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Second Chances In American Politics

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Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The president talks guns in Colorado. Hillary Clinton supporters talk 2016. And in New York City, six pols busted for talking turkey. It's Wednesday and time for a...

DAN HALLORAN: It's all about how much...

CONAN: ...edition of the political junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Political Junkie Ken Rudin is on vacation this week, but we'll pull him off the beach for a trivia question in just a minute. Guest junkie Ron Elving joins us on the Mark Sanford redemption tour in South Carolina. We'll also talk with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer on second lives of disgraced politicians. And, allegedly, six new ones in New York involved in a scheme to buy the Republican nomination for mayor.

Immigration inches forward in Congress. The president tries to recharge the push on guns. And Carolyn Kennedy may become the next ambassador to Japan. Later in the program, farmers will sow even more corn this spring. Why? Email us. What are you planting, and why? The address is talk@npr.org. But first we welcome NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Always a delight.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: And we begin as usual with a trivia question, and Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us on the phone from Florida. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Neal, I'm a longtime listener, but I'm a first-time caller.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: OK, trivia question, we have to have a trivia question.

CONAN: We do.

RUDIN: Yesterday Mark Sanford, of course, won the Republican primary runoff in South Carolina for a congressional seat he had previously held and he voluntarily gave up after 2000. So the trivia question this week, and it'll be two answers, and thus two prizes: Name the last Republican and last Democrat who voluntarily gave up their congressional seats only to come back later and win them again.

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, that's the last Republican and the last Democrat to voluntarily give up a congressional seat only to come back later and win that seat again, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Only one answer to a customer, so two winners today. And of course the winners get a fabulous free Political Junkie T-shirt and a no-prize button.

And let's turn instead to Ron Elving, and Ron, well, we begin when we can with actual votes, and there were some in a Republican runoff yesterday in South Carolina.

ELVING: Yes indeed, in the First District of South Carolina. Mark Sanford did 20 points better in a runoff against just one candidate, Curtis Bostic, than he had done earlier in a 16-candidate field running for the Republican nomination in this district that, as Ken has already observed, used to be his. He left it to be the - and eventually then became governor.

And of course his political career came a cropper after his trip down the Appalachian Trial turned out to be a trip to South America to see his Argentinean mistress.

CONAN: Now his wife.

ELVING: Yes. And of course he got divorced in between, and that was one of the most celebrated stories of recent years. But he has bid for redemption, and he has bid for forgiveness, and apparently 57 percent of the Republicans who turned out to vote yesterday in the 1st District of South Carolina were willing to give him that forgiveness, at least temporarily. And now we will see next month in his real election against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democratic nominee, whether or not he can get all the way back to the seat he held so many years ago.

CONAN: And we'll be talking more about that a little bit later in the program, but we first turn to the city of New York and a, well, spectacular scandal, if the allegations are true, that a state senator from Queens, a Democrat, tried to bribe three Republican county chairs to get their permission to run as a Republican for mayor of New York.

ELVING: Now, as political corruption yarns go, Neal, it doesn't get much better than this. As you say, a state senator who is a Democrat, Malcolm A. Smith, not the world's most colorful name, perhaps, but one that I think will live in infamy, allegedly, nonetheless wanted to be on the Republican line for mayor.

Now, you understand, there's a long list of fairly illustrious local politicians running for mayor, most of them as Democrats. And it would be much easier for State Senator Smith to get into the big leagues, as it were, if he could be nominated as a Republican rather than a Democrat.

Little problem. He isn't a Republican. So he needs to get three of the five people who make that decision, three of the five people who make up the Republican board for New York City, to vote for him as their nominee. So he went about it the old-fashioned way, if you will: He offered them money. And in one...

CONAN: Through the services, allegedly, of a city councilman named Dan Halloran.

ELVING: That is correct. And Dan Halloran went around as more or less his agent and tried to...

CONAN: The phrase is bagman.

ELVING: And tried to solicit the support of the aforesaid Republican leaders from each of these boroughs. Now, two of them have also been named in this indictment, Vincent Tabone and Joseph Savino, and while various amounts of money were thrown about as promised, apparently, at least as again alleged, Savino was willing to settle for as little as $15,000 in cash in envelopes in order to endorse Malcolm A. Smith, a Democratic state senator, to be the Republican nominee for mayor in November.

