anymore.
RUDIN: So she can rest easily. OK, the trivia question is: George Allen failed in his bid yesterday to reclaim his Senate seat in Virginia that he had lost in 2006. Who was the last - and I think this is right...
CONAN: I love this part.
RUDIN: But it's worth a T-shirt. Who was the last senator to be defeated and then come back years later to win a Senate race?
CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last United States senator to be defeated then come back years later to win a Senate race, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
RUDIN: And did you know that the Political Junkie T-shirts have not only arrived, but those who have won them I think have received them by Election Day, very exciting.
CONAN: Yes, I think Vice President Burr got his, and...
CONAN: So in any case yes, and those T-shirts, by the way, are available for sale at the NPR shop.
RUDIN: At the shop, that's correct.
CONAN: Winners also get - of course only winners get the fabulous political junkie no-prize button.
RUDIN: And those cannot be purchased.
CONAN: If you think you know the answer - anyway...
RUDIN: Of course I can be purchased.
CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. And Ken, well, any news (unintelligible)?
RUDIN: Well, you know something? Yes, it was. It was just remarkable to see. It was a very close election. It was one of the rare times where a president is re-elected with fewer votes or fewer percentage of the votes than he got - if you think of Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, all did better in their second term than they did in the first as far as the percentage of the popular vote.
But the thing that strikes me the most is if you look at all the battleground states, and the reason why this race was too close to call, except for North Carolina they all went to President Obama, and it was just remarkable.
CONAN: If you count Florida, which is...
RUDIN: Florida's leaning, and you know, thank goodness that there's no - we always talked about the lawsuits and the recounts in Florida. There may still be a recount in Florida, but at least that won't determine the election. We don't have to wait until December 12, as we did in 2000.
CONAN: But that's how a relatively small victory in the popular vote translates into, even without Florida, pretty much a landslide in the Electoral College.
RUDIN: Look, you don't have to go back much further - English is always interesting - back much further than 1960. John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon by only 100,000 votes in the popular count, but he got over 300 electoral votes. So it doesn't always translate into - look, you could win, if you win every state by just a bare majority, you get 538 electoral votes, so...
CONAN: That's the way it works. Yeah, that's amazing how you would come up with those numbers. In any case, as you look back at those swing states, which ones surprised you?
RUDIN: Well, the fact is - I mean, first of all, I thought - I mean, I thought that Mitt Romney was going to win Virginia. I thought he was going to win New Hampshire. I thought he was going to win Colorado. Now again, they were all close. Obama won Virginia with 51 percent...
RUDIN: Colorado 51.2 percent and New Hampshire 52.2 percent. But the point is the president won all of them. So, you know, you watch - you come in at night, you think wow, it's going to be a very close election, and it was a very exciting watching the returns come in, but then - and then as they just, the president has this lead in all the states. Look, look, it could be a whole thing about demographics. It could be all about women and Latinos, and we've seen that in all the states, and at some point, I don't know if the Republican Party has to go through a readjustment as it did after Goldwater defeat in '64, but somebody in the Republican Party is going to have to realize that the demographics of this country are changing, and somehow they're going to have to do something if they hope to win the presidency again.
CONAN: There was a lesson that was supposed to be drawn on that point four years ago after Barack Obama's victory in 2008. After 2010, a Republican sweep, a lot of Republicans said wait a minute, those lessons we were supposed to draw, we've learned our lesson, we've moved on.
RUDIN: You know, it's remarkable. You're absolutely right. In 2006, 2008, big Democratic victories. They won the House, they won the Senate. In 2008 they got the presidency, and the Republican Party was in this mode about saying, you know, wither the Republican Party, wither the GOP.
And then came 2009, 2010, the rise of the Tea Party, and the Republicans said we're doing just fine thank you. We don't have to change anything. And then of course came last night.
CONAN: And speaking of the Tea Party, the Republicans lost some seats in the United States Senate that going into this election cycle you would have said slam dunk GOP.
RUDIN: Well, you know, the Republicans gained about three or four Senate seats in 2010, and they said that's OK because we know that 2010 - 2012 would be our year. Of the 33 Senate seats that were up yesterday, 23 were held by Democrats. Seven Democratic incumbents were retiring. So you looked at states like North Dakota and Montana and Virginia and those kinds of states, and certainly in the beginning of the cycle Claire McCaskill in Missouri, these are Democrats ripe for the picking. I mean, we're going to take back the majority.
And you either had a combination of resilient Democratic incumbents like Jon Tester in Montana who ran against the Romney surge, or you had very weak Republican candidates like Richard Mourdock in Indiana, like Todd Akin in Missouri and just a few minutes ago NPR's called Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, another big Romney state. But Heidi Heitkamp was a great candidate, a likable candidate, and Rick Berg, apparently the statewide congressman, a Republican, was not as likable.
CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again going on the exemplar of George Allen in Virginia, the last United States senator to lose his seat and then come back years later.
RUDIN: His or her seat.
CONAN: His or her seat and win it again.
RUDIN: Years later, right.
CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. And let's go to Mark(ph), and Mark's on the line with us from Kansas City.
MARK: Trent Lott, Mississippi.
CONAN: Trent Lott the senator from Mississippi.
RUDIN: Trent Lott never lost his seat. He did give up the Senate leadership and then came back and became leader again, but he never lost his Senate seat. He retired, and that's how Roger Wicker came to the Senate, never lost a seat.
CONAN: Thanks, Mark.
MARK: OK, thank you.
CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Rubin(ph) and Rubin with us from Gary, Indiana.
RUBIN: Hello, Senator Dan Coats.
CONAN: Of Indiana.
RUDIN: Well, that's a good guess except for the fact that Dan Coats never lost his Senate seat. He retired in 1998 because he probably feared Evan Bayh, but he retired, did come back to win the Senate seat in 2010, but he didn't lose his seat and come back and win it. He never lost it.
CONAN: Good try.
RUBIN: Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks, let's see if we can go next to Peter(ph), Peter with us from Stamford, Connecticut.
PETER: I'll say George McGovern.
CONAN: George McGovern of South Dakota, the former presidential nominee.
RUDIN: George McGovern was elected to the Senate in '62. He was defeated in 1980 by James Abdnor, as you well remember, never reclaimed his Senate seat.
PETER: Oh, oh, he just had it for a long time.
RUDIN: He did.
CONAN: He did. Thanks very much. Let's go to Rudy(ph), and Rudy's on the line from Cincinnati.
RUDY: Just a guess, of course, long time ago, Senator Metzenbaum.
CONAN: Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio.
RUDIN: Howard Metzenbaum is a very good guess. He did lose his Senate seat in 1974. He did reclaim his Senate seat in 1976, but he was not the most recent to do it.
CONAN: Ooh, Rudy, oh, that's silver medal.
RUDY: Do I get a T-shirt for close?
CONAN: No, nothing for the silver medal.
RUDIN: But we could say let's go Mets - enbaum.
CONAN: OK, here's an email, Chris(ph) in San Jose: Is Slade Gorton the answer to your question?
RUDIN: Slade Gorton is the correct answer.
CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.
RUDIN: Slade Gorton was elected in 1980. He lost his Senate seat in 1986, came back and won the other Washington state Senate seat in 1988.
CONAN: So we will hold on to Chris' email information, let him know that he is going to be the thrilled recipient...
RUDIN: Him or her.
CONAN: Him or her, that's true, yes, of the free Political Junkie T-shirt that everybody else can now buy at the NPR shop, and of course that priceless Political Junkie no-prize button in exchange for a promise of a digital picture of himself wearing the same...
RUDIN: Or herself.
CONAN: To post on our Wall of Shame, which I'm going to be putting my picture on, as well. Thank you so much, Ken. As you're looking at the results, interesting, we were talking about some of the Senate results and structural problems that Republicans had with people who turned out to be, well, not such great candidates coming out of Republican primaries.
In the - at the same time, that wave election of 2010 put a lot of Republicans in the House of Representatives who they thought well, that might turn around in 2012, but they locked in the advantages they had in redrawing a lot of those district lines and actually expanded their base in the House of Representatives.
RUDIN: Well, the Democrats picked up seats. I mean, right now I have the Democrats plus six, and there are about 12 or 13 other seats where the Democrats are ahead. So the Democrats could be up maybe 12 or 13 seats. But you're absolutely right about redistricting. One of the reasons the Republicans did as well as they did is that in many states, certainly North Carolina, they drew the lines in such a way that they put many Democratic incumbents in danger.
So they either lost, like Larry Kissell in North Carolina, or they retired because they knew they weren't going to win. But at the same time, Democrats who ran the redistricting process in states like Illinois.
CONAN: And Maryland.
RUDIN: And Maryland, right, in Maryland they knocked off Roscoe Bartlett because they wanted to knock off Roscoe Bartlett, and that's what they did. In Illinois, four Republican incumbents went down to defeat because of the way that Democrats drew the line. So ultimately I think there was a net gain for the Republicans because after all they won 63 House seats two years ago, and you'd think there'd be a major correction.
But the Democrats - all we know is the Democrats needed 25 seats to make Nancy Pelosi speaker again. They did not succeed. Maybe they get 10, maybe they get 12, and the question is whether Nancy Pelosi stands for another term as Democratic leader in the House. Those elections will be later in the year.