CONAN: Fifteen thousand dollars.

ELVING: It does not seem like very much to compromise, well, one of the more important functions he would have as a public servant and as a Republican Party official.

CONAN: Well, we're going to have to see how this plays out, but it will be interesting to see who eventually does get the Republican nomination to be mayor of New York - again, a Democrat will have to fight through a bitter primary, probably, to get the nomination but would normally be heavily favored unless perhaps one has $27 billion to spend on political advertising.

(LAUGHTER)

ELVING: As the current mayor did have.

CONAN: As the current mayor certainly did. In the meantime, there are big issues moving ahead in Congress or maybe not so ahead. Immigration - we're hoping to see maybe language, a bill, as soon as next week when Congress returns.

ELVING: That is correct. We expect in the Senate, at least, and possibly in the House as well, bills to be brought forward in that first week that they're back. The Gang of Eight that we have talked a great deal about, four Democrats and four Republicans, have been meeting. They have also been bringing on board the services of some leaders of leader and commerce, specifically the heads of the AFLCIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to do the negotiating on the tricky guest worker, or so-called guest worker program, which would deal with temporary workers.

That was a sticking point. Now it appears to have been at least temporarily resolved, at least to the satisfaction of these eight senators perhaps, although here again there's some question about where exactly Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, may stand on this. If they are willing to go forward with that, the language will be written up, it'll be brought before Congress - that is, before the Senate - and hearings will begin.

The House wants to proceed on its own basis, on its own procedure and have its own bill, and they will be moving forward this spring as well. I think there is a general consensus in Washington that if the city can still work on anything, it's going to work on this particular issue, and the House and Senate and the two parties are going to work together.

CONAN: Maybe not, though, on gun legislation. The president is in Denver today trying to rally - get that impetus back on this. But there are movements. We saw a bill pass in Connecticut, one could pass as soon as today in the state of Maryland. On the federal level it does not look like there's much impetus, at least not yet.

But on another big social issue, and that's gay marriage, we're seeing an interesting partisan divide, at least in the United States Senate.

ELVING: Just to give a baseline here, back in 1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act passed, there were votes for the Defense of Marriage Act in both House and Senate, and overall 85 percent of the members of the House and Senate in both parties voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in the fall of 1996.

Now, that was in the shadow of his re-election campaign, and of course that played a factor. Now Bill Clinton has turned around and decided that he is for gay marriage. So has Hillary Clinton, his wife and possible eventual presidential candidate herself in 2016. And so have virtually now all of the Democrats in the Senate.

Now, there are still seven holdouts. But this week we saw Senators Tom Carper of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania come around and say we're also now prepared to vote for gay marriage. So there are just seven holdouts among the 55 Democrats in the Senate.

And we also saw a second Republican, Mark Kirk of Illinois, say yes, I'll join Rob Portman of Ohio, my Republican colleague, in endorsing gay marriage in the United States Senate. So this is a major, major change, and I realize not just overnight, but within a generation, perhaps half of a generation, we have seen that degree of overwhelming change in the attitude of the Senate, not so much yet in the House, but we do see some change in movement there as well.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the last Democrat and the last Republican to voluntarily surrender a seat in the House of Representatives only to come back later and win that seat again. Ken Rudin is still on the line with us from Florida to assess the accuracy of your answers. And let's see if we can start with Eldon(ph)...

RUDIN: Neal, is Ron finished talking because I fell asleep during - is he still talking?

CONAN: I think he's still talking, but it's OK, it's your turn now. But Eldon has actually got a turn to talk. He's with us from - I'm sorry, where is this in California?

ELDON: Sassoon City.

CONAN: Sassoon City, OK, go ahead.

ELDON: Dan Coats from Indiana, Republican?

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Well, Dan Coats did give up his - let's see, I'm trying to see how we'd phrase this.

ELVING: Senate seat.