CONAN: One of the races, John Tierney in Massachusetts, looked like he was in trouble. He pulled it out.
RUDIN: He was, and this is a race in Massachusetts' 6th District, where his wife was involved in this blackmailing and kind of extortion scheme.
CONAN: Such an ugly word.
RUDIN: Yeah, and his - his wife and her brother, but Tierney of course says he was not responsible. The Republicans came up with an openly gay Republican candidate, Richard Tisei, to say close race, but the Democrats held on.
CONAN: And a Kennedy back in Congress, also from Massachusetts. It's Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as always. Up next, the exit polls last night told us a lot about why President Obama won a second term. We'll run the numbers with two pollsters. Call and tell us what surprised you last night?
We've split the phone lines one more time today, so if you voted for President Obama, 800-344-3893. If you voted Romney, 800-344-3864. I'm Neal Conan, stay with us, 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. It's the day after, Christmas morning for political junkies. Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, at this point turning on caffeine and adrenaline. Ken, was there a ScuttleButton winner...
RUDIN: There actually was. I'm glad you asked that. There was several buttons that came up, whether you had a "Hurry I'm Going To Be" - "Hurry Before I Turn 30" is a Broadway play. Then there was a Tim Kaine for Senate button, a San Francisco button, and a Dee Huddleston button, and you get...
CONAN: And you get Hurricane Sandy.
RUDIN: Very good, very nice. And not only did you get it, but Deirdre Caroll(ph) of Seattle, Washington got it as well, and she gets the T-shirt and the no-prize button.
CONAN: The ScuttleButton puzzle and Ken's latest column, both online. Go to npr.org/junkie. Overall turnout at the polls appears to be a bit down from 2008, but when you dig down into the exit poll numbers, they speak volumes about yesterday's results. Call and tell us what surprised you last night.
Again we split the lines. If you voted for President Obama, 800-344-3893. If you voted Mitt Romney, 800-344-3864. Andrew Kohut is a pollster and president of the Pew Research Center. He joins us here in Studio 3A. It's not post-election day without Andy Kohut in the studio.
ANDREW KOHUT: Happy to be here, Neal, happy to be here.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll is director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, with us by phone from his home in New York City. Mickey, nice to have you back on the program.
MICKEY CARROLL: Hey, Neal, thank you for having me.
CONAN: Andy, what surprised you?
KOHUT: What surprised me is what we haven't heard too much about, and that is how weak a candidate Mitt Romney was, and that comes through very clearly in the exit polls. And if we take into account his weakness, it gives us, I think, a more balanced of what Republican prospects are. Here are some of the indicators.
First of all, he remained personally unpopular. His favorability rating was 47 percent, never broke the 50 percent mark. Secondly, he was seen as a candidate whose policies favor the rich; 53 percent said that about his policies. But when we asked that question about Obama, a plurality said his policies favor the middle class.
The economy, that was sitting out there as a big weakness of Barack Obama. When the exit pollsters asked how much confidence do you have in each of these candidates, it was a tossup, 48 percent Obama, 49 percent Romney. Romney never made the case for himself as the agent of change.
He was - had weaker support among his own backers than Obama did, and throughout the poll and the polls that we did leading up to the election, Romney was not strong. He was strong for a bit there right after that first debate, but it slowly drifted away, and the recollections of the 47 percent, the impact of the 47 percent remark and all of these other things came back.
And he did - he did better than McCain did, but he didn't do as well as another candidate might have done against a Barack Obama who wasn't particularly strong himself.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, the Republican story, the narrative was after that first debate, boy, we've got momentum on our side, enthusiasm down among the Democratic troops and up amongst the Republicans. Yes, in support of Mitt Romney, more against President Obama. Did that enthusiasm show up?
CARROLL: Yeah, no. You know, the intriguing thing about this election is that nothing changed. Six months ago, we said, you know, it's going to be Obama by a little bit, and it was Obama by a little bit. The numbers fluctuated a little tiny bit. There were probably too many polls, of course, but the overall dimensions of the thing haven't changed worth a hoot.
We knew six months ago that it was going to be this way, and it was this way, so that, you know, people pay attention to polls, and I'm glad they do. That pays my rent. But as far as any major changes go, there weren't any.
RUDIN: Two things. First of all, Andy, you talk about how weak Mitt Romney was as a candidate, and yet when you look at the numbers, President Obama got 50 percent of the vote, Romney got 48 percent of the vote. That seems like a pretty split electorate.
KOHUT: They're even. They were even.
RUDIN: But also I was going to say one thing and also to you, Mickey, one thing about that as well. Romney, if he did have the perception of some kind of momentum, how much did Hurricane Sandy and the presidential President Obama make a difference in stemming - in beating back the Romney momentum?