RUDIN: Well, we did phrase - OK, we're looking for members of the House. Now, Dan Coats, I think this guy should get a T-shirt because he did give up his Senate seat voluntarily and then come back and win his Senate seat again after Evan Bayh retired.

CONAN: All right, you're profligate with these...

ELVING: But I'm looking for a House answer.

CONAN: All right, we'll put Eldon on hold, and we'll send him a T-shirt anyway. Oops, I think I just hung up on Eldon. Eldon, call back, you'll be the only one calling from Sassoon City, OK? In the meantime - I apologize for that. And let's see if we can get somebody else on the line. This is - go to Randy, Randy with us from Duluth.

RANDY: Yes, I say Rick Nolan from the Eighth Congressional District in Minnesota, who recently beat out the Tea Party candidate, Chip Cravaack, to retake his seat after a couple of decades and working in the private sector, and the Tea Party (unintelligible) didn't last long.

CONAN: OK, Ken?

RUDIN: That answer is absolutely correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Rick Nolan retired after 1980 and came back all these years later, 2012, won that seat in Minnesota's Northeast Corridor.

CONAN: And we - just handed me, Todd Skia(ph) sent us the correct answer, Rick Nolan, Eighth Congressional District, Minnesota, by email. So three T-shirts already. And we still don't have the correct Republican answer. But Randy, I will try not to hang up on you. We'll put you on hold and collect your particulars, and congratulations.

RANDY: Thank you.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we can see if there's any Republican guessers on the line, and I'm not sure that there are. So we'll look for an answer on email. Ken, by the way, do we have a ScuttleButton winner from last week?

RUDIN: We do, but I don't have that information with me because I have some distressing news of my own, bad news for the listener. I am doing this interview wearing a bathing suit.

CONAN: Oh my goodness.

RUDIN: I know, it's - I know it's upsetting.

ELVING: TMI.

CONAN: OK, well in any case we'll have all that information for you next week. We're giving away three T-shirts. Who's the correct Republican answer, Ken?

RUDIN: The answer is Matt Salmon of Arizona, who has a sense of Yuma(ph), of course, retired after 2000, came back in 2012.

CONAN: All right, we'll see you again next week, Ken. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal, take care.

CONAN: Ron Elving will stay with us. It's the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, which means it's political junkie day. Ken's at the beach this week, so NPR's Ron Elving has graciously agreed to join us to fill in. We mentioned earlier Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina, is attempting a political comeback.

He's trying to regain the trust of South Carolina voters as he campaigns for a congressional seat in a special election there that's going to be held six weeks from yesterday. Yesterday he won a runoff for the GOP spot on the ballot, defeating Curtis Bostic. In 2009, Sanford resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina while he told his staff and family he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

MARK SANFORD: I've let down a lot of people, that's the bottom line.

CONAN: Sanford of course far from the only politician to make a public mea culpa and leave office. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned his office a year earlier following a prostitution scandal.

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ELIOT SPITZER: I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and that violates my, or any, sense of right and wrong.

CONAN: Call and give us an example of a once-disgraced politician who's regained your trust, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And former Governor Spitzer joins us now from our bureau in New York. And thanks very much for being with us today.

SPITZER: My pleasure - for inviting me.

CONAN: And I wonder, after you decided to resign, how long was it before you started to think about what you were going to do next?

SPITZER: Boy, that's - there was a substantial period of reflection, as I think anybody in that context would require of him- or herself. I think most of these cases are himself, quite frankly. It takes time to assess, understand what has happened, to try to figure out why. It's slow and gradual process, and at a certain point you wake up and say OK, I am ready to try to do something productive, what should it be? But that necessarily was, in my case and I presume in most cases, you know, only after a period of some reflection.

CONAN: And obviously there's your family, your first priority, to deal with. And that of course outside of the scope of this conversation, but that has to take first priority.

SPITZER: It not only takes priority, it was the predicate in terms of my decision to resign. There were many factors, needless to say, and I don't want to relive them. But I would hope that anybody in that context would think about family and kids, and that is in the grand scheme of life - it's a platitude. It's out of a Hallmark card, but it is what you think about.