CARROLL: Good point. You know, I'm sitting in New York now watching a mixture of rain and snow from the second storm. After that first one, Governor Christie, who is probably the noisiest anti-Obama campaigner, put his arms around him, said what a great job he had done, and so forth.
And it gave Obama the chance to act like a president who does - who did what a president's supposed to do. He's the chief executive, he acted like a chief executive. Granted, most of it was just riding around in a helicopter and telling everybody yeah, we'll get things straightened out, but a good bit of executive leadership is reassuring people in times of trouble.
And Obama did that, and in the New York-New Jersey area, of course, sort of co-opted Christie. It was - it helped. It helped him, no doubt.
KOHUT: Yeah, I mean the fact that they're even is not an expression of the fact that Romney was a weak - a strong candidate. In fact, he could have been much - it could have been not even if he had made the things that were potential - potentially important positives for him work.
But to not be seen as better on the economy in the end than Barack Obama, when most people are still unhappy with economic conditions and they still think - you don't have a majority saying the country's on the right track is an expression of his failure to capitalize on the big issue and make it less than even, make it a win. I'm not saying...
CARROLL: But Andy...
KOHUT: Let me just finish. I'm not saying that it was - it wasn't - that Obama didn't have some strengths here in the ground game and all the other things that we've been talking about, and the new coalition. That's all there, but another element of this was Romney did not succeed as a candidate. He didn't even have strong support from his own backers.
We found that the president led him on a comparative basis by eight points in terms of strength of support among the people who back each of these candidates, and weak candidates without strong support lose.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, you were trying to get in there?
CARROLL: No, no, no - Andy's absolutely right. The - the Romney - not the Romney, the Obama people, if you stop and think, did a brilliant job. Look, what should a candidate, what should a presidential campaign, a re-election campaign, be? It should be about the four years of the president's first term.
But the Obama people relentlessly advertised and made their entire theme what a terrible person Mitt Romney was. In other words, they tarred him, they depicted him as the threat, so that instead of being about Obama's four years, it became about Romney's perceived difficulties, Romney's perceived weaknesses.
They did a brilliant job, and if you stop and think: When is the campaign ever about the challenger? But it was in this case, right along.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation, 800 - oh, excuse me, we've got split lines today, so we'll go to the Democratic line, and this is Mike, and Mike's with us from Lafayette, Indiana.
MARK: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead.
MARK: Hey, I was just - I'm always so surprised on how Indiana splits their ticket. We've got a governor now from Indiana, huge lead for Mitt Romney, but yet we go down to the senator who was voted a Democrat, and also down the ticket we go to the superintendent of schools who on a last-minute issue we voted Democrat because of the Republicans' promise to take funding for school music away.
It just amazes me how Indiana always splits their ticket like that.
CONAN: Ken Rudin, yes, Mike Pence elected governor of Indiana, and Richard Mourdock, who should have been favored to win that Senate seat, loses to Joe Donnelly.
CARROLL: If he had kept his mouth shut.
RUDIN: Yeah, but Mike is exactly right. I mean Indiana does have that reputation. Remember in 1988 you had not only Bush for president, Quayle for vice president, Luger winning big for Senate, yet you had Evan Bayh winning for governor. So while we think of Indiana as an historically Republican state, Democrats can surprise us now and then.
CONAN: Mike, thanks very much.
MARK: Thank you.
CONAN: Let's go to the Republican line and talk to Bob; Bob with us from Bend, Oregon.
BOB: Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.
BOB: As just - I am an independent, but I voted for Mitt Romney because of his experience. And for the last four years it has been an absolute - in my opinion, I mean in everybody's opinions - but it's been such a disaster that our country is so divided.
It's so sad to see that our country won't work together at all. And they won't - in my opinion, for the next four years, we're just in for a lot of the same. And with all of the turmoil during - even during the election - with the Benghazi incident that was not really reported. I mean, it absolutely left our people stranded to be basically murdered. It's - and how people just overlooked all of that, I think that everybody now is looking for what they can get for what they - what's in it for them. It's not what's good for our country. And I mean, we are at a tipping point, and it's just so, so sad to see the United States of America in the shape that it's in now.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, how divided are we?
CARROLL: Gee, Neal. That's sort of a cynical view. The - anybody who listened to Romney's speech last night heard a man who said, look, let's get together, let's end the - or at least cut back on the partisanship, on the we hate each other kind of stuff. It was a very statesmanlike speech. And then Obama came in and in a way recalling his great state of the nation speech of, you know, that sort of propelled him as a candidate, Obama said essentially the same thing: let's get together.
And there is - Boehner seems to be a reasonable guy. Can he control that Tea Party crowd? You don't know, but it seems to me, and unlike our friend on the phone a moment ago who was rather cynical, that that there's at least a possibility now that the election is over and now that both the candidates said conciliatory, nice patriotic kind of things. Maybe we'll get together.