It doesn't mean it's easy. It doesn't mean you always do things that are right, but you hope at a moment like that you at least go through a process that focuses on what does matter.

CONAN: You eventually made a decision to come back in a very public forum, and I wonder why. You clearly would have had options to have a more quiet life.

SPITZER: Well look, I've done a number of different things since - it's now five years. I gather you're talking to my coming back as a host at CNN.

CONAN: Sure.

SPITZER: Which I love, (unintelligible), but I've been involved in teaching for quite a period of time. I've been writing, doing other things. But the CNN opportunity, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it came out of nowhere. I did not seek it. And I don't mean to say that as though gee, people are coming, banging on my door.

But then Jon Klein, who was then president of CNN, called me one day and said do you want to come as a reporter in the context of Wall Street, political commentary. And I said Jon, I just don't think that's great for me or for CNN. I'm not sure why you would want that.

A few months later he came back and said OK, here's an offer you can't refuse. Do you want to come and be our host on an 8 o'clock show? And that one, as you can imagine, for any journalist, that is - I wasn't a journalist at the time, but you as a journalist I imagine would understand, that's a pretty significant temptation.

There's a large audience, an opportunity to try to have a conversation of some - that you hope will be elevated and thoughtful, something that, you know, NPR accomplishes and not many folks do. And so it was very hard, even though it was fraught with risk and uncertainty in terms of what the audience reaction would be. It was simply hard, since I care a great deal about the issue I thought we'd be talking about, not to accept that and embrace it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, loved every minute of it.

CONAN: Ron?

ELVING: Is there a difference now, Governor, between the standards that we apply for politicians returning to public life after a moment of disgrace than there might have been five, 10, 20 or 30 years ago?

SPITZER: I think inevitably the quick answer is yes. Our society - I was about to say evolves. I'm not sure evolves is a judgment that it's improvement, at least I think it is. I think our values are different today than they were five, 10, 20 years ago, almost necessarily when we look back at the cultural context of whether it's TV shows or social commentary.

We are making progress in many, many areas. Look at the debate about same-sex marriage. Look at the issues of the civil rights evolution over time. So yes, the value judgments are different. If what - I want to parse it a little more finely in the sense that - and again I don't want anything I say to be deemed self-justifying at all because I don't want it to be. But I think there are differences as it relates to different types of violations. And I think that when you look at the sort of broad array of defalcations in the public context, you have those that are hand in the till, money in a bag being transferred for decisions that are a violation of the public trust. You have the array of personal, perhaps more private, defalcations of a sexual nature.

And I think there's a spectrum there, and I think that perhaps we have not and should not alter our perspectives with respect to the former, where you have just a gross violation of what, you know, the lawyer might call the fiduciary duty to the public to make decisions that are proper.

Maybe we've changed a bit with respect to the more private types of violations and as our definition of what is private, what is appropriately public, has altered over time. But again, I'm not the right person to pass judgment on that, necessarily, but I think in answer to your question, yes, there's been a shift, and I think that is palpable.

ELVING: Is that based on a change in our notion of what is private and what is public?

SPITZER: Well, I think partially. I think there is a dichotomy between what we have viewed in terms of - and expected of our elected officials and what other nations accept as public or private morality. And I'm not sure there's a convergence, or maybe we're just assimilating some of what exists elsewhere. Maybe I think probably the simpler answer is just a short yes to your question: Yes, we are beginning to accept a zone of privacy that perhaps is not directly relevant to one's public performance.

Having said that, we still love to talk about it, focus upon it. The media loves to pry and prod and poke because that is what, you know, what we enjoy as people. But I think maybe we're beginning to see emerging some sense that it doesn't always relate to one's capacity to perform a public job.

CONAN: We'd like to hear from you about which once-disgraced politician has regained your trust, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Jodi's(ph) on the line, Jodi calling from San Antonio.

JODI: Hi, yeah, I was just going to comment on Henry Cisneros, who of course being from San Antonio is one of the politicians who, formerly disgraced, I think has definitely gone on to do a lot of good work and has definitely regained my trust and I'm sure a lot of the trust of the people of San Antonio and maybe, you know, across the nation.

CONAN: It's interesting, he has emerged I think as something of an elder statesmen.

JODI: Absolutely, absolutely. That's absolutely how I view him both as a member of the Texas Democrats and as a Hispanic. I see him as being totally redeemed, and I think we look at him for guidance, and it's definitely someone who we trust now, once again.

CONAN: All right, Jodi, thanks very much, interesting call. And Governor Spitzer, F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that there are no second acts in American life, and I think what we're learning is that there are. Governor Sanford has decided to get back into politics. Is that something that you've thought about?

SPITZER: Again I try to be responsive to the answer, although I was always taught you don't need to answer every question. Do you think - have I thought about it? Of course. Is it a temptation? And I think anybody who was ever in politics who says that he or she has cleansed his bloodstream of the desire to be in politics isn't being quite truthful because it is, to a certain extent, a narcotic.

That is the problem with politics. It is a narcotic, I felt so, because it is fascinating, it is important. If you do it right, you can do things that matter, all the good reasons. It's also a narcotic because it is fun, which is a self-indulgent reason, but so yes, it is a more interesting job than most, and so the temptation to say gee, would it be interesting to be back is there.

So sure you think about it. Then you also weigh against all the downsides and what the family would go through, what the media response would be, proper critiques. And so yeah, it's tempting, but it's a very complicated decision.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Beth(ph) and Beth with us from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

BETH: Hi, the politician that I became disillusioned with was Bill Clinton. I was a big supporter of the president, and when his scandal hit, it took me a little while to recover. But then I realized, and this is what I tell everyone about it - I thought if I were - God forbid - in an emergency room and needed treatment, I would not stop and interview the doctors to find out which one had the highest moral standing or the best decision-making capability in his personal life. I would want the most qualified doctor to work on me.

And when we elected him president, we elected the most qualified person I believe to lead the country. So I'm not happy with his personal choices, but I don't think I have a right to sit in judgment on him when he was doing a great job leading the country at the same time. So, yes, he did redeem himself in my eyes, and that's kind of how I look at people now.

CONAN: With a little bit more forgiveness.

BETH: Well, I don't even think it's my place to forgive him. I think it's my place to say, you know, you're supposed to be our president. You're doing a great job, keep doing that and please just be a little bit more circumspect about where you do what you do.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Yeah. All right. With equal - we'll leave it there. But, Beth, thanks very much for the phone call. And, Governor Spitzer, I'm sure you know better than I, a lot of comparisons drawn to President Clinton in your case as well.

SPITZER: Well, I think what Beth was saying is that we judge people rationally or perhaps should judge them rationally based upon what factors matter in terms of the job for which we've chosen them. And I suppose if it's a minister, we judge him based upon one spectrum of value judgments; politicians, a different set of value judgments. I suppose not to undercut my own case and disagree with Beth because, obviously, I appreciate and - what she said. The question is, do we want to see in our elected officials the entirety of our value system that we believe in?

And somehow, are we going to choose them to be technocrats who leads us to make economic choices and foreign policy choices, or do we want to subsume, have them sort of take on the role of father or mother figures and therefore speak to our values as well at a deeper level? That is what we perhaps have given up recently, and, you know, it's tough.

CONAN: Let me ask you for a moment to put your hat as a New York pol on. The case that emerged yesterday where a state senator from Queens - a Democrat - allegedly tried to bribe several Republican county chairmen to get on the Republican ticket as mayor of New York. What do you make of this?

SPITZER: Mindboggling. It is, you know, a few moments ago, I said, look, maybe there's a spectrum of violations, and this was as brazen a case of money in a bag to violate the law as one can imagine. It made no sense just because at one level Malcolm Smith could never win a Republican primary anyway. That wasn't the problem here. The problem was that it spoke to a lack of reality, a lack of dedication to the law, a cravenness that was beyond description even compared to what many of us have seen over the years.

And so just left you scratching your head saying how could anybody possibly do this, but it unfortunately confirms so much of what the public has grown accustomed to in terms of state politics in particular where there is less media scrutiny. And people observe, quite rightly, the less media scrutiny there is, the more likely there is to be, you know, just violation of law and lack of ethics. And, you know, lack of transparency leads to bad things.