BOB: Neal, am I still on?
CONAN: You are.
BOB: No disrespect to your guest but cynical - I mean, I'm not cynical. I'm as hopeful as anybody can be. But the last four years as a working person has been so sad that I talk to people every day. My job brings me into a location that I see thousands of people a day, and I literally see people - they can't afford their light bill, they can't afford anything. They're buying way less groceries. I'm in that environment. And cynical is not the word for it. It's absolutely disgusted because...
CONAN: I think...
BOB: ...this is exactly what I heard last time. I mean, if you could play back what President Obama said in his acceptance speech last time, it's a replay. And I mean, yeah, we all want to work together, but we can't have somebody tell us it's his way or the highway, this way or the highway. It's called compromise. That's how our country was built.
BOB: Think back on the Philadelphia convention, what did they do? I mean...
BOB: ...you know, American history, that's - it's compromise, and there is no compromise in our country. And that's the exact thing that I would expect to hear, is cynical...
BOB: ...not realistic, but cynical.
CONAN: Bob, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.
BOB: I appreciate it, Neal. I love your show. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much. Political...
RUDIN: Neal, I thought you were singing "Barbara Ann" just now - the ba, ba, ba...
CONAN: Just - ba, ba, ba, ba. Sure. Ken Rudin is here, as if you didn't know that. Also with us is Andy Kohut from the Pew Research Center, Mickey Carroll of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And here's an email comment from Jim: My takeaway is that Mitt Romney is just the same as John Kerry in 2004 - a very vulnerable incumbent was re-elected because the challenger just couldn't engage with the American people. Andy, that seems to comport with what you're saying.
KOHUT: There are a lot of parallels between the election last night and 2004 - the size of the Bush win back then, the size of Obama's win and very mixed views about President Bush, mixed views about President Obama. You know, so I think that the person who wrote in has a point.
CONAN: This is an email from Mike: Being from Nevada, I was honestly surprised that Shelley Berkley was as tough a candidate as she turned out to be. I thought Dean Heller would win by a landslide. That race just got called this morning. Ken?
RUDIN: Yeah. No. I agree completely. Shelley Berkley had these ethics problems or ethics questions about her, and this is a seat that the former John Ensign, Republican seat - but I agree. It's much closer than I thought, too. And perhaps maybe this is part of the demographics with Latinos in Nevada making a big difference.
CONAN: And you had a question.
RUDIN: Well, I was going to ask Andy something about too. We've always talked about all the money. And Mickey Carroll alluded to this earlier that after all is said and done, we have a status quo election. Obama stays the president. The Democrats save the Senate. Republicans save the House. We're talking about $6 billion being spent, and everybody is worrying about buying the election. But what did that $6 billion buy?
KOHUT: Well, I agree with Mickey that there's not a lot of difference in some very major ways in perceptions of these candidates and the political situation six months ago compared to today. Part of it may rest with the Republican candidate process - nominating process. I mean, the - Romney's opponents really softened him up for the Democrats. I mean, they gave him the label of where does he really stand? They gave him the label of is his interest really with you? And the Democrats just went off and reinforced those themes. But, again, it's a replay of what was in play back in March and April.
RUDIN: Part of the problem, of course, is that Romney having to move so far to the right because that was the dialogue and the rhetoric in the Republican primary. Then coming back to the center, it's a tough move for somebody to make such as Mitt Romney who has a reputation of flip-flopping in the past.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, let me ask you something about what you said at the - toward the end of the campaign, as the Romney campaign tried to expand the map and take the race to places like Pennsylvania, I think your quote was something along the lines of: forget about it.
CARROLL: Well, I didn't say - yeah. You're right. The thing was static, and you're right about the zillions of dollars that's spent on television, on campaigning, didn't really seem to make an awful lot of difference, maybe just, you know, the two sides offset each other. I don't know. But the result was that that in November, we were just about the same as we were in, say, March.
The business about Romney having to wiggle around on ideology, the - certainly the Republican Party was not well served by the insistence on these incessant debates, which weren't really debates. They were sort of posturings, mass posturings. The whole idea that you should try an election by throwing a bunch of people in front of a television camera and asking them gotcha kind of questions, it's crazy.
If the Republicans - if they have any sense, the people who are more or less in charge of the party, the governors are going to have to end it. Don't forget. There's a lot of Republican governors, and chances are one of them is going to be next president. They ought to get together and say, look, we're not going to do this again. How about a non-aggression path, you know? All the governors sit down and say, you stay out of my state and I'll stay out of yours. It's - and not posture, and posture and pose and make for a lot of money for the television folks.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, thanks very much for your time. Appreciate it.
CARROLL: Hey, thanks for having me on.
CONAN: Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Andy Kohut, as always, thanks very much for your time.
KOHUT: You're welcome, Neal.
CONAN: Andy Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. He joined us here in Studio 3A. Ken Rudin is going to stay with us. When we come back, we'll be talking with two former chairs of their respective parties, Michael Steele and Howard Dean. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION coming up from NPR News.
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CONAN: Right now, political junkie Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday. President Obama won last night, of course, so did the Democratic Party. They picked up a number of key victories in crucial battleground states. Joining us now by phone from here in Washington, former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, the former Democratic Party chair as well. And, Gov. Dean, nice to have you back on the program.
HOWARD DEAN: Nice to be back on.
CONAN: And when we spoke last, you promised us President Obama would win the state of Virginia. Well, we were counting for a little while there.
DEAN: Yeah, he did. It was close, but he did. And he's about to win Florida, I think. They're going to call that in the next few hours, so we'll see.
RUDIN: Does Howard Dean get a T-shirt, by the way?
DEAN: Yes, do I get - do I win a contest for doing that?
CONAN: I think so. What was the deciding factor, do you think, President Obama in those battleground states, if you give him Florida, wins them all? Unless you count North Carolina, and that was close too.
DEAN: Yeah. I mean, he basically had the same map he had last time except for Indiana and North Carolina. Look, they have a really great formula. They identify their votes early on. They stay after them, and they make sure they get to the polls. And that's what you have to do in order to win races like this, no matter how big or small.
CONAN: Some, though, say this was not a campaign about ideas. It was not a campaign about what we're going to do afterwards. It was a narrow, tactical victory.
DEAN: No, I don't think so. I think it was actually, to be honest with you, I think it has a huge impact. The president was re-elected, and we gained two seats in the Senate, so that's a - and nobody thought of that. I mean, I wouldn't possibly have believed you if you told me you were - we were going to gain two seats in the Senate six months ago. But I really think what this means is, is the culture wars have been lost by the right wing. I won't say the culture wars are over because the right wing is going to fight on.
But the - other than the president and the Senate, which are huge, huge votes, for same-sex marriage to be blast in by voters in four - three out of four states, and then on the other state was a negative referendum in Minnesota, and that was defeated, you know, this country has really changed. And some of the cultural issues that the Republicans have been waging their campaigns on for decades are now settled. And they didn't get settled in the Republican's way, and they're not going to get settled in the Republican's way. I mean, over the abortion issues, we got two Senate seats that we didn't expect, in Indiana and Missouri. But more important, the president ran his campaign, and part of his campaign was not just about jobs and the economy. It was about gay rights and abortion rights. So we had a public vote on those issues, and the president was pretty handily re-elected. I think that's a big deal.
CONAN: You say that. And, of course, Republicans still control the House of Representatives and, all things considered, after a big wave election last time, did pretty well.
DEAN: I think the Republicans did fine, but I think the - when the vote for president comes along, that is a referendum on the future of this country. And I think the public has spoken. They don't want to hear about these social issues anymore. They want to focus on the economy, and I think that's what the president is going to do.
RUDIN: Gov. Dean, when you were Democratic National chairman, you made a point of making this a 50-state strategy. And then f the reasons the Democrat did so well in '06 was because they did well in all these states. When - do you think in our lifetime this presidential race will go beyond seven or eight states, and the rest of the country can participate as well?
DEAN: Well, the only way that it will is something called national popular vote passes, which is a bill that's been passed in about a third of the legislatures in this - in the country, which basically is an end run around the Electoral College.
If you do that and you have a popular vote responsible for who wins the presidency, then what you're going to see is the president's campaigning in places like Texas and California and New York.
I don't think it's good for President Obama not to campaign in Texas. And I don't think it's good for Mitt Romney not to have campaigned in New York and California. I mean, there's - they're enormous states. If you want to knit the country together, you've got to sell your ideas to them. It was the whole feeling behind the 50 states strategy: you need to be everywhere.
I know we're not going to win in Utah anytime soon. But if you don't go out there and show the respect that the people deserve, whether they're going to vote for you or not, and be the spokesman for your ideas instead of letting Rush Limbaugh do it, then, of course, we're going to be a bitterly divided country. So I do think the Electoral College has something to do with our divisions. And I'm hoping that that will essentially not be the way we elect presidents after a few more years.
CONAN: That would take a constitutional amendment.
DEAN: No, it won't actually. That would be very hard to get. The national popular vote bill basically says that the electors of our state are pledged to the person who gets the most votes nationally. So simply - you simply have that. Once people who controls 270 votes, electoral votes, pass that bill - state legislators to control 270 electoral votes pass that bill, then that's the end of the Electoral College, for all purposes, they're bound to vote for whoever gets the most votes nationally, not for whoever gets the most votes in your state.