CONAN: As Ron Elving was remarking earlier, one of those county chairmen allegedly willing to sell that vote for $15,000.

(LAUGHTER)

SPITZER: Right. It's funny I heard people say the money was so small. You know, it's never easy to diminish $15,000 as a small amount of money, but nonetheless, I think it shows you that in the grand scheme of things when you look at Wall Street and the amounts of money flowing back and forth, you're right, this is - it shows you how petty this has become and how frustrating it is to when you want something much better in our governance.

CONAN: Governor Spitzer, thank you very much for your time today. We also have to thank you, you were ready to be with us a few weeks ago when political news intervened from Vatican City, and we had to bump you. But we thank you for coming back today.

SPITZER: My pleasure. And being bumped by a papal election is no shame in that.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Former New York City - New York state Governor Eliot Spitzer with us from our bureau in New York. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And guest Political Junkie Ron Elving is with us. Ken Rudin will be back next week. But Ron, we were talking, well, sort of around the election in South Carolina where, again, governor - former Governor Sanford emerged as the Republican nominee yesterday. Interesting race, you ordinarily wouldn't say that. Mitt Romney carried this district by 18 points just last November, and yet, some people are saying this could be a tight race in six weeks' time.

ELVING: That's right, very nearly a 60 percent win for Mitt Romney in the First District of South Carolina. But Mark Sanford is not the cup of tea for every Republican in the First District, as we saw when he only got 37 percent in a largely unknown field of candidates, other than himself. And as we saw, again, yesterday, when, wow, he won easily with 57 percent. That's not even as well as Mitt Romney did. It's just not enough to make us think that this district is ready to embrace him, at least not on the Republican side, and the Democrats and the independents all the less. So let's give Elizabeth Colbert-Busch a chance to define herself as a candidate. Up to now, she's been largely identified as the sister of...

CONAN: Celebrity Colbert.

ELVING: ...Stephen Colbert. And apparently, Stephen Colbert is campaigning for her and doing what he can to help generate some media attention, which she surely will have. There's media attention, of course, attached to Mark Sanford's case as well. So there's going to be an awful lot of celebrity around this particular special election. That's rarely, rarely the case with a House special election. And that means anything can happen. It will probably be a relatively low turnout on the Republican side, as certainly many social and cultural conservatives will prefer to stay home rather than have to choose between these two candidates.

CONAN: And it's interesting - at least in the runoff - no member of the House of Representatives from the state of Carolina endorsed Governor Sanford. The former holder of the seat, now Senator Scott, did not endorse Governor Sanford. Now, again, they may change their minds given the choices between a Republican and a Democrat. But he is not popular amongst the mainstream Republican Party there in the state of South Carolina.

RUDIN: And among his former colleagues here in Washington, there has not been a great outpouring of enthusiasm for his candidacy. And let's face it, if he does win, if he does come back here, then he is going to be seen as new symbol, if you will, of the reemergence of a particular kind of vote from a particular kind of place. And it's going to be one more headache, really, for John Boehner, sharing the limelight with one more personality that the media will seek out and seek to make a symbol of his House Republican Party.

CONAN: As you suggest, the Democratic candidate looks like she may have plenty of money to run in this race, just a six weeks campaign. It is going to be interesting to see the tactics of former Governor Sanford, unlikely, given the redemption campaign to be able to attack a woman opponent in the race. It's - and some of the polls suggest it's tighter than you might think.

RUDIN: There are polls that show her ahead. Now, I don't necessarily think that those polls are necessarily measuring the actual reality that's going to be on election day when we get to next month. They're measuring the celebrity factor. They're measuring distaste for Mark Sanford. In the end, the real question here is whether the Republicans are willing to sit by and let a Democrat take over this very heavily Republican district.

CONAN: NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, sitting in this week for Political Junkie Ken Rudin, who returns next Wednesday. Ron, thank you very much.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: 2013 is projected to be a record year for corn plantings. We'll find out what that means for farmers and for you after a short break. If you're a farmer, what are you planting this spring and why? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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