CONAN: Here's an email question from Steve: It's being said Obama won based on changing demographics. Romney lost because he represented a now much smaller demographic no matter what his message was. If that's so, why didn't the demographics play out so much in the House and Senate?
DEAN: Well, I think that's only partly true. People - the electorate is much more sophisticated than it used to be. Some of the most offensive things that were said were when Colin Powell endorsed the president and somebody from Romney's campaign insinuated or said - he didn't insinuate. They just said that's because they're both black. People don't vote like that much anymore. They do some. But, for example, Arthur Davis was defeated in the Democratic primary in Alabama by African-American voters who picked a white candidate to run for governor over him. So voters are more sophisticated.
So it's - the problem the Republicans don't understand. It's not that they only have white people in their party and that the white percentage of the voters is declining. The problem is their message is aimed at people of color: the code words, the race-based code words, the anti-immigration stuff. When you're against the DREAM Act, that's not the same as being against illegal immigration. That's taking on people's children. And so the Republicans have become tone-deaf to the expanding minorities in this country, and I think they'll fix that.
The Republicans have an economic argument that, when they calm down and stop talking about tax cuts for millionaires, it's something that's going to be attractive to a lot of the young people who are more conservative about money than a lot of Democrats are. But they can't get out of their own way as long they're bashing gays, Muslims, immigrants and so forth, because those are all the people that - our kids all grow up together, and there are those who are some of their friends. And that's not going to work for the under 35s. The Republicans know that. And they're going to have to figure out how they're going to make the shift from the voters that vote based on anger at other people, which is a losing cause in this country from now on, or - and towards the economic arguments and the policy arguments that will attract under 35s.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the Republican line. This is Ben with us from Santa Barbara.
BEN: Hi. So I live in California, but I'm an Ohio native, from Hamilton County, good old Cincinnati.
BEN: And so I really followed the race closely in Ohio. My husband and I were back in Ohio in October, because that's where we chose to get married. So when I saw all these things that Romney did in Ohio, whether it was, you know, the ads that talked about, you know, jobs being shipped to China. That was a bleeding falsehood, or when he spoke in Bond Hill in Cincinnati, which is an overwhelmingly African-American neighborhood, and he did it to an all - almost entirely white audience. It just - it rang so false.
And I think that, you know, like you said in - regarding (unintelligible), it's sophisticated. You know, people in Cincinnati would know like if you're in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly African-American, but you're magically speaking to an all-white audience. That rings hallow. And I just wanted to say that, Ken Rudin, I love you. I listen to you every week. You make my Wednesdays awesome.
RUDIN: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Howard Dean, last thought. The auto bailout became a huge issue, especially in Ohio.
DEAN: Yeah. And, you know, you just can't say things that aren't true in a campaign that are of major magnitude. There's a difference between exaggerated and telling - and lying. And the media was just - just beat Mitt Romney to death on that one, and it was kind of his own fault. You just can't change your position so much that the opposite is so and then claim you never had the other opposition in the first place.
One of the things I thought that was great about Obama's campaign, is he essentially addressed abortion rights and gay rights up front in the campaign. We haven't seen anybody do that before that's campaigning for president. And so people knew what you're getting with Obama and maybe didn't agree with him on some of that stuff, but you knew that you were getting. And with Romney, you never knew what you were getting, and that was - I think that was a problem. That made a big difference. And the editorial boards and the papers, and even borrow(ph) companies went after Mitt Romney in Ohio. And I really do think that has a lot to do with why he lost so early in the evening.
CONAN: Governor Dean, thanks very much for your time today.
DEAN: Thanks for having me on.
CONAN: Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont and Democratic Party chair. He joined us by phone from here in Washington. Last night's Romney/Ryan lost raises some questions about the future of the Republican Party. And joining us now is former lieutenant governor of Maryland, former Republican Party chair, Michael Steele. Good to have you with us today.
MICHAEL STEELE: It's good to be with you. How it's going?
CONAN: Very well. Thanks. So what do you think decided this race?
STEELE: I think a number of things. I think the people - it's interesting we use - you stop and look at it, that first debate did a lot to sort of put Romney and the president in the spotlight. So the first time people really examined them as a person(ph) to what they have to say. And, of course, the president showed a lack of interest at that time. Romney was on fire, and he caught this momentum. Well, with that momentum came a lot of scrutiny.
Then you had, of course, as (unintelligible) just mentioned, you know, the cheap ad in Ohio. That you had a number of other sort of slowing steps along the way that caused people to pause again. And I think in the final analysis, even with the economic arguments that Romney was making, people just felt more comfortable - at the end of the day, they liked the president more and trusted him more than they did Romney. And as you know, in any election, that is the bottom line for a voter.
You know, I may agree with him with a lot of issues. I may stand - you may stand with me on some things that you surprised me about. But if I get a feeling where I just don't know, with a degree of certainty, that you're going to be there at the clench, that I like you and trust you, it becomes a problem. And I think that you see the overwhelming numbers really plays that out for the voters, particularly places like Ohio, even Florida and Virginia, for goodness sakes, I think every pundit in the country had Florida in Romney's pocket. But there was something else going on: immigration issues with the Hispanic community. Again, not feeling that, at the end of the day, this guy was going to be there in my corner I think contributed a lot to the wave we saw last night.
CONAN: I think Ken Rudin was the only pundit who had Florida in Romney's...
CONAN: Anyway, we're talking with Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican Party. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Mr. Steele, you talk about immigration. Jeb Bush seemed to be one of the few Republicans talking - I think Haley Barbour says something about it again today too. But that Republican Party is just going to be finished as a national party if they don't recognize the growing demographic of Latino voters in states like Arizona. I mean, the Senate race there when Jeff Flake beat Richard Carmona, that was very, very close. In Nevada, it was very, very close, and probably because of the Latino strength. So when does the Republican Party realize that bashing - I mean, it sounds like an editorial but, you know, I didn't mean to be sounding like that. But during the primaries and the debates, you heard a lot of angry anti-immigration rhetoric. And Jeb Bush said, look, this is committing suicide for the party.
STEELE: Well, it is stupid. And I remember on a number of shows, stating such at that time. And I think that, you know, you ask the question, you know, when does the party need to recognize? Well, at about 11 o'clock last night, they needed to recognize it because when this election tilted to Obama, in that moment, they should have realized that, you know, they were out of step with the American people. And again, it's not just immigration, but it's how we connect and converse with people on issues that are sensitive, that are important, no less important to people.
So women feel alienated, when Hispanics feel alienated, when black folks damned near give up. They stop trying altogether, because they just feel that that wall is too high for them to try to build a relationship again. You're going to begin to see more and more results like this.
Let me put it to you this way. Every month, 50,000 Hispanic young men and women turn 18 years old. Every month, 50,000. That is a - for voting numbers - a big number. And if you're not wise and smart about how to engage the Hispanic community, for example, we will go the way of the Whig(ph) in very short order.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the Democratic line for Michael Steele. This is Wes, and Wes is with us from Nashville.
WES: Hello. Thanks for taking my call.
CONAN: Go ahead.
WES: I'm going to bring up two points. One that was extremely surprising for me was Tammy Baldwin winning over multiple, you know, time, Governor Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. I mean, Tammy Baldwin being an openly gay woman, took down Tommy Thompson, that blew me away - in the same state that Governor Walker. I mean, you know, it was surprise to me. And secondly, to the points that I believe Mr. Dean brought up. I wonder if it's time to eliminate primaries, because the primaries are a way that the extremists in the party, you know, get nominated but then lose the election.
CONAN: Well, Michael Steele, first of all, let me ask you - we've been talking about some of the other surprises in the Senate races yesterday. Did Tammy Baldwin's victory in Wisconsin surprise you?
STEELE: To be honest, not really and I'll tell you why. The gay and lesbian community has done a very effective job of communicating a message about themselves. Healthy people understand and appreciate, I'm your son. I'm your daughter, you know, I'm your next-door neighbor, I'm your boss, I'm your partner, I'm your friend. And that has taking this off of, you know, the dark side of the conversation where people are suspect the, you know, questioning behavior and second-guessing people's lives and how they live their lives, and really helping the people realize they're are professional men and women, we contribute to the community, were leaders. And I think, you know, Tammy's race and a number of other races around the country have really been the results of that new brand of communication. So I applaud her and I congratulate her, and I think that's a few steps forward.
And, you know, it's very little to do with what the Obama administration did with respect to, you know, "don't ask, don't tell" or don't learn, anything like that. But it has much more to do with what individuals within communities are doing every day to educate and inform. In my state of Maryland, you know, the gay marriage bill passed, you know, with a significant numbers, 52 to 48. And so now, we recognized gay marriage in the state of Maryland. And while there was opposition to it, the debate was handled in a very civil way. And the communication, in the community sense, where people really got to talk it out. And I think that's really helped the argument.
CONAN: And, Wes, we'll try to get to your other point when we talk about the California system, which is a little bit different, and see how that worked out yesterday. But we appreciate the phone call. Michael Steele, thank you so much for your time today. I know you're very busy.
STEELE: You got it. Take care, Neal.
CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin with us here in 3A as he is every week. We'll see you again next Wednesday, Ken Rudin.
RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.